Original notes, November, 2009: For the 2008 Chez Ray vintage, I tried an experiment, separating the vintage into two batches: one batch pressed dry (ie, immediately as fermentation completed); and the second batch pressed after extended maceration.
Today, I have some recently bottled sample batches of 2008 merlot and zinfandel to compare between these two pressing techniques.
Let's start with the Chez Ray Merlot, 2008:
Pressed dry: The pressed dry merlot shows medium dusty red in the glass. Aromas are bright, bold, plumy and yeasty. A strong inky, alcoholic component. On the palate, a bright but bold mid palate impact, showing very ripe plums and some blackberry. Finishes clean.
Extended maceration: The merlot which underwent extended maceration shows similar in the glass, a touch less purple. Aromas seem to show a somewhat riper, spongy plum element. On the palate, the impact is round, full and soft and ripe in the back of the tongue. Seems more aged already, with less definitive fruit. The finish curls with a bit of acid. Slightly inferior to the pressed dry version.
Now let's try the Chez Ray Zinfandel, 2008:
Pressed dry: The pressed dry zinfandel shows medium cherry red in the glass. Upon swirling, aromas are tangy, metallic and almost citrus. On the palate, a spicy fruit touches the front of the mouth first, slowly unfolding back, sweeter and sweeter as it moves back along your tongue. The finish is moderate and clean.
Extended maceration: The zinfandel which underwent extended maceration shows a similar color - possibly just a touch more faded. Aromas show a similar note, a touch less tangy and bright. The palate is even, full and flush from the start, beginning at the middle of your tongue and spreading out. Perhaps even some chocolate elements as it spreads. Slick, clean finish. Improved over the pressed dry version.
Overall observations: My expectations were that the extended maceration might cause each of the wines to lose some "edge" and distinctiveness. It is probably true that the "edge" has been slightly muted in both. However, with the zinfandel, the extended maceration did not mute the final result. In the merlot, it caused a bit more aged "genericism" in the final product. In the zinfandel, though, it nicely knitted together some otherwise discordant elements. Perhaps that would happen with age in the pressed-dry zinfandel, perhaps not.
So my findings on extended maceration are, in the final analysis, mixed. I believe it muddied the merlot, but enhanced the zinfandel. If I was forced to operate one way or another on all my wines based on this one tasting, I would probably choose to press dry. That is because I believe the merlot was challenged more than the zinfandel was improved.
Too bad life is so complicated!
Updated tasting notes, over five years later, now seven years from vintage date, July, 2015: Z8P: Medium brick red in the glass. Same bright, tangy, citrusy aromas. Seems cinnamon-like. Sweet, rich red fruit touches your tongue and sweeps back easily, with the rich deep red robes overtaking the citrus and spices. Seems to resemble the younger extended maceration version - suggesting that the extended maceration may compress the timeframe associated with need for storing wine. Gains three stars on the Spirit of Wine scale, and would touch a plus for its rich redness, BUT... the tangy aromas are, admittedly, a bit offputting, and bring things back to three stars.