Happy to discover another new wine

By Celia Strong

We all know what it’s like to open a bottle of a new wine for the first time and, just love it, love it, love it. It’s how we know we have found another new favorite. And we drink it, often, and a lot of it because we just get happy with every sip and glass. This is a very special feeling. Thank goodness we get to have it as often as we do. So, here’s to happy, happy for you this week.

The wine this week comes to us from Argentina, the Mendoza area to be precise. We have, in the past, looked at several Argentine wines and learned bits and pieces about this country and its wine industry. Things like they are the fifth largest wine producing country in the world. Things like 60 percent of their wines come from the Mendoza region. Things like high altitudes and low humidity in the vineyards mean the grape growers don’t often have insect, mold, or fungus problems, but they do need irrigation, usually provided by the melting snow running down from the Andes Mountains. Things like their winemaking history dates back to the 1500s, with both Spanish conquerors and missionaries. Things like their original beginnings were based on making as much wine as they could, regardless of quality. (Ugh.) Things like the building of the Argentine National Railway system, completed in 1885, that allowed better quality wines to get down from the mountains to shipping points and world markets. And finally things like the stabilization of the Argentine economy so their wines held their prices and could be sold fairly around the world.

Mendoza, as the largest wine producing area in Argentina, is worth a quick look at, again, too. The two main industries of this region are wine and olive oil. (Remind anyone of European countries?) The city of Mendoza is one of the nine “Great Capitals of Wine” in the world, and we can imagine what that does for its tourism. A growing industry, especially with more than 100 wineries there now.

This city is located on Ruta Nacional 7, the major highway that runs between Buenos Aires, on the Atlantic coast, and Santiago, Chile, on the other side of the Andes. The city is on the way to Aconcaqua, the highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere, so climbers frequently stopover there. In addition, skiers, horseback riders and rafters also come through Mendoza. Recently, oil and uranium have become viable industries in Mendoza. (Seems to me the wineries have their work cut out for them, if they want to remain the No. 1 industry here. Seems to me that means we have a lot more wines to taste to help them!) The city of Mendoza was founded by Spanish settlers on what they thought were the banks of a river. In fact, the “river” was a large irrigation ditch dug centuries before by the Huarpes natives. Before 1600, only about 80 Spanish settlers lived in the area. Prosperity and more settlers came with slave labor and Jesuits. Using, and connecting, rivers throughout the area increased irrigation,  agriculture and trade opportunities. In 2008, “National Geographic” listed Mendoza as one of the top 10 historical destinations in the world.

But, enough history. Let’s move on to our grape variety this week: The ever-wonderful Malbec. This is a thin-skinned grape that needs lots of sun and warmth to grow well. Growing at the high elevations of Mendoza vineyards keeps it closer to the sun. Hence, warmer while its on its vines. Malbec brings deep, intense color to its wines — inky as it’s called. You can see the intense color on your tongue with just a few small tastes. On your teeth with a few more sips. There are also full tannins in the wines from Malbec. So, yes, it goes well with beef. (All those gauchos in Argentina need something to drink, too!)

The origins of Malbec are not completely clear. One theory, never proved, says it was named after the Hungarian peasant who first spread the grape through French vineyards. Actually, this peasant was working as an undercover detective. Good cover, planting grapes. Because of its deep color and smooth texture, Malbec was originally used more as a blending grape. In Bordeaux, in particular, it was very useful in rounding out and adding complexity to their Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. It found its way to Argentina with immigrants in the late 19th century. When the phylloxera louse hit the vineyards of Europe, including Bordeaux, many vineyards workers left to find work and opportunities in new areas and some of them took root cuttings with them.

Malbec is very susceptible to vine diseases, frost, mildew, rot and more. The coolness of the air in the Argentine vineyards, and the dryness, all worked together to make this a great place for Malbec to grow. Once the Argentine growers and winemakers learned how to prune and control their yields, they found that Malbec was their great, “national” grape. The actual Malbec grown in Argentina is, in fact, a slightly smaller size grape. It is, probably, a clone of the French Malbec. Argentina has over 75,000 acres of Malbec vineyards, and more than 60 percent of them are in Mendoza. It is these Malbec wines that are the most highly rated. They are deep colored, intensely fruity and velvety textured. They do not have the same tannic structure as French Malbec, but they have shown they do have the aging potential. All excellent news for us.

And, more excellent news? We are now ready to talk about our new wine — Nómade Malbec. Nómade is a Mendoza winery, founded by Tomás Achaval. In 1994, Achaval started dreaming about starting his own winery. At the time, he was president of Bodegas Chandon (yes, the Argentine branch of Moët and Chandon of Champagne and Domaine Chandon in California). Achaval fell in love with the Argentine wine business and decided he would develop his dream there. In 2002, he started looking for the best vineyard locations, in Mendoza. His goal, with Nómade, was to craft wines from select grapes that were indicative of all that  his adopted home had to offer. The name, Nómade, came from the indigenous travelers in the area centuries before.

Nómade Malbec comes from a 75-year-old vineyard, located at over 3,600 feet above sea level. The older vines have lower yields and their grapes bring balance, a delicate structure and subtle complexities to this wine. It is an intense, deep red color and pops into a mouthful of dark red fruit flavors. Our wine also has plum and prune flavors, floral notes and that elegant, round mouth-feel that makes for our favorite Malbecs. It is aged in French oak barrels, 70 percent, and American oak, 30 percent, all for eight months. Nómade Malbec is 100 percent Malbec. (Remember, Argentine law says a minimum of 80 percent of the named variety on a bottle’s label.) And, the winery has a woman winemaker — Gabriela Celeste-Eno Rolland.

The 2010  is the current vintage and lucky we are to have it. We tasted this wine, one bottle, over several days and every day it yielded delicious flavors and perfect textures. Sure, there are minor, minuscule differences. But, not enough to say the wine had changed, and the whole package is a juicy mouthful. Delicious! Perfect. A great wine. And, officially, my new favorite. For $14.99. Happy, happy. Enjoy.

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