Malbec: Take three to tango

We tasted our way through a run of Malbecs last week, quite a mixed bag. The rejects went down the drain for what’s becoming the usual reason: Rampant body-building. Most of the overblown, over-oaked, musclebound versions were easy to spot before their corks were pulled, by heavy bottles with deep punts and minimalist designer labels—ego-driven wines, determined to bluster their way into the winner’s circle.
       Three made the cut and livened up our barbecue weekend, with burgers and ribs for lunch, steak for dinner, and a boned-out leg of lamb stuffed with feta cheese and oregano for Sunday supper. Las Moras 2009 was perfect for lunch and Altos “Las Hormigas” 2009 for dinner, both dark and luscious and supple, with buoyant, persistent, plummy fruit, while the Yauquén 2009, a little more serious, tannic, and fuller, matched Sunday's lamb (it could age a while, but its angular edginess is attractive now, and it would be a shame to lose that aspect).
       Malbec has clearly come into its own in the last few years, but with no consensus at all about style—and a lot of attempts to make it into faux-Cabernet big boys--it’s something of a minefield, and not easy to navigate. (Price and effusive back labels offer no real help.) The good ones are worth the search, though.

Mike Lee: A good man gone, heritage intact

Mike Lee, a founder of Kenwood Vineyards, died at the beginning of May. He was an unlikely sort of pioneer winemaker—the son of a San Francisco policeman, very much a city boy, and giving the impression that he’d rather be partying than anything. But when his family bought the derelict Pagani Brothers winery and vineyards north of Sonoma in 1970, he pitched in, taking short courses at the University of California at Davis and walking the vineyards with every grape grower who’d give him the time, and he and his family quietly built Kenwood into a powerhouse, producing more than 250,000 cases when it was sold (for a reported $50-million) in the mid-1990s.
       His philosophy was simple: restraint, “nothing over the top,” he liked to say, and he’d always add, “let the vineyard do the talking.”
       Along the way, he became a convert to organic farming, and adapted many of Kenwood’s vineyards, while encouraging growers whose grapes he bought to do the same. After he retired, he went to work for Patianna Organic Vineyards in Mendocino County, owned by Patty Fetzer Burke, a daughter of Barney Fetzer, patriarch of the leading California organic wine family. He let the vineyard do the talking there, too.
       Now another circle is closing, with the recent sale of Fetzer to Concha y Toro of Chile, one of the world’s largest wine companies. Previous owners Brown-Forman (Jack Daniel’s, etc.) had allowed Fetzer’s commitments to organics, and quality, to degrade, and according to a source at the winery I spoke with, there’s good cheer and optimism about now being owned by a wine company as opposed to booze barons. Perhaps the new owners should have a Fetzer family reunion and really re-start the ball rolling. . .

English wine: sparkling results

Production figures for the 2010 harvest in England have just been announced by the English Wine Producers; 30,346 hectolitres were vinified, equating to just over 4 million bottles. This is the highest volume ever produced, breaking a previous record of 3.5m bottles.
       The increase reflects the rise in planting over the last five years. Since 2004, vineyard hectarage has increased by nearly 75 percent, to 1323.5ha. (This figure understates the true position, as official figures do not account for all the hectarage planted but not yet in production, which, it's estimated, will add another million bottles to the total in a few years.)
       Sparkling wine leads the way. In 2009 approximately 50 percent of total production was intended for sparkling wine, and based on the level of growth of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier plantings over the last five years, the trend will continue: These three varieties account for almost 50 percent of the total area.
copyright 2010-2015 by Brian St. Pierre