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2003 Pulenta Estate "Gran Corte VII" Red Wine, Mendoza, Argentina

03_gran_corte.jpgThree years ago this week I was making my way around the top restaurants of Buenos Aires, ordering too much food, too much wine, and having a grand old time. I had come to Argentina, in addition to simply relax, to find out whether or not there was anything worth drinking made out of a grape called Malbec.

The answer, of course, was a resounding "yes!" I managed to figure out why some serious wine lovers (and critics alike) had begun to quietly suggest that Argentinean Malbec was going to be the Next Big Thing.

This wine was NOT one of the wines I discovered when I was bumping along the back roads of Mendoza. But after tasting it, I sure wish I had known that both sides of the Pulenta family were making such awesome wines.

Pulenta Estate (not to be confused with Bodega Carlos Pulenta, which is run by another set of Pulenta sons) embodies the continued dream of the Pulenta family which began three generations earlier, near the turn of the century.

Angelo Polenta (the "o" later became a "u") and Palma Spinsati, like thousands of others at that time, immigrated to Argentina from Italy in 1902. They settled in the broad farmlands that still occupy the alluvial plains of Mendoza, under the shadow of the snow-capped Andes Mountains. With the determination that embodies so much of the immigrant experience everywhere in the world, they began to scratch out an existence for themselves as they set down their roots.

By 1914, they had moved a bit farther north to the town of San Juan and had started a small winery and a very large family, one that would quickly grow to 8 children. Those 8 children went on to have their own children, while the family winery continued to prosper. From 1914 to 1997, the Pulenta family built a successful winery business that they eventually sold.

In 2001, a few years after the sale of their San Juan estate, Brothers Eduardo and Hugo purchased vineyard land not too far from where their family first began farming three generations earlier, and established Pulenta Estate Winery.

At 2900 feet above sea level, the estates 333 acres in the Lujan de Cuyo area of Mendoza typify the regions best managed vineyards. Densely planted, dry farmed vines imported from France and Italy are subject to some of the planet's greatest temperature changes in the course of a day. This diurnal shift coupled with cool sunny days that typify the March harvest mean that properly tended grapes get to mature slowly and beautifully.

Like many producers in the area, the Pulenta estate produces three tiers of wine from their estate vineyards: a set of "Gran" reserve wines, a set of varietally labeled wines, and a set of "young release" wines that are marketed under the brand "La Flor."

Their top tier of "great" wines contains three different bottlings: a Malbec, a Cabernet Franc, and this, their "corte" or blend.

Comprised of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Malbec, 21% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, and 3% Tannat, this wine represents the very best fruit from the winery. Picked from their best, lowest yielding vineyard blocks and then sorted painstakingly down to the individual berry level, each varietal is fermented separately and then aged separately for 12 months in new French oak barrels. Only then are the best of these barrels blended to make the roughly 515 cases of this wine that are produced each year.

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

Tasting Notes:
Dark, almost inky garnet in the glass, this wine reaches out of the glass and grabs you by the scruff of the neck, suggesting (in the politest possible way) that you immerse your head in a cloud of cassis, black cherry, and well-oiled leather aromas. And once you've gone that far, you have to go all the way, letting the gorgeously satiny wine flow smooth and bright across your palate, soaking it with flavors that brilliantly mirror those initial aromas -- deep cassis and black cherry, tinged with an leathery earthiness. The acid balance is superb, the tannins grippy with a hint of greenness that pleases more than it perturbs, and the finish is lovely. The wine overall gives the impression of being a smooth operator.

Food Pairing:
Give me a foot and a half of grilled blood sausage and a bottle of this and I'd be set for the evening - especially if I could watch the sunset fall on the Andes.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $35

This wine is tough to find. Some more recent vintages areavailable for purchase on the online.

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