Twenty-one Tons of Malbec Grapes
This May at City Winery NYC we received a twenty-one ton shipment of Malbec grapes from the Mendoza Valley in Argentina. Since our Spring corresponds to the Fall harvest season in the southern hemisphere, City Winery has the benefit of two harvests this year. This allows us to make better use of the Winery and gives our members the chance to make wine twice a year if they choose.
Malbec was the dominant grape variety of Bordeaux in the 18th century. Unfortunately it fell victim to phylloxera, frosts and the vicissitudes of fashion. In France today, its use is best known in the Cahors region of the southwest, not far from Bordeaux, where it produces a rich, meaty and somewhat tannic wine in its youth. The grape has seen a remarkable renaissance in the Mendoza Valley of Argentina where it was probably introduced through pre-phylloxera cuttings. The wines are generally more ripe, fruit forward and less tannic than their French counterparts. The grape is known for its deep purple-ruby color, medium to heavy body and notes of cedar, blackfruit and earth. It is a great wine to pair with meat dishes, especially a summer barbeque.
Packaging to Maintain Freshness
Our Malbec originates from the vineyards of Dr. Nicolas Catena, one of the best known Argentinian producers who has partnered with the Rothschilds of Lafite, City Winery and others in order to bring as much respect for Malbec as Cabernet Sauvignon enjoys in other parts of the world. Since our crop comes to us as an international traveler, special care must be taken to make sure it arrives fresh and in peak condition. Once the grapes are harvested, they are immediately placed into special containers that prevent oxidation and refrigerated to maintain optimal ripeness. Three levels of protection are utilized: a few clusters are placed in their own small bag that prevents separation from the stem while allowing excess moisture to escape that otherwise could lead to rot. These bags are then placed in a low-sided box that prevents the grapes from crushing under their own weight. A layer of special paper impregnated with a small amount of sulphur is used to retard oxidation. The entire package is then wrapped again in plastic.
As you can see in the photos below, the crush begins with a team that unboxes the grapes. From there they are loaded onto a conveyor belt to the destemmer. The grapes fall onto the sorting table and undergo one final inspection before being placed into a fermentation vessel.
Unpacking the Grapes
With so many layers of packaging, we found it necessary to setup tables just to open and unpack the grapes. One team of workers carefully removes the grapes so they can be readily placed into the hopper.
Loading for the Non-kosher Wine
Loading for the Kosher Wine
From the hopper, the grapes ride up the conveyor belt to the destemmer. From there they fall onto the sorting table where two teams of workers, one kosher and another non-kosher, inspect and remove any remaining stem fragments or leaves before the final ride into the fermentation tank.
Sorting for the Non-kosher Wine
Sorting for the Kosher Wine
For more information about the resurgence of Malbec via Argentina, Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times, wrote this article in 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/28/dining/reviews/28wine.html. Here are a few highlights, including a review of the 2006 Catena Zapata, one of the many vineyards owned by Dr. Nicolas Catena:
. . . Over all, these wines were juicy and straightforward, emphasizing fruit flavors with occasional nuances. They were consistent, generally unchallenging and crowd-pleasing. In short, what’s not to like? That really depends on your point of view. Malbecs’ emphasis on soft, ripe fruitiness over more polarizing flavors and their velvety textures make them safe and reliable for people . . .
Like our top two, the other wines we liked showed admirable balance, and just enough accents to the core of fruit flavors to keep our interest. Malbecs from two of the bigger names in Argentina showed well. The 2005 Viña Francisco Olivé from Trapiche had bright, spicy flavors to offset its jamminess, while the 2006 Catena Alta from Catena Zapata was fresh, mellow and pure.
As the outdoor cooking season gets under way in earnest, with its plethora of grilled and roasted meats, malbecs would make fine choices. I tend to think of them the way I did of zinfandels, before so many zinfandels became top-heavy with alcohol. They are likable and powerful enough in their own right. And if you served them slightly cool, as Florence suggested, well, then you have a fine summer party wine.
F R O M A L L O F U S AT C I T Y W I N E R Y , E N J O Y T H E R E S T O F Y O U R S U M M E R ,
A N D D R I N K P L E N T Y O F M A L B E C !