Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
December 3, 2009
It’s funny how wine can take you places you never thought you might go. For the past month or so, wines from Argentina, Malbecs in particular, have dominated my interest. Not that there is anything wrong with that, as they are perfect for the season – rich, lush, dark and satisfying. But had it not been for an e-mail missive from a friend, I likely would not have made the metaphorical trip south.The e-mail was titled “Recommendation” and asked if I could suggest a “robust” Malbec under $20 that could be found here in Aspen for his wife’s birthday. Easy, I thought, and headed out to secure such a bottle for him. My goal was to find a Catena Zapata Malbec 2007, a great, big, inky, spicy, fruity wine from the maker whose name has become synonymous in the U.S. with the wines of Mendoza. I found it at the Grog Shop for $26, a bit of a mark-up and a few dollars more than the request, but it was very affordable for a wine that would be named, less than a week after I purchased it, as one of the top 100 wines (No. 69 no less) of the year by The Wine Spectator. While I was happy to find my selection, my search through the local wine shops around town revealed both a number of intriguing Argentinean options as well as infectious enthusiasm from those who were selling them. Quality, value and diversity were cited by just about everyone as to why the wines of Argentina (and also Chile) are good buys now.My interest piqued, I bought a pair of Malbecs from a maker called Bodega Vistandes at Grape & Grain to sample during the upcoming week. I was told Jonathan Chaplin, who many of you will know as JC from his time spent at G&G over the last decade, had gone into the import business and was representing three different wineries from Argentina, Vistandes being one of them.We popped one of the bottles, the 2006 Vistandes Malbec Reserve later in the week and served it with a ribeye. It was terrific, but at $16 a bottle it was a steal. Sourced from a region in Mendoza called Cruz de Piedra from 30-year-old vines that grow at around 2,400 feet, the wine is a blend of 50 percent oak-aged Malbec and 50 percent unoaked Malbec. It was distinctly different from the Catena Zapata wine, with fruit dominating the first sniff and taste. The second bottle, also from Vistandes, was the winery’s premium brand called Gradum. These wines spend 12 months in oak and are hand-selected from Vistandes finest Malbec vineyards. It too was exceptional with solid tannic structure and richness that will only get better as this wine ages. Again, the quality-to-price ratio was outstanding for a $22 bottle.I called JC, who told me the tale of how he had partnered with his old friend Brian Ravitsky in a company called Brazos Wine Imports, originally founded by Ravitsky. Convinced that there was great wine in Argentina that would appeal to the American palate, they winged their way to Mendoza, found a guide and drove the dusty roads and unmarked highways, seeking out wineries that they might be able to work with. Their criteria was to find quality estate wines (that is, wines from families who owned their own vineyards and made their own wines) that had never been imported to the U.S. They succeeded in signing contracts with three wineries, Botega Vistandes, Clos de Chacras and Familia Bonfanti, all of which are located in the northwestern portion of the Mendoza region near the city of Mendoza and about a six-hour drive east over the Andes, from Santiago, Chile.I had an opportunity to taste wines from all three this week and they made an impression. High quality and reasonable prices, a formula for these times if there ever was one, could be found throughout the portfolio. Perhaps most surprising was how good the Cabernet Sauvignons from Mendoza were, but that is a topic for another column. Hopefully, my friend and his wife enjoyed their “robust” Malbec from Catena Zapata, but I was the winner, as serendipity put me on the road to Mendoza. That’s the thing about wine – there is always someplace new to go.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.