Malbec shows promise in Colorado, but its real possibilities are still to be revealed with the maturing of Colterris’ idilic vineyard that falls south to southwest off the highest irrigated site on the East Orchid Mesa.
The grapes are now in their fourth year free from winter kill (thankfully) and the long wait is almost over. It can be a winemaker’s and vineyard manager’s culmination of a dream or the slow burn of a long-term anxiety as they wait all those years from planting to the first full harvest, particularly if the site is new, as this one is. In my opinion, expectations run very high for this Malbec vineyard, which to all indications fits the profile of a prime Argentinian site: impoverished, dry, stoney soil with irrigation control and cool nights to hold acidity and giving a promise of delicate fruit flavors. Also, the warm days and intense high altitude sunlight to ripen the tannins and deepen the phenolics provide dense colors and all those tantalizing palate sensations.
In mid September of 2015, I visited this vineyard. The grapes, luscious and rich with burgeoning flavors, were at 21.5 brix. The skins, when chewed, were beginning to give up their flavors. It’s been a long wait, as usual, from planting to the first full harvest, but at Colterris’ idyllic vineyard, as everywhere, nature moves at its own pace. As we examined the vineyard for what only taste can tell, expectations increased. The fruit will be at its youthful best this year and the last weeks of this ripening season have turned out just right. Colterris has three Malbec clones planted in two vineyards, offering distinct characteristics. Spice from one clone, depth and fullness from another, and the addition of a firm structure from the third. Still hidden are the full mix of flavors that will give the winemaker just what he wants: lots of potential to work with.
Three Weeks Later
At last harvest has arrived and the grapes are picked at 25-26 prix, depending on the precise location, and the hopes for a great wine are further confirmed. I’m tasting a Malbec wine as I write, not from this vineyard but from the 2013 harvest in Argentina, and a delightful aroma of violets and spices greets me, served up on a palate of dark fruits. All this rests in a firm yet juicy acid structure. The tannins are soft and ripe, exactly what we have come to expect from an Argentinian Malbec. Most of the vines in Colterris’ new vineyard are cuttings from this same place: Mendoza, the jewel of Argentinian Malbec and the recognized Mecca for Malbec world-wide, producing wines that are soft, velvety and powerful.
Colterris’ vines are healthy and so obviously in love with their new location. Their searching roots, now deep in the arid, stoney soil, have hopefully found the mineral riches grapes love and the Grand Valley AVA offers. Colorado Malbecs that I have tasted so far are somewhere between the dark savoriness (some would say harshness) of a Cahors and the lushness and velvety texture of the Argentinian fruit. I’m waiting to see if this vineyard is going to show more of the delicate fruit and lush character found in the Argentinian Malbec I’m tasting as I write, and I expect it will. As the vines age, more will become evident, but some great Malbecs for Colorado could be forthcoming.
Why do wine grapes generate such promise and stir such hope? How is it that wine yet to be ushered into existence can create such warm feelings of anticipation? Is it the way our imaginations overtake our senses, stimulating our memories for a drink we have learned to love? Yes, and the more we respond to its promises, the more we salivate. Experiencing wine is experiencing it first in anticipation, then in the moment of physical pleasure, and finally, many times again in memory. It’s the experience of awaiting the unknown because wine does not promote in advance its secrets and pleasures. Teasing us, it makes us guess and predict, which is the fun of expectation that begins long before the grape transforms itself into wine.
We came from the soil as the ancient text reads, “formed out of the dust of the ground.” So, as we walk the rows, we feel that bond with all that is natural around us. There is life in the soil, the vines, the wine to be, and in us. Is the magic in the bond we feel or in the hope that seemingly enters us with each breath we take? Life itself is a mystery and all these emotions of promise await the moment when at last we drink the transformed juice and mystery vanishes into exciting reality.
From vineyard to bottle
This is a Malbec vineyard to be envied for its potential. Will the potential translate into an exceptional wine? Again, I think so. We’ll know soon enough though, and I hope you will explore the results with me. Colorado needs investments like this that will determine its potential and define its stature among winemaking regions.