Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007

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Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007

Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007

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.

Kaiken Mendoza Malbec 2009

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Kaiken Mendoza Malbec 2009

Kaiken Mendoza Malbec 2009

I have roughly a dozen really nice bottles of Malbec in the cellar that my wife and I brought back from our trip to Argentina a few years ago.  I believe they’ll all improve with another decade of careful maturation, but nonetheless I did pick out one to open a couple of months back.  As fate would have it, before I had the chance, we received the good news that another child is on the way.  My wife suspended her drinking and that bottle, among others, went back into the cellar for safe keeping.  While I’m happy to reserve the best bottles of our collection until we can share them, that doesn’t mean I have to abstain entirely, and so this more recently and locally purchased wine fits the bill without making my wife too jealous.  Today’s wine is the Kaiken Mendoza Malbec 2009.

This is the fourth Malbec dominated wine this blog has seen, and I described the grape with a decent level of detail when I covered the Majestic Plough on Malbec World Day.  However, to quickly review it’s a red grape, originally from and part of the classic red Bordeaux blend, but it’s more recent French home is in Cahors.  In the New World, it is widely planted, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, and Argentina is the country where is has become the national grape.  We hit upon Mendoza when I wrote about the Zuccardi Aglianico but to recap it’s an arid region of Argentina in the rain shadow of the Andes, and vine cultivation is only possible through irrigation based on the annual melt of the snow cap.  Malbec is the most widely planted, and indeed signature grape of the region.

So having written previously and separately about both the grape and the region, it’s worth spending some time on Malbec specifically in the context of Mendoza.  In the vineyard, the region mitigates some of the weakness of the grape.  Malbec is prone to downy mildew and rot which are most commonly problems under wet conditions, but since Mendoza is essentially high desert, neither is so much of an issue.  Likewise in Bordeaux Malbec ripens after Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon as it needs more sunshine, but in Mendoza the combination of clear skies and altitude allows the grape to not just ripen consistently, but also to develop a fruitiness not found in French Malbecs .  Apparently the higher ultraviolet component at altitude also encourages thicker skin development, which provides more and softer tannins.

In terms of picking a producer that is typical of Mendoza, I must admit I am more than slightly off the mark.  While Kaiken produces wines in Argentina, it is actually a label in the family of wines from Montes, a multinational producer originally from Chile.  Fittingly this branch of the company is named for a species of wild goose that regularly crosses the Andes between the two countries.  Under the Kaiken label, Montes produces varietal wines and blends largely based on Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon at different quality levels, as well as a Malbec rosé and a traditional method sparkling wine from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Founded in 1987, Montes, the parent company, produces several lines of wines in Chile, from vineyards in the Colchagua Valley (including one in Apalta), Aconcagua Valley and Curico Valley.  They were one of the first large exporters of Chilean wine, and have branched out not just to Mendoza, but also to Napa and Paso Robles in California.

This wine is in the Kaiken Reserva line, which is worth a quick note.   The term “reserva” is legally defined in Spain with respect to how a wine has been matured, and such treatment is generally applied only to wines of higher than typical quality.  Within the New World, “reserve” is used more broadly, and without legal definition, often by producers to indicate a range of wines that are of higher quality than their standard range.  However, some producers use “reserve” or “reserva” for even their most modest wines, which has devalued the term to a large extent, and as the Kaiken Reserva line is their most affordable, that could well be the case in this instance.  Even more confusingly, some Grands Crus Classés producers in Bordeaux incorporate the term “reserve” into the names of their second wines, such as Réserve Léoville Barton.  In short, if you see the term “reserva” or “reserve” it can indicate very different things (or nothing at all) depending on the context.

And as much as I like to pick nits about how wines are labelled or positioned in the market, the real judgement of a wine is in the tasting.  In the glass, this wine is dark ruby with quick legs.   On the nose, it’s clean and developing, with sweet spice, plum, cinnamon, and raspberries, not to mention a bit of oak and cedar.  On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium plus alcohol, medium plus fine tannins, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, and a medium length.  There are notes of red meat, chocolate, simple red fruit, brambles, and a mocha finish.

This wine is good, but I can’t go any higher than that.  It has a granular texture – not because there are bits floating in it but just because that’s how it’s hitting my palate.  I don’t know if it’s just not well integrated yet, but it’s perceptible in the mouth in a somewhat negative way.  Also, there were no violets or perfume on the nose, which to me are essential for a Malbec experience, particularly one that’s only three years old.  Beyond that though, there was some complexity on the nose and palate that showed some development, it was in balance as far as the intensity, tannins and body, though could have used more acidity, and the flavour profile was pleasant enough even if it was missing some of the varietal characters I wanted.  I don’t normally go into price in my analysis, but as the theme for this week is “cheap and cheerful” it should be known that this was not an expensive wine, and as such delivered good value for money.

Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia Innovación Aglianico 2006

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Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia Innovación Aglianico 2006

Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia Innovación Aglianico 2006

It’s been a little while since I wrote anything about Argentina, but I did pull a few bottles out of the cellar and I look forward to telling you about some beautiful Malbec in the not too distant future.  However, before I get to that, the wine for today is something of a curiosity, the Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia Innovación Aglianico 2006.

I’ve been to Argentina twice, but it was only on the most recent trip a few years ago that I was able to explore Mendoza, where this wine originates.  It’s about two or three hours by plane to the west from Buenos Aires, putting it much closer to Santiago, Chile, though on opposite sides of the Andes.  It’s a beautiful place, and the classic photo is of vines in the foreground and snow covered mountains behind.  Mendoza is the name of a province and the capital city of that province, but also of the wine region.

I’m not honestly the biggest believer in terroir as the term is generally used, or at least not in all the claims of “unique terroir”.  Yes, every place in the world is unique, but if everything is special, then nothing is special, right?  I’m sure people claim my home turf of the Adelaide Hills is “unique terroir” for some reason or another, but really it and the vast majority of wine producing areas I’ve visited have a great deal in common with at least one other area somewhere else in the world.  That said, if anywhere can claim to have fairly unique conditions, it’s Mendoza.

It’s a continental climate, which in itself isn’t too special, nor are the alluvial soils of sand over clay.  Seasons are mild, without extreme temperatures or frost danger, though early summer hail, La Piedra, is a persistent threat.  What’s interesting is that it’s pretty much a desert, with roughly 200mm of rain each year.  On top of that, it’s high up, with vineyard altitudes ranging from 600m to 1,100m.  I’m not an absolute authority, but it seems fairly unique to me, with perhaps the Columbia Valley AVA in Washington, USA being the nearest thing but with more rain and less altitude.  Growing grapes in the high desert may seem like a somewhat counterintuitive thing to do, and it’s only the Andes themselves that make it possible.  While they put Mendoza in a rain shadow, their snow pack melts off more than enough water each spring to keep every vine in the region happy.

The region is famous for its Malbec, and some of the best in the world are produced there, but as with so many other regions with a hero grape, there are many other varieties grown, but often not widely exported.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the second most important grape in the region, with plantings of Chardonnay and Tempranillo making inroads.  A quarter of plantings are two grapes used for bulk wines or grape concentrates, Criolla Grande and Cereza, both believed to have been introduced to South America by early Spanish settlers.

Familia Zuccardi is a large producer based in Mendoza.  It was founded by Alberto Zuccardi, grandson of Italian immigrants from Avellino.  He began experimenting with irrigation systems in 1950, going on to plant his first vineyard in 1963, and then constructing a winery in 1968.  His son José Alberto joined the business in 1976 and the company started to shift in 1980 toward the production of high quality grape varieties.  The company has grown and their holdings now constitute five estates.  Their range of wines is spread across four distinct brands, Zuccardi, Fuzion, Malamado, and the line from which this wine is drawn, Santa Julia, named after the only daughter of the founder.

Even within the Santa Julia line there is a range of seven wine tiers, from very high end Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and a blend, through an organic group, sparklers, and everything in between.  This wine is part of the Innovación line of varietals, which include many vines that Zuccardi have brought into Argentina themselves.  It includes some better known varieties such as Grenache and Mourvèdre but also the less common Fiano and Touriga Nacional and the downright obscure Ekigaina, a Tannat X Cabernet Sauvignon cross.

Aglianico is a dark skinned grape most commonly found in southern Italy, including Avellino, original home to the founder’s grandparents.   The name is possibly derived from Ellenico, or Hellenic, referring to its Greek origins.  It buds early, ripens late, and can produce fierce tannins and considerable acidity.  In Italy, it is the grape of the Aglianico del Vulture DOCG of Basilcata and Taurasi DOCG in Campania, as well as Aglianico Taburno and Falerno del Massico.  The grape has made its way to the USA in California and Texas, and there are small, experimental plantings in a number of regions across Australia.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a deep ruby colour, though somewhat brick coloured on rim.  It has thick legs with some colour of their own.  On the nose it’s clean with notes of blackberry, liquorice, anise, and dark chocolate.  It’s of medium plus intensity with a  developing character.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus fine tannins, and medium flavour intensity.  It has notes of dark chocolate, liquorice, sour cherries, and some pencil lead, with a medium plus length, and a pencil shavings finish.

