April 17th is Malbec World Day The day celebrates the founding of the first agricultural school in Argentina in the 1800s. It’s been celebrated since 2011. I have celebrated with a Malbec or an Argentina event some of these past 10 years but not all of them. This year, I was lucky enough to be sent a couple of samples to try from Kobrand, an importer of note with a great portfolio. I was excited because I received wines from places I have visited in the past and that way I could revive memories of past travel during this year of no travel, it is always a pleasure to remember the before time. On a trip to Chile I visited Montes. Montes is almost a mythical name in Chilean viticulture. Aurelio Montes, the President and Chief winemaker is a true cult figure and the winery, done according to principals of Feng Shui, is a destination for wine lovers.
Who knows what the true impact of the Gregorian chants that are piped into the barrique room in the Montes winery is on the wines? Does it improve the quality of the wine while it ages? It’s hard to tell and to prove but the chants certainly create a lovely and appealing experience for the visitor and those who work in the winery.
The staff at Montes is very enthusiastic and takes you on a long tour of the different parts of the winery. The vineyards in Colchagua, one of four Montes estates in Chile go on for as far as the eye can see.
It is somewhat hard not to be dazzled by these wineries and their extensive holdings not to mention the wines. Montes has more than 1000 hecares in Chile and makes 12 million bottles of wine a year. Montes was the first winery in Chile to plant grapes on hills.
Montes makes a number of wines under the Montes Alpha label. I have tried many of them while visiting the winery, in the years since and today with the arrival of this Malbec. The wine is 95% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes for this wine grow on granite soils with clay and organic materials in two different properties with varied depth of soil and proximity to water, Finca de Apalta and El Arcangel de Marchigue.
The wine, 50% of which spends 12 months in first, second and third use French oak barrels is full bodied with red and black fruit, spice, and vanilla on the nose and palate. Silky tannins with good acidity and an enveloping mouthfeel make this wine a nice complement to a dinner of ham with roasted potatoes. The wine had finesse and although the alcohol was 14.5%, it was not overwhelming.
The second wine I received was from Bodegas Norton in Argentina. The wine was a Riserva 2018. When I visited Argentina. Malbec, Argentina’s signature grape arrived in the country from Cahors in France in 1853 thanks to Michel Aime’ Pouget, an agronomist who was hired by the President to run the Quinta Agronomica de Mendoza.
I haven’t been in Argentina in many years. My first and only visit was in 2007 when I went on a pilgrimage l to follow two of my principal hobbies: tango and wine, not necessarily in that order. This was before I became a Mom and my biggest passion of all came into my life – my boy. At that time though, I spent a lot of time learning the tango. I spent five days in Mendoza, traveling through the wine country and discovered that Tuscany in the Andes might be an apt description except for the scale of it all .I was in Argentina with an Italian friend and when people heard us speaking Italian, they were encantada. A large number of Argentinians have Italian ancestry and everyone is happy to speak Italian. It seemed at times that Italy has not 60 million people but almost 100 million people if the Argentinians are to be counted. Even more with all the Brazilians of Italian heritage but that’s another article.
Norton has five vineyards. I believe I visited Perdriel, the original Norton property when visiting Lujan de Cuyo, but can’t locate the pictures so maybe it was in my imagination. They have 100 hectares of between 30 and 50 year old vines and the winery is at 950 meters above sea level. The winery was founded in 1895. The winemaker is David Bonomi who has been with the company for many years. Born in Mendoza to a family of Italian origin, wine has always been part of his family.
The winery is owned by the Swarovski family and Michael Halstrick is the CEO. They are very committed both to sustainability and social responsibility to their communities with an impressive array of initiatives to help worker’s families and the larger community around the vineyards including with educational opportunities.
The wine showcased red fruit with some sweet spice, chocolate and cedar notes. It had a velvety tannins, good acidity and was full bodied. Elegant and layered, it would be lovely with a brisket or stew but also could work well with a pasta alla carbonara. 100% of the wine spent 12 months in French oak.
I wish I could write a treatise about the differences in Malbec in Chile and Argentina but perhaps that will be for another day. 2018 seems to have been a pretty good year in both countries.