Sunday, April 19, 2009

2008 Chilean Malbec Update

I've alluded to the 2008 Chilean Malbec in a few older posts, but I need to give a full update on the progress of that wine. Until today, I was not all that pleased with it. Every time that I've been tasting it over the winter, I was getting a big mouthful of a rather unpleasent harsh sour & bitter taste. A little hard to explain, but definitely not the bitterness of a high acid wine, or wine stilled filled with residual CO2, but almost a chemical harshness that overwhelmed the subtle fruit flavors. The samples from the barrel have been getting a little better with time, but I've been worried that it would get overoaked by the time the taste faded away. Still not really sure what this taste is, but it appeared after fermentation was complete and I had press the wine off the pomace. Conversations with my fellow winemakers at indicated that it might have stemmed from the fact the grapes were a little underripe when picked. This was identified by a very sharp-eyed reader of this blog who noted the greenish grape innards in my malbec fermentation post. If you look closely at the picture of the crushed/destemmed must in the fermenter, you'll see bits of green. Kudos to the sharp eyes of the winemakers because I was looking at it in person and didn't think much of it! The general consensus was that I had extracted some undesirable phenolics or vegetative flavors from the underripe grapes/seeds during the fermentation.

With that suggestion in mind, I decided to try an experiment with the 3 gal carboy and added a high dose of Biolees. Sur lies aging of red wines is known to help reduce the perception of bitterness. Scientists at Laffort have isolated the peptide that is released into a wine during lees aging and sell it as Biolees. The wine has been sitting on the Biolees for about 3.5 weeks at this point, so I tried a sample today. Very nice! Fuller body and a better mouthfeel, and the bitter taste has almost completely disappeared.

I'm also pleased to report that a sample of the barrelled wine also forecasts some good results! Once again, that bitter taste is almost gone, and the color and body are definitely deeper and fuller, respectively. The tannins released from an oak barrel help to bind up and precipitate polyphenolics (which are often associated with bitter or underripe, vegatative flavors, and they have done their thing! I wish I could have left the wine in the barrel for another 6 months, but the oak flavors were beginning to be too pronounced, so I pulled the wine out of the barrel on Sunday, 4/19.

At the moment, everything is sitting in carboys for some additional aging. I'm contemplating bottling the barrel sample and letting it age for another 6-9 months in the bottle. That leaves a 6 gal carboy of wine that was barrel aged for about 3 months and the 3 gal of Biolees-treated wine. I think I'm going to do another experiment and bottle everything separately. I'd like to see how each one progresses as it ages and compare the results in 6-9 months. That means next weekend will likely be a bottling weekend while making sure the chardonnay starts to ferment. A winemaker's work is never done...

MA Winemaker

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