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High Altitude Malbec for the World Malbec Day Celebration

April 17, 2020 Leave a comment

Cafayate desert. Image by gabrielgcossa from Pixabay

Do you like Malbec? If you do, great – you have a perfect reason to celebrate one of the world’s most popular grape on its holiday, World Malbec Day, always celebrated on April 17th. If you don’t  – great, as you can taste a lot of wines in order to eventually find Malbec which you will enjoy.

Malbec is one of the unique grapes in the wine world, with a long history full of ups and downs. Malbec history can be traced almost a thousand years back. It used to be one of the most popular and most planted grapes in France. Wine from Cahors, a small region just south of Bordeaux, was famous for its dark and brooding qualities and was very much welcomed by the royals as early as the 1200s (well, the grape is not called Malbec in Cahors – it is known as Côt or Auxerrois). However, as Bordeaux started developing its own brand, it started blocking Cahors wines from reaching its intended destination, as most of the trading routes had to pass through Bordeaux before reaching the wine consumers.

Malbec used to be widely planted in Bordeaux, but this thin-skinned and disease-prone grape was difficult to work with, and it became anything but literally extinct today. Of course, Malbec is still the main grape in Cahors, where it is made into delicious, long-living wines – if you can find them in the wines stores, of course. However, the real fame of Malbec is related to its second motherland – Argentina.

Malbec was brought to Argentina in the mid-19th century and higher elevation vineyards with mostly dry climate happened to be a godsend for the moody grape. From there on, Malbec went on the path of becoming the most famous Argentinian grape. I guarantee you if anyone will ask what is in your glass, and you will say “Malbec”, 99% of the people will have no doubts that you are drinking Argentinian wine – yes, this is a good example of fame. Malbec’s success in the new world didn’t stop in Argentina, as it is successfully growing today in Australia, Chile, California, Texas, and many other places. But it is still the Argentina which rules the Malbec world today.

Altura maxima vineyard. Source: Bodegas Colome

Altura maxima Vineyard. Source: Bodegas Colome

When it comes to Argentinian wine, Mendoza is the first area that comes to mind. It is hardly surprising, as 2/3 or Argentinian wine comes from Mendoza. But it is not Mendoza we are talking about today – we are going higher, much higher – to Salta (Mendoza vineyards are typically located at the 1,800 – 3,400 feet altitude, and in Salta altitude ranges from 7,000 to 10,000 feet). Salta is home to the highest vineyard in the world, Altura Maxima (elevation 10,200 feet/3,100 meters). It is also home to one of the oldest wineries in Argentina, Bodegas Colomé, which was founded in 1831.

I already wrote about the wines of Bodegas Colomé in the past (you can find this post here), as well as the wines from Amalaya, a 10 years old project by Bodegas Colomé in Cafayate desert. It was very interesting to try the same wines only from a different vintage. I can say that there is a noticeable improvement in the quality of the Amalaya – 3 additional years make a lot of difference. The Colomé Estate Malbec was more or less on par with its older brethren – but I certainly like the new label design, the bottle looks more elegant.

Here are my notes for the three of the Malbec wines I was able to taste:

2018 Amalaya Malbec Salta Argentina (13.9% ABV, $16, 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, 5% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet
Inviting, eucalyptus, blackberries, crushed berries, baking spices
Fresh berries, coffee, bright, easy to drink, good structure, good acidity, good balance.
8, simple and delicious. Needed a couple of hours to open up.

2017 Colomé Estate Malbec Valle Calchaquí Salta Argentina (14.9% ABV, $25, grapes from vineyards at 7545 to 10,200 feet elevation)
Dark garnet
Vanilla, baking spices, restrained fruit
Vanilla, blueberries, tar, firm structure, very restrained, appears more as an old-world than anything else.
8, excellent.

2018 Colomé Auténtico Malbec Valle Colchaquí Salta Argentina (14.5% ABV, $30, high altitude vineyard ~7000 ft)
Practically black
Vanilla, blueberries, baking spices, inviting
Blueberries, coffee, good acidity, silky smooth, layered, ripe fruit but still balanced.
8, classic and tasty – but needs time. Really opened up only on the day 3

What do you think of Malbec wines? Do you have a favorite producer? How did you celebrate World Malbec Day? Until the next time – cheers!

Expanding My Wine Map of Argentina

July 11, 2016 5 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!

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