My modest collection of wine includes a dozen or so bottles of what I hope will prove to be excellent wines of Mendoza, largely Malbec varietal wines or Malbec dominated blends. I had a look through my cellar again this week but since my wife won’t be drinking for another month at least, those wines will have to wait. Instead I pulled out a wine I somehow managed to overlook previously, this Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007.
I think it’s fair to say that when most people think of Mendoza, Malbec is the first grape that comes to mind. While that’s certainly fair, given the iconic nature of the grape with respect to Argentina, the area is much more diversely planted that one might expect. There are vast tracks of Criolla Grande and Cereza, but they are used largely for cheap, bulk wine and grape concentrate, and as varieties unlikely to be named on a label of wine for export. In terms of grapes for quality wines, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot perform well, both as a varietals and in blends with Malbec, and as we saw with the Aglianico from Familia Zuccardi, there are many lesser known red grapes on the rise. Given the excellent red wines of the region, it’s easy to forget that white grapes are grown in Mendoza, and not just the Argentine favourite Torrontés. Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and even Ugni Blanc are all cultivated.
As this is the 16th wine I’ve covered made up completely or in part of Chardonnay, I should by now have said all I can say about the grape. However, with Wine Grapes close at hand, it’s worth another look. First off, this, like the recently covered Auxerrois, Melon, Gamay Noir and Romorantin it is the offspring of Gouais Blanc and Pinot. While I’ve written about Chardonnay grown in a half dozen different countries, Wine Grapes lists 42 countries, but concludes that it’s also grown “virtually everywhere else in the world that claims a wine industry.”
Another topic worth a quick word is that of clones. We’ve discussed crossings as offspring of two different parent varieties and hybrids as offspring of two different species of grape (usually one Vitis vinifera). Clones are vines of the same variety which have built up an accumulation of genetic differences over the course of generations being propagated through clippings. There are 28 clones permitted in Burgundy, often known collectively as Dijon clones. The most widely planted Chardonnay clone in Australia is believed to be I10V1, developed at UC Davis and imported into Australia in 1969. It has tighter bunches than Dijon clones and can show more tropical fruit, but is waning somewhat in popularity as it is thought by some not to have the ability to age as well.
One clone that is growing in popularity is the Gin Gin (or sometimes Gingin) clone. It was brought into Western Australia by Houghton Wines in 1957 and named after a local town, though its origin prior to that is unclear. The fact that outside of Western Australia is it more commonly known as the Mendoza clone has resulted in obvious speculation it came from Argentina, though it seems extremely unlikely that an Australian viticulturist would turn to South America, rather than Europe or California, for vines. The OCW suggests, in the millerandage entry, that the Mendoza clone was developed at UC Davis and is also known as 1A but I can’t find any corroboration and it’s not mentioned in the more recent Wine Grapes.
While its genesis remains a mystery, at least to me, some winemakers prize its susceptibility to millerandage (hen and chicks), or a mix of berry sizes, which can reduce yields and provide greater concentration. Also, the smaller “chick” berries have higher acidity and higher skin to juice ratios. It remains popular in Western Australia, in the Margaret River in particular, and recently By Jingo! released an eponymous Mendoza Chardonnay out of Southern Fleurieu in South Australia.
Speaking of this wine, it is produced by Bodega Ruca Malén. While the company’s name is based on a native legend, it was founded in 1998 by Jean Pierre Thibaud, formerly of the Argentinian branch of Moët et Chandon, and Jacques Louis de Montalembert of Burgundy. In this Yauquén range they also produce a Malbec, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a blend of the two. In their Ruca Malén line they produce varietal still wines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay, as well as a sparkling Pinot Noir / Chardonnay blend. Their Kinien line is made up of varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, as well as their flagship wine, the de Don Raúl, which is a Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon / Petit Verdot blend.
This grapes for this Chardonnay from the Yauquén line are hand harvested, pass through bunch selection and then whole bunch pressing before temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks. It has not undergone malolactic fermentation. And while this wine is a Chardonnay from Mendoza, I don’t actually have details as to the clone(s) used, so it could be made from Dijon or UC Davis clones. Given the French origin of the founders, my money would be on Burgundy, but my tasting skills are not so expert that I can tell by what’s in the glass.
Speaking of which, in the glass this wine is clear and bright, with medium lemon colour and quick legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of lemon curd, mushrooms, grapefruit, and hints of oak (though this wine was bottled without seeing the inside of a barrel). The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus flavour intensity and medium length. There are notes of grapefruit, quince, lemon, mushroom, and a hint of mint with a slightly candied lime finish.
This is a good wine. While it’s still developing, I think I’ve left it too long. Based on the steel treatment and lack of malolactic fermentation I suspect it would have been better fresh. It hasn’t fallen apart, though, and it’s certainly picked up some complexity. However, in doing so it’s lost some typicity and has drifted more toward the flavour profile I would expect from an older Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend.