Expanding My Wine Map of Argentina
Let’s start with the question: name winemaking region in Argentina, other than Mendoza. You have 5 seconds. Fine, take 10. Your time is up! Hmmm, no answer, huh?
May be I couldn’t hear and you said “Uco Valley”? That would be a good answer, though Uco Valley is a high altitude sub-appellation in Mendoza. But don’t feel bad; as a bare minimum, it makes two of us – Mendoza was the only appellation I knew in Argentina until a few weeks ago.
Then I was offered to try a few Argentinian wines from the appellation I never heard of – Salta, located all the way up in the northwest. In addition to unknown appellation, the wines were coming from the high altitude vineyards – not just high, but the highest in the world. I’m always interested to learn about the effect of extreme conditions on the grapes and wines. Poor soils and lack of water make vines to work hard, which is then manifested in flavor. High altitude usually means a large difference in day and night temperatures, which makes grapes to concentrate flavors. So yes – new region and high altitude vineyards – I’m definitely game.
The wines I got to try were produced by two wineries, both part of Hess Family Wine Estates collection. Wine production at Bodegas Colomé dates all the way back to 1831, when the winery was built high in the Andes Mountains. The pre-phylloxera Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon vinies were brought in directly from Bordeux in 1854, and they still produce fruit today, which is used for the Reserva wines. Today, Bodegas Colomé sustainably farms highest elevation vineyards in the world, including Altura Máxima, located at the 3,100 meters (about 10,170 feet) above sea level (mind boggling, if you ask me).
The second winery, Amalaya, is much, much younger – it was founded in 2010 as a project by Bodegas Colomé, with the idea to grow more than just signature Malbec and Torrontés, but the other old world varietals as well (like Cabernet Franc, for instance). It was built high up in the desert, where nothing was growing before. I like this quote from the winery web site, I think it explains well the philosophy behind it and explains the colorful labels: “Amalaya means «Hope for a Miracle» in native language. the miracle is revealed from the heart of the Cafayate desert in a mystical and magic way, in order to provide us vines with excellent quality. The holistic circle embodies the fertility of the «pachamama» or «mother earth».”
I had an opportunity to try Malbec and Torrontés wines produced by Amalaya and Bodegas Colomé – below you will find my tasting notes:
2015 Amalaya Malbec Salta Argentina (13.9% ABV, $16, 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, 5% Syrah, 5,900 feet above sea level)
C: Dark garnet, practically black
N: black truffles, ripe plums, touch of cinnamon, licorice, warm, inviting
P: lighter than expected, medium body, a bit of back burn on the palate, under extracted?, unbalanced. After 2 days, the wine leveled out and became more balanced, with dark core.
V: 7- initially, 2 days after opening – 7, wine improved.
2015 Amalaya Torrontés/Riesling Salta Argentina (13% ABV, SRP: $12, 85% Torrontés, 15% Riesling, 5,500 feet above sea level)
C: light straw pale, just a touch darker than water
N: exuberant, intense, lots of ripe tropical fruit, guava, mango
P: crisp, clean, good acidity, good balance, grassy notes after warming up
V: 7+, very good, refreshing wine
2013 Colomé Estate Malbec Salta Argentina (14.9% ABV, SRP: $25, 100% Malbec, 4 high altitude vineyards from 5,600 to 10,100 feet)
C: dark Garnet, practically black
N: intense, ripe fruit, plums, cherries, touch of roasted meat
P: polished, silky smooth, fine grain tannins, dusty mouthfeel, tar, dark restrained fruit, needs time to open,
V: 8/8+, good aging potential
2015 Colomé Estate Torrontés Valle Calchaquí Salta Argentina (13.5% ABV, SRP: $15, 100% Torrontés, vineyards altitude from 5,600 to 10,100 feet)
C: straw pale
N: lightly perfumed, restrained, touch of tropical fruit, hint of lemon
P: continues to be restrained, elegant, fresh clean and balanced, touch of white fruit with good acidity, good structure
V: 8, elegant white wine, definitely a next level for Torrontés, great QPR
As you can tell from my notes, these were good wines. Would I claim that I clearly saw the effects of the high altitude? No, not at all. To make such an observation would probably require a tasting (blind) of seemingly similar wines, produced at the different altitudes – may be someone will come up with such a tasting, that would be cool. In any case, these were interesting wines and I’m glad I had an opportunity to try them. Have you had any of these wines? What are your thoughts? Cheers!