Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. HayesAspen Times Weekly

“The best thing about the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen” said Richard Nalley, editor of Forbes Life and a presenter at this year’s Classic “is that you always go home having learned something new.”With that Nalley proceeded, with the able help of Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, proprietor of Bodegas Chacra Winery, to school me and 40 other seminar attendees about the wines of Argentina. With glasses full of wine, it was the kind of schooling I respond to best.Argentina ranks fifth in wine production, just ahead of Australia and trailing Italy, France, Spain and the United States. The industry is currently thriving thanks to the improved quality of wines over the last decade and the affordability of those wines. While sales of wines from France and Australia are either declining or seeing no growth at all, sales of Argentina’s wines were up more than 25 percent in the last year and Malbec imports to America skyrocketed an amazing 61 percent in 2008.Four of the five wines Richard poured in the tasting were dominated by Malbec with the fifth being Piero’s Pinot Noir. Malbec is Argentina’s dominant grape. Native to Bordeaux where it traditionally was a blending grape, it was introduced to the region by European settlers. Today, Malbec grown in Argentina produces small, dark berries with a flavor that reflects the terroir of the region, one that is quite different than Malbec from, say, California or Cahors in France.The first wine we tasted was a Colom 2008 Estate Malbec. This was an amazing wine with perhaps an even more amazing story. It hails from a region called Salta, which should translate to “the middle of nowhere.” Here in the mountainous northwestern corner of the country, Swiss billionaire Donald Hess (you may know his Hess Estates in the Napa Valley) purchased Bodega Colom in 2001. The vineyards range in elevation from 7,500 to more than 10,000 feet – basically the same elevation range as the town of Aspen to Bonnie’s on Aspen Mountain. These are said to be the highest-elevation, quality wine vineyards in the world.But aside from just occupying rarefied air – the website refers to it as “The highest spot, where the clouds rock our vines” – Colom is committed to producing biodynamic wines. The difficulty breathing, much less producing wines in a closed agricultural environment, boggles the mind. But the result is equally rarefied, as the ’08 Malbec – a blend with Tannat and Carminere – proved.It should be noted that all of all of the wines poured were the products of either joint ventures or outright ownership by winemakers from other parts of the world. The Enamore 2007 Bodegas Renacer, for example, is a joint venture between noted northern Italian Amarone producer Allegrini and the Argentine-owned Bodegas Renacer. Enamore, by the way, is an anagram of Amarone. A blend of Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Bonarda, another uniquely Argentinean grape, this wine is a steal at just $20 a bottle.Sonoma’s Paul Hobbs produced the third wine the Vina Cobos Bramare 2007 Malbec, which he made with his Argentinean partners, the husband and wife winemaking team of Andrea Marchiori and Luis Barraud. Located in Mendoza, Argentina’s most prominent wine region, this 100 percent Malbec is from the eponymous Marchiori Vineyard. Big, tannic and well rounded, it is a prime example of what Argentine Malbec can and should be.Chteau Cheval Blanc, the Premier Cru Bordeaux house owned by LVMH has a South American partnership with Terrazas de los Andes, also in Mendoza. Together they made the Cheval des Andes 2006, our fourth wine. A huge blend of Malbec with Merlot and the two Cabs, Sauvignon and Franc. This is Bordeaux from another time and another place, a wine that is bold and busty.The final wine was the aforementioned Pinot Noir made by an Italian winemaking scion in a desert in Patagonia. The lyric “I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name came to mind as I listened to Piero Incisa della Rocchetta describe his Bodega Chacra winery in the Rio Negro region of Argentina. Desolate, windy, and arid, this place is hardly Burgundy. It’s about as far away from Sonoma’s Russian River or Oregon’s Willamette Valley as one can get.But the Bodega Chacra 2007 “BARDA” Pinot Noir, a blend made from grapes grown in three different vineyards, was as unique and interesting wine as I’ve tasted this year. These wines are driven by terroir and a intense desire on Piero’s part to let the grapes, all biodynamically grown and hand-picked, speak for their region and themselves.In less than an hour, Richard Nalley took me on a tour of Argentina and left me with lessons learned. That’s the best thing about the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

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 malibukj@wineink.com.

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