Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Graffigna Winery & A New Riedel Malbec Glass

"We make loudspeakers for wine."
--Georg Riedel

What a cool way to think of wine glasses. Riedel creates a diverse selection of wine glasses, including many crafted for specific grapes. The goal is to make those wines speak the loudest and clearest, to best represent their aroma and flavors. On its face, many might find it silly that there is a different glass for grapes like Syrah, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Does the size and the shape of a glass really make a difference, especially for specific grapes? Or is it merely a marketing gimmick?  

In conjunction with Graffigna Winery, Riedel has now designed a glass for Malbec wines. I was a media guest at an event intended to showcase this new glass, pitting it against two other glasses to determine whether the new Malbec glass had an effect or not. Based on this limited test, I have to conclude that the shape and size of the glass made a significant difference in the aroma and taste of the Malbec wines we tasted. Everyone I spoke to at the event had a similar experience.

The event was led by Federico Lleonart, the brand ambassador for Graffigna Winery. This winery was founded in 1870 by Santiago Graffigna, an Italian immigrant, and was the first winery established in the San Juan region of Argentina. In 1980, the winery was sold to Allied Domecq and then in 2005, it was acquired by Pernod Ricard. For the last ten years, the winemaker at Graffigna has been Gerardo Danitz.

The San Juan region, located north of Mendoza, currently produces about 20% of the wines of Argentina. It is generally hotter and drier than Mendoza, though their Malbec wines are fairly similar, dependent on comparisons of similar altitude wines. San Juan, with about 49,500 hectares of vineyards, is broken into five basic wine regions, including Calingasta, Ullum-Zonda, Tulum, Perdenal, and Jachal. Located in the foothills of the Andes, the altitude of the vineyards ranges from 2,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level.

Federico notes that Malbec in Argentina is less tannic than in the Cahors region of France. To him, "smooth and sweet" tannins are the key to Malbec in Argentina, making them approachable even when they are young.

We tasted tested two different wines, the 2010 Graffigna Centenario Malbec Reserve ($12) and 2010 Graffigna Grand Reserve Malbec ($20).

The wines were poured into three different glasses, which from left to right include a Pinot Noir glass, a typical restaurant wine glass and then the Riedel Malbec glass. The Malbec glass was designed to complement its fruit forwardness, sweet & smooth tannins, freshness and silky tannins. They wanted a larger bowl to provide more aroma, and the glass is taller than the others, almost egg-shaped, with a larger stem base. The glass is also designed to focus the wine to the center and sides of your tongue.

In each of the two flights, the Malbec glass provided the best showing of the wine, giving a more balanced and compelling taste. They were both tasty wines, with delicious, deep fruit flavors, silky tannins and elegant spice notes. The two other glasses provided more oak notes and seemed to emphasize the spice more than the fruit. Compared to the Malbec glass, the other two glasses did not present a balanced view of the wine. The restaurant glass actually performed the worst, which doesn't speak well for the basic wine glasses used at many restaurants.

Neither of these wines were high-end wines, but were rather good value wines. It was intriguing that even these types of wines showed better in certain wine glasses than others. Many of us don't think about our glassware for these types of wines, caring far more about the glasses we use for more expensive wines. However, it is clear that these type of value wines can benefit from the proper glassware as well. It has made me reconsider how I serve these value wines.

I would like to see a different taste testing between similar Riedel glasses that were designed for different grapes. For example, their Syrah glass is also recommended for Malbec, so it would be fascinating to compare the Syrah & Malbec glasses to determine whether there is a significant difference between the two. That might be a better test for whether all of these different grape glasses are necessary or not. The Graffigna test indicates that glassware makes a difference in aroma and taste, but it did not answer the question whether a Malbec specific glass makes a difference in comparison to similar grape specific glasses like Syrah.

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