As I delve deeper into the wine blogging universe, I realize that every wine has its day. So does every grape variety, apparently, and some winegrowing regions do, too. Do I mind? Heck no!
Each vinous celebration gives me a chance to learn more about wine, how it’s made, and why certain areas focus on a particular variety or style of wine. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to receive tasting samples (as is the case this time) to add to the fun. Many thanks to Donna White Communications, Hess Family Wine Estates, Bodega Colomé, and Bodega Amalaya for sending me two bottles of Argentine wine for #Malbec World Day. And I’m delighted to share them with you!
Note: These wines were provided to me at no charge; that said, all views expressed in this post are my own opinions.
Not long ago I received a package including the two bottles of Malbec, technical information on each wine, and suggested menu pairings for them. Check it out:
At first glance I was inspired to get in the kitchen and whip up these beautiful dishes, imagining myself entertaining a dozen friends at a splendidly decorated table. What a fantastic idea! And then I remembered that my dining room table is actually a desk, and that my kitchen has barely enough room for me to turn around in it.
Okay, so I couldn’t pull out all the stops and make the meals exactly as suggested, but I sure was inspired to create alternatives that stayed pretty true to the ingredients. Pow! They worked out great. But first things first.
Hess Family Wine Estates
Both wines I received are part of the Hess Family’s expanding portfolio of wineries around the world. Hess Family Estate Vineyards is a fifth-generation company committed to responsible agriculture and business practices, with a focus on new world wines, developing tourism and hospitality opportunities, and fostering and supporting contemporary art. In addition to their flagship Napa property, they own vineyards in South Africa and South America.
The two Argentine properties lie within the Calchaquí Valley in Salta province, in the far northwest of the country, making them among the highest-elevation vineyards in the world (some higher than 10,000 feet.) Despite 300+ sunny days per year, the extreme conditions here mean yields are naturally low, and the grapes develop thick skins. The resulting wines tend to be concentrated and full-bodied, with intense aromatic profiles.
Founded in 1831, Bodega Colomé is one of the oldest working wineries in Argentina. Originally owned by the Spanish governor of Salta province, Nicolás Severo de Isasmendi y Echalar, the winery boasts vines of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec brought from France by Ascención, the governor’s daughter, in 1854. What’s unique about them is that they were planted on the original, pre-phylloxera rootstock, and they still bear fruit today. The tiny quantities harvested each year are designated for the Bodega’s reserva bottlings. Years later, Ascención married into the Dávalos family; subsequent generations of the two families operated the Bodega together until 2001, when it was purchased by Donald Hess.
Mr. Hess brought his love of community to Salta and became a leader in sustainable winemaking through his principles of respecting the land and the local people. Hess worked to improve conditions around the Bodega by building a community center and a church, as well as improving the nearby schools and housing options. Today, through Bodega Colomé, Hess is the leading employer in the region.
In turn, the local farms and vegetable growers contribute to the well-being of the vineyards by offering manure and compost for the organic fertilizers used to feed the vines. Some biodynamic preparations are used, and the winemaking methodology is one of minimal intervention: native yeasts, no new oak barrels. It’s an approach based on what they call an ancestral world view, whose goal is:
A balanced vine through the years, healthy fruit with concentrated aromas, polyphenols, and flavors, resulting in intense wines with balance and great complexity.
Situated around the town of Cafayate, Amalaya began as an experiment started at Colomé: a search for new sources for blended wines based on Argentina’s two most celebrated grapes – Malbec and Torrontés. The name of the Bodega offers a clue to its backstory: amalaya is an Incan word that translates loosely as hope for a miracle. It’s a term that refers to prayers offered up for a bountiful harvest in a place where conditions could be harsh.
When Donald Hess first came to Cafayate in 2010, in search of the perfect place to conduct his experiment, he was attracted to a plot of land high in the hills on which nothing had ever been grown. Wondering if he was making the right decision in buying the land, he took heart in the Incan prayer of amalaya, and soldiered on, hoping something would indeed grow there. Today, Bodega Amalaya includes two vineyards planted to eight varieties; experimentation continues with other grapes and blends.
The winemaking philosophy shares many of the tenets Hess has used to build sustainable wineries in other places, but with one notable exception: the focus on blends. At Bodega Amalaya, “each wine is born in the vineyard believing it will be part of a blend.” The goal is a structured wine of spicy intensity with varietal fruit character and a sense of place.
Wine and Food Pairings
2015 Bodega Colomé Estate Malbec; Salta, Argentina (14.9% abv; $25 retail)
100% Malbec from four high-altitude vineyards (5,740 – 10,207 feet) that each contribute unique qualities to the finished wine, which spent 15 months in French oak barriques and was aged an additional six months in bottle.
Color: Dark purple, virtually no fading at the edge.
Nose: Enticing black fruit aromas of plum and cherry, secondary aromas of chocolate, mocha, and dust.
Palate: Juicy black plum and cherry flavors, along with bittersweet chocolate on the finish. Tannins are soft, acidity is tangy to balance the fruit. Although it weighs in at a hefty 14.9% abv, this wine wears it well, feeling much lighter on the palate.
Verdict: A lovely wine, perfect on its own or with a meal. I served it with grilled lamb chops and a quinoa-corn dish that was inspired by the suggested recipe: Seared Lamb Loin with Fresh Corn and Quinoa Soup. It worked well, and I thought it an outstanding pairing – one I would gladly make again.
2016 Bodega Amalaya Malbec; Salta, Argentina (14% abv; $16 retail)
A riff on an old-school Bordeaux blend, this wine is 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, and 5% Petit Verdot. All grapes were sourced from the Las Mercedes vineyard which lies on deep, sandy flat soils with an eastward aspect. In line with the minimalist philosophy, only a quarter of the finished wine saw time in oak; in this case, eight months in used French barriques.
Color: Deep ruby with glints of magenta at the rim.
Nose: A bouquet of red fruit – cherries and berries – with some hints of vanilla and spice.
Palate: Lovely fruit accented by just a touch of vanilla and mocha on the finish. Tannins are smooth, acidity is moderate, making for a soft, round, very drinkable wine.
Verdict: Another great sipper on its own, or as a partner with simply grilled steak. The recommended pairing was a Grilled Tomahawk Steak with a Squash and Zesty Watercress Salad, and I bet that’s right on. Our simpler version, accompanied by a crisp romaine salad dressed with citrus vinaigrette, was fantastic, too.
Celebrating Malbec World Day 2018
Whether you decide to go fancy with a dinner party for your family and friends or keep it simple with a grilled steak for two, one thing is for sure: you can’t go wrong with either of these bottles of Malbec. (Buy the Colomé here and the Amalaya here.)
It’s always a treat to sip a wine that’s been made with care, by folks who actively participate in their communities. And when the wine is affordable and just plain delicious, well, that’s a bonus. Here’s to Donald Hess and others like him, who marry smart business practices with a sincere desire to improve the world around them. Cheers!