This is certainly a good wine, though not quite very good.  It opened up a lot with time, and I liked the contrast between the sour fruit and the secondary characteristics.  It was a bit more intense on the nose than on the palate, but still a fairly concentrated wine.  I think what I liked best about this wine was what it was and where it was from.  I enjoy alternative grape varieties, and typically they’re obscure Old World wines that someone has managed to import, or they’re experimental vines in Australia.  This is one of the few lesser known grapes I’ve had that’s from the non-Australian New World, and it was well worth carrying back across the Pacific even if it meant I was able to bring one less bottle of Malbec.

Vino Del Sol Camino Del Inca Torrontés 2010

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Vino Del Sol Camino Del Inca Torrontés 2010

Vino Del Sol Camino Del Inca Torrontés 2010

So, studying.  Yes, I’m doing it, and I’ll have notes for Bordeaux any minute now (meaning, tomorrow at the earliest), but it’s been slow going.  And it’s annoying trying to tease out essentially the same type of data across a given set of topics.

For instance, everyone knows the famous Bordeaux red blend of grapes that go into some of the most famous and expensive wines in the world.  If you read through the course materials for Cabernet Sauvignon, you can get clear facts as to the size and colour of the berries (small and black), that it ripens late, what type of wine it makes on its own (deeply coloured, worthy of long maceration and capable of extended ageing) and what it brings to the blend (structure, among other things).  Also, it’s susceptible to powdery mildew, eutypa dieback, and excoriose.

The same details are readily available for Merlot, but as you go down through Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenère there’s less and less information.  So it’s on to secondary sources, searching online, what have you.  I just find it a bit annoying that there’s no standard format in our course materials that just lays out the basic facts in a consistent format.  It’s just as bad for soils and climates in terms of a lack of standardization of terms.  I think it’s that entries are written by so many different people, without an agreed upon set of facts that must be covered.  While I think the OCW is a fantastic work, I with the WSET would come up with some more consistent literature to go with their Diploma course.

Anyway, I will post my about my progress with France, but for now it’s a quick step back to Argentina.  My wife couldn’t make the Wines of Argentina tasting, and so I managed to find a bottle of Torrontés to bring home to go with dinner so she wouldn’t feel left out.  It’s the Camino Del Inca 2010, from Vino Del Sol.  The winery is in Cafayate, Salta, which is in the north and has vineyards up to 2000 meters.

I handed her a glass blind and she said that it smelled like Viognier.  I couldn’t help but agree – yes, that’s just what it smelled like.  At the tasting earlier in the day, I scribbled down quick notes next to the Torrontés samples – Riesling, Albariño, Gewürztraminer.  I hope not to encounter a Torrontés served blind in an exam – it can smell like so many other varieties.  And what’s worse, the next time I’m facing a glass of Albariño, in the back of my mind I’ll be worried that it’s actually a Torrontés.

This is a good wine, though I’m not sure we’re having it at its best.  Torrontés is generally meant to be drunk young, and while this is only a 2010, it’s a southern hemisphere 2010 meaning it was made on the order of 18 months ago, and probably wasn’t as fresh when we tasted it as it once had been.  The white peach and floral aroma is what led us to Viognier, along with a weighty body, but there was no oiliness.  It wasn’t quite up to the standard of the wines I had tasted earlier in the day, but still nice to bring a little of the spirit of the tasting home for dinner.

Appearance

Bright and clear, medium lemon green with thick slow legs.

Nose

Clean, medium-plus intensity, and developing.  Aromas of peach, orange blossom, white flower, but with a slightly sour candy note as well.

Palate

Dry, with medium acidity, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus body, and medium-plus flavour intensity.  Peach, mango, white flower, mandarin, and apricot, but with a sour finish.  Medium-minus length.

Conclusions

This is a good wine, though probably not showing at its best.  It does not lack intensity, with balanced alcohol and body, though the acidity was a bit milder that it might have been.  While I would have liked more length, what keeps it in the “good” category for me is the sourness on the finish that is not especially pleasant.  It does have strong typicity as far as classic floral, peach and apricot flavours.

At an RRP of $15 this wine is a fairly good value, though I would like my next bottle to be fresher.  This is not a wine for ageing, so on the readiness to drink front, I would absolutely say drink it now if you have any, and if you don’t, wait for the 2011.