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stirring the lees with james molesworth

An Argentinean Benchmark

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 29, 2007 12:25pm ET

Over the weekend, I opened a bottle of Achával-Ferrer's 2002 Finca Altamira Malbec (among other things), and it gave me a chance to reflect a little bit.

When the wine was first released, I rated it 94 points (Nov. 15, 2004, issue), which at the time set a new high watermark for Argentina. This really was the wine that broke Argentina open for me—its racy fruit and minerality were unique, and its depth and concentration were superb.

I try to score on the conservative side of things, so pegging an Argentinean Malbec at 94 points, when none had been there before, felt like going out on a limb at the time. But for me, the wine showed what happens at the perfect point when everything comes together—a great vintage, a great vineyard and the hard work of a dedicated winemaking team.

The wine still shows terrific purity and fruit, along with a fine minerality. It has mellowed just a touch, but is still superlong and racy.

Today it hardly seems like I went out on that limb: A few more Argentinean Malbecs have now passed the 94-point mark, including more recent vintages of the Altamira.

Still, it's nice to reminisce a little over a wine that made such an impression when I first tasted it. Especially when it continues to make that impression ...

David Gillis
January 30, 2007 2:10pm ET
Hi JamesI agree with your comment about trying to score on the conservative side. I was introduced to Argentian Malbec's a few years ago by a co-worker from Argentina and was taken aback by the depth and complexity of the wine. At first I tried to compare it with the usual Cabernet's, etc but soon realized it was a wine that stands out on it's own.It is becoming more popular here in Toronto and I am a little worried that it may take off like the Australian Shiraz's and we may be diluted with some inferior products.Meanwhile I keep enjoying the wines and seek out the special ones.David Gillis
Jeff Jacques
NYC —  January 30, 2007 7:53pm ET
My wife and I went to BA last year in Feb. We had a different Malbec every night and were astounded by the wonderful wines. Our standout wine of the trip was the last bottle of the Altos Las Hormigas Reserve 2002 that we had with the chef's tasting at the Palace Alvear. A transporting wine! But we had consistently good wines everywhere we went. I'm looking forward to returning and in the interim I purchase Malbec liberally.Jeff
K Wilson
San Francisco, CA —  January 31, 2007 12:19am ET
James, We definitely agree with your comments. My wife and I lived in Brazil for about a year and a half -- Malbecs from Argentina were a staple of our wine experience there. Ach¿l-Ferrer's selections were exceptional; they continue to put a smile on our face any time we come across them now that we are back in the US. We had a chance to visit the winery in Mendoza in 2004 and were treated very well by Santiago Achaval. During the visit, it was clear that they are committed to quality and benchmarking themselves internationally. He mentioned that they are building a new winery out of town -- do you know if it is operational yet?
James Molesworth
January 31, 2007 9:48am ET
Jeff: The Hormigas Reserva is a really terrific wine, from winemaker Alberto Antonini. The just-released '05 was in my most recent tasting, so a review will be out soon.

K: Yes, Santiago's new winery is built. I think the power went out on them the first day they were using it for harvest (!), but they got the kinks ironed out. Look for their basic Malbec, which goes for about $25. In the house style, but without the single vineyard premium price...
Amherst Wines & Spirits
Amherst, MA —  February 2, 2007 10:18am ET
At a trade tasting last Fall I discovered a Malbec from a winery I had never heard of - Mendel. Blew my socks off. Has anyone ever come across this beauty? Retail - about $25.
James Molesworth
February 2, 2007 10:21am ET
Amherst: Mendel is a new project from winemaker Roberto de la Mota. You can find more on it here:

http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Features/0,1197,3324,00.html

and here:

http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Archives/Show_Article/0,1275,5766,00.html
Michael Davidoff
Sebastopol —  February 25, 2007 11:42pm ET
Malbec is my favorite varietal and I just drank a Bodega Noemia Patagonia 2004, wow is almost all I can say. Malbecs are underrated by most consumers and therefore there is more for the ones who love it. I have also found some great ones in Sonoma from Hanna Imagery and Chateau St. Jean (reserve).

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