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08.27.2007

2005 Bodegas Colomé "Estate" Malbec, Salta, Argentina

05_colome_malbec.jpgOnce upon a time, I went to Argentina looking for the good wine. Frankly I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about when it came to Malbec. Most of the ones I had tasted here in the US were mediocre. Only a select few rose to the level of excellent, and none to the level of amazing. Yet there was a long stream of proclamations from various people (you know, the ones whose opinions "count" when it comes to such things) that Argentinean Malbec was the next greatest thing.

Scratching my head, I traipsed off to Argentina looking for the promised land. Or promised bottle, as the case may be.

And I found it. We had a lot of great Malbec while we were there, and really got a chance to appreciate the Argentinean skill at high altitude viticulture.

There was one wine region that we didn't visit however, and we've been kicking ourselves ever since, as we've had several stunning wines from the province of Salta.

Tucked up in the northeast corner of Argentina, Salta is a wine region quite unlike any other. Its vineyards may very well be the highest altitude vineyards in the world, and its high-desert climate offers some of the greatest diurnal shifts (daytime-nighttime temperature changes) in the western hemisphere. Add to that a spectacular red rock, Wild West landscape, and you've got one of the most unique wine countries in the world.

And we missed it. A painful fact made all the more evident when a bottle like this one shows up at my door.

The land that is now known as Bodegas Colomé has been farmed since long before anyone kept written records. There were certainly well established farming communities of natives when the tendrils of the Incan empire reached down into the valley in the 15th century. When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the area was so well populated and organized it took them 90 years to gain control of the valley. In the course of their conquest at some point vine grapes were first planted, and the area has had some level of grape cultivation ever since.

Bodegas Colomé now farms some of the oldest vines in Argentina. Significantly younger than 16th century, but 150-year-old pre-phylloxera, own-rooted Malbec and Cabernet vines are nothing to sneeze at. The estate's 250 acres of vines from old French cuttings also hold the claim of being some of the highest altitude vineyards in the world, with the highest being a staggering 9891 feet above sea level. As if ancient vines and near alpine conditions weren't enough to distinguish their grapes, Bodegas Colomé also farms their vineyards Biodynamically. The natural yields from these vineyards rarely top 1.6 tons per acre, and the oldest vines provide a miniscule .6 tons per acre of fruit.

The winery was founded in 1831, most likely by the governor of Salta province at the time. His daughter was responsible for the planting of the vines imported from Bordeaux, which have been farmed continuously by her descendants ever since, making the winery the oldest continuously operated producer in all of Argentina. In 2001 the winery was purchased by Donald Hess and his Hess Group company, a Swiss corporation that owns the Hess Collection winery and art museum in Napa.

This wine is made from 85% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Tannat, all grown at altitudes between 7475 and 9850 feet above sea level. A portion of the Malbec that goes into this blend comes from the circa 1854 vines on the estate. The grapes were hand harvested in very small groups (25 pound boxes) and sorted by hand before destemming and crushing. Because of the high altitude, fermentation takes longer to begin with, but in addition to a sloooooow fermentation, the grapes were given a 25 to 30-day cold extended maceration period before fermentation was allowed to commence. 50% of the wine was then transferred to French oak barrels where it underwent a secondary fermentation, with the other 50% undergoing the same fermentation in tank. These two lots were then blended together and aged in French oak (30% new) for 15 months before bottling.

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
Opaque, inky garnet in the glass, this wine has an explosive nose of cassis, blueberry, and brittle graphite aromas. In the mouth it is scary-smooth, luscious and sexy on the palate with deep fruit flavors of cassis, blueberry and dark chocolate which are made more interesting by a supple tannic structure that bulges beneath the surface. The wine lingers for a long time in the back of the palate, tantalizing and fantastic. For some reason the wine makes me want to channel James Brown: Baby! Help Me! Please! (gyrate your hips as needed). If you personally need a wine to prove to you that Malbec can be hot shit, this is a very likely candidate.

