Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Malbec: Old Vines vs. New Vines

Malbec, known as one of the six red grapes allowed in a bottle of Bordeaux, has been found mostly in the Cahors region of Southwestern France. This dark and inky juiced grape was later introduced to Argentina in 1868. Often referred to as Côt in France, lost it's popularity in the 1950's when a frost devastated about 75% of the vineyards. However, Malbec remained the premier grape in Argentina and eventually found it's way to California and Washington and especially in Walla Walla, Washington.

If you have been keeping up with the 89 Project blog, I blogged an article for the project regarding aMaurice Cellars Malbec - 2005. aMaurice is a winery from the Walla Walla Valley and I actually craved this wine after the first sip at the winery. It was "s_w_o_o_n" worthy! I rationed my first bottle for three evenings and every evening it became more interesting. The color was an inky plum color and the nose wafted out dark fruit - reminding me of a treasured family recipe of huckleberry coffee cake made from the berries we picked during our summers in Montana. The other nice surprise was the finish - graham crackers! The second evening it was if the flavors built up and became even more intense but with dark deep cocoa added. The third evening, the intense flavors remained but with a pleasant bit of spice in the finish.

So as Teddy Roosevelt once said over a cup of coffee served to him in Nashville, Tennessee - - "it was good to the last drop." And unfortunately Dr. Jay Miller never asked my opinion about the wine, because Parker pointed it an 89 - only 89.

Last week, we celebrated the evening of the election with another Malbec - - one from Mendoza, Argentina. And to make this even more interesting, the Malbec fruit was hand picked from vines that were over 90 years old.

Gourlart Grand Vin Malbec was also a 2005 vintage like the Malbec from aMaurice Cellars. The color was a deep red. There wasn't quite an inkiness going on, but definite shades of violet came through in the color. At first I thought it had an extemely complex nose - it was almost difficult to define. Perhaps due to terroir that was not directly familiar to me? But later notes of ripe dark berries, chocolate and spice came out of the glass. The tannins were balanced and the acids were "juicy." I also picked up a familiar spiciness that was heavy on the oak - - in fact this wine had spent 14 months in 100% new French oak. I also noticed that in another year or six-months this wine would be needing some decanting - which is not a bad thing.

How did I feel about this particular Malbec from Argentina? It wasn't quite "s_w_o_o_n" worthy of the local Malbec, but it was definitely "crush" worthy (And remember, my "crush"worthy and "s_w_o_o_n" worthy may be different than your idea of "crush" worthy and "s_w_o_o_n" worthy). One very important thing: at first sip, I knew it was not of familiar terroir and would have almost guessed this Malbec to be a French wine.

While both wines are Malbecs and of the same vintage, it is very difficult to say which one is the better wine. It's all about taste and style - each wine bringing something different to the person savoring the liquid. Comparing the two wines could also depend on how you pair them with particular foods. The Goulart Grand Vin definitely screamed for some spicy foods such as Tex-Mex and Cajun influenced food. The aMaurice Cellars would be accented wonderfully with a charcuterie and/or cheese plate, or an herbal induced rich beef stew, beef stroganoff or even a tomato sauce enhanced pasta dish.

And when it came to points how did the Goulart Grand Vin - 2005 from Mendoza, Argentina with fruit picked from 90 year old vines compare with the aMaurice Cellars - 2005 from Walla Walla, WA picked from relatively newer vines? Well, the Wine Spectator gave the Goulart Grand Vin - - drum roll - - 89 points.

Now this is where you will allow me to jump up on my soap box. As we know, 89 points can kill the sale of a very delicious and well-made wine. Personally, I feel that those who over look a wine because it received a 89 are really missing out on some well-made and interesting wines. And for argument's sake, let's say if the Malbec from aMaurice Cellars received 90 or 91 points, some "narrow-pointed minded" people might over look the Goulart Grand Vin because of it's mere 89 points. Or if the Goulart Grand Vin received a 90 or 91, the aMaurice Cellars Malbec with it's 89 points could also be forsaken. How can you pit each wine against each other - it's like the flaw of the Oscars. How do you give an Oscar to the best movie of the year when your choices are a comedy, romance, western and a sci-fi? To sum it up - -

To choose one of these Malbecs over the other - - it can't be done because missing out on either wine - - well, you are just missing out - - period.

3 comments:

dhonig said...

I love this review because it goes to the very heart of The 89 Project. It defines WHY the wine got an 89- because it was not quite "s-w-o-o-n" worthy, or as I would describe it, "technically perfect but missing that certain something special." This is what the 89 rating SHOULD be all about (as compared to, say, 'great name and big price, mediocre wine,' or 'WOW! This is GREAT! Oh, it's from there.'

dhonig said...

And of course, we'll be seeing this you-know-where soon, I hope?

Catie said...

Thanks dhoning! The point is that the crushworthy wine was an excellent wine, but missing a component that I personally enjoy in a wine that the swoonworthy wine had. So, if the crushworthy wine received a 91 and I forsake the swoonworthy wine because of the 89 points - I am the one losing out. Me - the consumer. And isn't that (forgive me here) the point of the points? My taste buds and Dr. Jay Miller's are not the same!

And absolutely - you will soon be seeing this post on the 89 Project blog. Cheers, C~