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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Bodega Colomé Malbec Estate

Argentina (Salta)

malbec (85%), tannat, cabernet sauvignon, syrah

With some rising to over three thousand metres above sea level, the vineyards of Bodega Colomé in the Calchaqui Valley of Argentina are the highest in the world. Well, let’s just bring a bottle of their Malbec Estate back down to sea level and see what makes it so special.

Bodega Colomé Malbec Estate 2007

This malbec indeed reaches great heights! And I fall for it in so many ways — from its simple purple blackness in the glass to its vegetal aromas coated with cassis, touched by tobacco. It is braised damson and black cherry; it is a bright black fruit compote cooked by the sun, glazed by a white pepper spiciness. Warm tannins, smooth texture, but never for a moment genteel. Like all malbec, it declares its affinity to red meat, preferably grilled in an open Argentine firepit, surrounded by endless space on a brilliantly clear, star-filled night.  $

That’s something I love about wine — the licence it gives to bring a piece of the country where it originated into the drinking experience, no matter how far removed one might be from the place. If it were a malbec from Cahors (the grape’s ancestral home), would images of south-west France come rushing in with the tide? I would hope so.

The history of Bodega Colomé goes back almost 200 years, when the Spanish governor of the time planted the first vines. By the mid-19th century, malbec and cabernet sauvignon rootstock were being imported from France to the vineyards, four hectares of which still form part of the estate. Its modern history begins with the purchase of the property by Donald Hess in 2001.

Bodega Colomé is one of a collection of wineries on four continents comprising the Hess Family Estates. Wine is also produced in the U.S., South Africa and Australia. Hess is equally well known for his other collection — visual art. In fact his dual passions are very much intertwined. On three of his wine estates he has constructed art galleries. The gallery at Bodega Colomé is devoted solely to the work of James Turrell, an artist renowned for his use of space and light, whose work seems very well attuned to this remote South American landscape.

Getting to the Argentine estate requires a drive of hours from the nearest airport, much of it up rough mountain roads. At the end of the journey one finds not only DONALD HESS‘s modern winery, but a luxury inn, and the village of Colomé itself, which has been revitalized by his support of projects that include the introduction of hydroelectricity, better telecommunication, and a new church. All this and biodynamics, too.

Hess oversees his wine interests in Argentina, but the wine-making is in the hands of THIBAUT DELMOTTE and a team of workers from the village. Delmotte works with grapes endowed with special qualities resulting from the climate and elevation. There’s a particularly high differential between the day and night temperatures. Higher UV levels produce thicker grape skins, and thus stronger colour, and more (if less harsh) tannins, and more health-benefitting antioxidants. Lower levels of carbon dioxide slow the ripening on the vine; the high altitude slows the fermentation once the wine-making is set in motion.

The terroir is uncommon. Its height and light and circumstance are decidedly in the wine drinker’s favour. (At sea level or wherever.)





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