Food Pairing:
Can I get a plateful of grilled blood sausage please! Where's that confounded bridge?

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $30

This wine is available for purchase on the internet.

Comments (18)

andrea gori wrote:
08.28.07 at 3:21 AM

I understand that it would be not so easy to make a wine from vineyards so high above the sea level, but 30$ for an argentinian wine in the USA is not a bit too much? Speaking only about the price, non the quality! Just to have an idea of how much the average american customer is willing to pay for an argentinian wine

08.28.07 at 10:00 AM

For a biodynamically farmed, low yield, hand-sorted, cold-soaked, new barrel aged, etc., etc., grown at over 2500 meters in elevation, that's on the cheap side. Couldn't do it in this country.

Alder wrote:
08.28.07 at 10:21 AM

Andrea,

Are you commenting on the fact that $30 is expensive, or the fact that it's very expensive for an Argentinean wine? Personally I think neither is really true. Here in the US, most of the good wines from Italy are more than $30! And some of the top wines from Argentina regularly sell for more than $80, and this wine is better than many of those.

catherinem. wrote:
08.28.07 at 11:09 AM

this has me very intrigued. I think I will treat myself to a bottle...

Bettina wrote:
08.28.07 at 11:42 PM

Alder, great notes and I was just like you in my discovery of Malbec. didn't get it really UNTIL we landed in Buenos Aires and spent a glorious week discovering Malbecs and eating alot (a whole lot) of great beef.

will have to search for this, and $30 for biodynamic, low yielding grapes is a bargain. cannot be done here in our backyard, Steve points it out well ahead of me.

andrea gori wrote:
08.29.07 at 1:34 AM

You are right and just want to know the average price that americans spend
for a wine. But for an italian that can usually buy a tignanello for 45 euro
and a riserva ducale chianti classico for 16 or a col d orcia brunello for
25 proportions are different! For us it always seems absurd that for an
american could be possible prefer argentinian wine to an italian one. For us
argentina is like chile or india or china...Just for curiousity! But i
think that most of our wine in an american shelf looks more or less the same
of argentina, chile or new zealand...

andrea gori wrote:
08.29.07 at 1:34 AM

You are right and just want to know the average price that americans spend
for a wine. But for an italian that can usually buy a tignanello for 45 euro
and a riserva ducale chianti classico for 16 or a col d orcia brunello for
25 proportions are different! For us it always seems absurd that for an
american could be possible prefer argentinian wine to an italian one. For us
argentina is like chile or india or china...Just for curiousity! But i
think that most of our wine in an american shelf looks more or less the same
of argentina, chile or new zealand...

Eric wrote:
08.29.07 at 6:34 AM

Nor Cal distributor says the 05 is not ready for release. 04 also very good and there is a reserve estate from the preceding vintage, but at 3 digits.

Frank Carden wrote:
08.29.07 at 8:34 PM

No matter what the price point is for this wine, it is good to see that what was once considered nothing more than a blending grape (Cot), is finally being given the consideration that good viniculture can give it.
I have enjoyed Malbec/Cot for many years, from my time traveling in France, to the time I have spent in Argentina and Chile, and have found it a great companion to all of my hearty meat dishes. Yes, Americans will spend this kind of money for a really outstanding wine, no matter where it comes from.

andrea gori wrote:
08.30.07 at 1:15 AM

Malbec (or "Cot") could be the grape of the moment...in Tuscany Antinori has started a new brand and a new farm devoted to this variety. The firs product I taste was Fattoria Aldobrandesca Vie Cave 2004, very nice example of what a Malbec can be in Tuscany terroir. My clients founded it a little bit too hard (tannins) and a bit too much international taste but in two weeks I sold 30 bottles at 18€ each so It can't be sooooooo bad!
http://www.antinori.it/eng/tenute/scheda.php?Id=13&tit=alto_fattoriaaldobrandesca

andrea gori wrote:
08.30.07 at 1:18 AM

@ Frank, this is a very good thing fot the americans, that they want quality, not brands or historical terroirs! As I told you, in Italy things are quite different...

