Yay, it’s time for another wine day! April 17 is the day set aside for a little extra Argentine Malbec love. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to sip this dark, aromatic wine that has become synonymous with Argentina just about anytime, but especially when we are grilling a steak or burgers. Today we are sipping three fine examples from Salta province in the north of Argentina. Amalaya and Colomé are part of the Hess Family Wine Estates and we received these wines as tasting samples.
If you are wondering why April 17 has been designated Malbec World Day by Wines of Argentina, they have the answer for you here.
A quick look at Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, José Vouillamoz reveals Malbec’s history begins in France where it is called Cot. The variety is a natural cross between Prunelard and Madeleine Noire des Charentes (the mother of Merlot) and originated near Cahors in the Lot valley. By the late 18th century Cot had been introduced to the Gironde where it was called Malbec and became a component of Bordeaux wines. In 1956 Malbec was mostly wiped out in Bordeaux by frost and has not been widely replanted. Today, Cot is mostly grown in Cahors and other appellations in southwest France.
Malbec made its way to Argentina, via Chile, in the 1800s where it thrived in the warmer climate and sandy soils of Mendoza. It has become Argentina’s most-planted grape variety and is practically synonymous with Argentina.
Growing conditions in Argentina are defined by the Andes Mountains to the west. The rain shadow created by the Andes means warm temperatures and dry growing conditions. Snow melt is the source of water for irrigation. Soils are variable and elevation is a significant component of Argentine terroir and Malbec’s expression.
Elevation is particularly important to Malbec’s expression in parts of Mendoza in the Cuyo Region, and in the Northern Region where vineyards can reach nearly 11,000 feet above sea level. In addition to extreme elevations, there is a large difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. All of these conditions result in thick-skinned grapes with great natural acidity at physiologic ripeness resulting in very dark wines with complex flavors.
The three wines we are tasting today come from Argentina’s Northern Region. In 1998 Donald and Ursula Hess visited the Calchaquí Valleys for the first time. Their search for the best terroir took them to Colomé, which was founded in 1831. Donald Hess purchased Colomé in 2001 and set about revitalizing winemaking in this historic location.
Four vineyard sites have been developed at Colomé: La Brava (5700’ elevation), Colomé (7500’ elevation), El Arenal (8500’ elevation) and Altura Máxima (over 10,000’ elevation).
Amalaya was Donald Hess’ second project in the Calchaquí Valleys and resulted from his desire to find suitable blending partners for Malbec. Two vineyard sites are located at 5900 feet above sea level.
2018 Amalaya Malbec, Salta, Argentina — dense ruby in the glass with ripe boysenberry and pie spice aromas. Flavors of raspberries, blackberries, leafy tobacco and dusty earth are supported by juicy acidity and fine, grippy tannins. The body is medium and the finish is medium in length. 13.9% abv. SRP $16
This bright and cheery Malbec is a blend of 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, 5% Petit Verdot. Only 25% of the wine was aged in French oak barrels. At $16 this Malbec blend is an extremely good value.
2017 Colomé Estate Malbec, Valle Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina — dense ruby with violet at the margins. Aromas of mixed dark berries, earth and spice are followed by flavors of boysenberries, blueberries and blackberries, leather, spice, dried herbs and earth. Tannins are fine and drying. Bright acidity, a medium body and moderately-long finish make for a complex and balanced wine. 14.9% abv. SRP $25
This wine has incredible power and complexity with layers of fruit flavor, but not so much as a hint of overripeness or heat on the finish. It is so balanced and complete. This Malbec drinks well above its $25 price and I would imagine it will continue to do so for several years.
100% Malbec is sourced from all four Colomé estate vineyards. Aging takes place in second to fifth-use French oak.
2018 Colomé Auténtico Malbec, Valle Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina — dense ruby-violet in the glass with generous aromas of red and dark berries and dried herbs. Flavors of blueberries and blackberries along with dusty earth are supported by gauzy tannins and juicy acidity. 14.5% abv. SRP $30
The pure fruit expression of Malbec is absolutely delicious in the Auténtico, which sees no oak aging. It is aged for 10 months in tank and 10 months in bottle before release.
For those of you looking for Malbec with strength and complexity, but also finesse, these are your wines. You won’t find heavy, too ripe or over-oaked Malbec here. Over the two days we tasted these wines the star of the show to my taste was the Colomé Estate Malbec. It is absolutely a Malbec to look for.
I hope you have delicious Malbec in your glass, if not today, then some time soon. I also hope it will be one of these three gorgeous wines from Hess Family Wine Estates.