When we taste through barrels in the cellar, we’re often doing so to gauge where the wine is at in the aging process. It’s important to adjust expectations relative to where the wine is in its development. Early on, there’s a lot of primary fruit, and the acidity and tannins can seem quite disjointed. However, after the wines winter over and warm back up in the spring, they undergo malolactic fermentation. This is where bacteria that consumes the harsher malic acid and converts it to the smoother lactic acid. The result of this process also influences mouthfeel, complexity, and perception of tannins. The wines become rounder, more integrated, and complex. Because malo has such a profound effect on the tannins, we usually don’t evaluate structure or do blending trials until malo is complete, which usually occurs in May-June.
These post-malo wines are still young, but well on their way to showing us what they’re about. Is the vintage taut and tannic like the 2011s, or spicy and round like 2014, or big and showy like 2012? Finding these links to past vintages helps inform our racking and blending decisions.