Tish wrote:
09.02.07 at 8:46 PM

Very interesting. I've had pretty good experiences with some of the more popular $10 Malbecs, like Altos Las Hormigas, Alamos, Elsa; really like the Terra Rosa at about $12.

Alder, does this one compare stylistically with Clos de la Siete, the Michel Rolland wine? As in inkier, grippier and more complex? I think that's one of the best $18 wines anywhere. Also, does Hess import this? Knowing that can help people find it in other markets.

One more Malbec note: Gallo is importing Gascon now, which is quite decent if a little internationalized (very easy drinking). Yet another sign that Malbec is really on the rise.

Alder wrote:
09.03.07 at 9:50 AM

Tish,

Good question and good comparison. This wine is definitely close to the best vintages of Clos de la Siete that I've had. Yes, it is imported by Hess.

Felipe Méndez wrote:
09.03.07 at 10:06 AM

I discovered Colomé by chance, buying wine some day at the 3rd floor of the "Patio Bullrich" mall in BUenos Aires. It was a nice 2004 Torrontés, whom I picked just because of its old fashion label, its origin (Salta, supposedly the source of the very best Torrontés), the height of the vineyard and because it was evidently unfiltered.
It turned out to be a very impressive wine, and you could tell that the sun exposure and the temperature variations had something to do with the particular character of the wine.
Since then, every time I run in to a bottle of Colomé, I try it. And there have been high and lows.
Something very disturbing for me about these wines is its high alcohol content, wich has progressively increased since my first meeting with them. They feel quite hot in the mouth, something I dislike in any wine, but more on a supposedly refreshing variety as Torrontés.
Interesting wines. They could be better.

Greg Green wrote:
09.03.07 at 8:19 PM

Hi Andrea - Sono uno di questi americani chi ha bevuto il Brunello anno 90, so cosa'e un buon vino Italiano! Anche ho viaggiato tante volte in Toscana.

I know a few things about Italy, your perspective that Argentina is a "curiosity like India or China" is not one shared by many people. In the Mendoza provice of Argentina the typical family Sunday meal is ravioli. This is because it was peopled by Italians. So you're only doubting your own people.

In terms of cost and value, Tignanello costs about $80 here in California, and Sassicaia about $90.

As your interest seems commercial, I think most would agree with me that to pay $30 for a wine from Argentina carries with it no different value expectation than to pay $30 for a wine from Italy. However, Chile dominated US distribution of South American wine until the Argentine currency crisis of 2001, so it's only now that the US is seeing real distribution of wine from Argentina. For me, I prefer to buy California, but what I can get from Argentina is frequently excellent value.

andrea gori wrote:
09.04.07 at 2:00 AM

@Greg I'am talking about big numbers Greg! I assure you that only a very small percentage of italian knows or are interested in argentinian wines! The big public is starting now to drink SOME california wine so Argentina must wait some other time...

Paulo P. wrote:
10.21.07 at 6:20 PM

Andrea, I am not sure if it does have anything to do with who has the first in line. Colomé is a terrific wine that was made with an enormous amount effort (including economical). Agreeing with Felipe in his issues does not stop me from understanding that we are talking about a special effort (yes, there are some understandable inconsistencies due to adjustments of the recent management. This is the second or third vintage from Hess). Their first wine is a work of art and it totally caught me by surprise. I have same pretty good familiarity with South American wines and I was not expecting that from Salta (my mind set was: elegance and complexity from a hot place? no way!). But the wine is there to prove it. Go ahead and keep an open mind.

Dave D wrote:
04.12.08 at 4:19 PM

Ordered a bottle of this wine in a restaurant in El Calafate on the recommendation of the waiter. Was the best wine I tasted during my 2 week Argentina trip. Cost $42 USD (or 130 Argentine Pesos)and well worth it.

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