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Expanding My Wine Map of Argentina

July 11, 2016 4 comments

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.

salta mapThen 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!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Oh No, Don’t Lose The Bottle, Wine Prices, Reminders and more

September 11, 2013 5 comments
Donna Paula Torrontes

Donna Paula Torrontés

Meritage time!

First, let’s start with the answer for the wine quiz #72, grape trivia – Torrontés.

In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about white grape called Torrontés. Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Name three varietals of Torrontés growing in Argentina

A1: Torrontés Riojano, Torrontés Sanjuanino, and Torrontés Mendocino

Q2: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 90-94 range Outstanding. True or False: there are no Torrontés wines with Outstanding rating?

A2: True. The highest rated Torrontés from Bodega Colomé has a rating of 88 points.

Q3: As established by DNA analysis, Torrontés is a cross of two grapes. One of them is Muscat of Alexandria. The second grape played an important role in the early days of winemaking in the United States. Do you know what grape it is?

A3: Mission. Torrontés is a cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Mission grape, which used to be widely planted in California in the 1800s.

Q4: Most of the Torrontés is growing in pretty unique conditions, for most of the plantings being at a high altitude. Name one problem which needs to be controlled for the production of the high quality wines.

A4: Overproduction. Torrontés enjoys almost ideal growing conditions, with dry mountain air, no diseases and plenty of water – but that doesn’t allow grapes to concentrate the flavor and produce high quality wines.

Q5: True or False: Torrontés produces both dry and dessert wines

A5: True. Santa Julia, Susana Balbo and number of others produce Late Harvest Torrontés wines.

Talking about the results, I was glad that there we people who said that they had Torrontés before and they like it. And of course there were those who said that they never had it before – I hope this quiz will make at least one person curious enough to go and find a bottle of Torrontés to try – this shouldn’t be difficult at all. We have only one person who attempted to answer the questions – while Linda from Foxress didn’t answer all the questions correctly, she definitely gets an honorable mention for attempting to solve the quiz.

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

Boy, there are lots of things to talk about. First, I came across an interesting article by Chris Kassel, who writes an outstanding blog called “Intoxicology Report” – if you enjoy the high level of language sophistication almost to the point of reading challenge (for me it is), read Chris’s blog, I promise you will not regret. In this article, Chris shared his view on the latest series of commercials themed “Lose the Bottle” and produced by Black Box Wines. I don’t want to take away from your pleasure of reading Chris’s hilarious comments, so I recommend you will read the article first, and then watch the commercials.

Next, Steve Heimoff ponders at the high prices of the brand new wines in their first release (here is the link to the blog post). Steve is talking about new Central Coast wine made by Raj Parr (famous sommelier at RN74 in San Francisco) and released at measly $90/bottle; he is trying to figure out the logic and reason behind such a high introductory price. My personal view on the price of wine is that any price is possible, but in the free market, you have to have enough people willing to pay the money, and if you do – good for you, and if you don’t – you are out. The post is definitely an interesting read, and make sure to read through the comments, some of them being quite interesting.

Another post from Steve Heimoff is an excellent set of instructions for the perfect day in Napa Valley. I like his take on the tasting at the most of Napa vineyards nowadays (“slurp 3 of something for $25”), so if you are planning a Napa getaway, make sure to read this post which will help to improve the experience.

Now, a friendly reminder: you need to possess your possessions – the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #3 with the theme “Possession” is still on, with the deadline for submissions on September 23rd. Get possessed and write. All the rules and other important information can be found here.

Do you like Spanish wines? Do you live in New York City or in a close proximity of? Don’t miss Spanish Wine Festival 2013, taking place on October 4th at The Metropolitan Pavilion. This will be your great opportunity to experience Vega Sicilia, Emilio Moro, Clos Mogador, Clos Martinet, multiple Rioja verticals and many other outstanding wines. Click here for all the details.

And the last update for today. I changed my Top Wine Ratings page ( I mentioned it in the post yesterday), and I also added the menu links for my top dozen wines for 2010, 2011 and 2012 – for all of you who likes the lists, these are a few more to play with.

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty – but refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #72: Grape Trivia – Torrontés

September 7, 2013 13 comments
Torrontes

Torrontés grapes, as shown in Wikipedia

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

We are continuing our grape trivia series, still focusing on the white grapes, and today’s subject is Torrontés.

How often do you drink Torrontés? Do you know at least what country it is coming from? Yes, I understand that my choice of the grape for today’s quiz might be questionable – Torrontés is not a mainstream grape by all means. But as we are continuing with the white grapes, and the last white grape we talked about was the spanish grape called Albariño, the choice of Torrontés as a subject for today’s quiz is almost automatic for me.

Torrontés has a relatively short history, first appearing under its name in the second half of the 19th century in Argentina. Originally it was thought that Torrontés came from Spain, where there is a grape with the same name, but it appears that the two have nothing in common. While Torrontés plantings only amount to the 10% of total grape plantings in Argentina, it yields about 20% of the total wine production. Torrontés today is mostly growing in Argentina with some small plantings appearing on the other side of the Andes, in Chile. Torrontés wines typically have very expressive aromatics, more of a floral nature, coupled with crisp acidity on the palate, which makes them a great accompaniment to the wide variety of dishes. Best Torrontés wines come from the regions of Salta and Cafayate, where grapes are growing at the altitude of 5,000 ft (~1700 m) above sea level.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: Name three varietals of Torrontés growing in Argentina

Q2: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 90-94 range Outstanding. True or False: there are no Torrontés wines with Outstanding rating?

Q3: As established by DNA analysis, Torrontés is a cross of two grapes. One of them is Muscat of Alexandria. The second grape played an important role in the early days of winemaking in the United States. Do you know what grape it is?

Q4: Most of the Torrontés is growing in pretty unique conditions, for most of the plantings being at a high altitude. Name one problem which needs to be controlled for the production of the high quality wines.

Q5: True or False: Torrontés produces both dry and dessert wines

Even if you don’t feel like answering the questions in the quiz, I’m curious to know if you had Torrontés wines, and if you did, what do you think of them.

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

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