COST: $14-$18, $20-$22
WHAT: Humans have been making wine for thousands of years, so you would think there isn’t much room for innovation. But it’s never too late to be a pioneer in the wine industry.
Creative winemakers and growers always come up with something new. Jean Bousquet (boos-KAY) was one of those restless souls looking for a better way. He broke away from the family tradition of making wine in France and brought his expertise to Argentina.
He bought land in the foothills of the Andes Mountains where many people thought it would be impossible to grow grapes. Nobody had planted grapes in the remote part of Mendoza that he picked.
“People thought he was crazy,” said Bousquet’s son-in-law, Labid Al Ameri, co-owner of Domaine Bousquet, with his wife Anne Bousquet and her brother, Guillaume. “They thought the grapes wouldn’t ripen. Now it’s the most expensive land around.”
The land is expensive because the grapes grown there make spectacular wine. Malbec is the national grape of Argentina. Three-fourths of all the malbec grown in the world is planted in Argentina. But the best malbec comes from high-altitude sites such as Domaine Bousquet in the Gualtallary valley in Tupungato, Mendoza. At an altitude of 4,000 feet, it is the highest vineyard in Mendoza.
In a phone interview, Ameri and Anne Bousquet explained why the altitude makes such a difference.
“The altitude gives us a cool climate,” said Ameri. “We have a high concentration of sun during the day. At night the temperature drops significantly. The vine tries to naturally protect itself and develops a thicker skin to protect from the heat and cold. The thicker skin produces more body and more flavor. The cool air adds freshness to the fruit.”
The winery also practices organic farming.
“From the beginning the three of us wanted to do organic,” said Anne Bousquet.
“When you grow tomatoes in your backyard, there is more flavor than from the grocery store,” said Ameri. “We do the same thing with the grapes. No commercial fertilizers or pesticides. We think this makes the wine better.”
All the work the family put in to find the right site and farm it responsibly has paid off in outstanding wines.
The two malbecs I tasted were mellower and more balanced than many other malbecs I have had. I love malbec, but the Domaine Bousquet version takes the wine to another level.
Both the Malbec Reserve 2014 and the Malbec Grand Reserve 2013 are purple in color, with slight red tinges around the rim. They give off intense aromas of blackberry with some black currants and plum. The grand reserve had more intense aromas.
The mouthfeel is silky, with a bit more fruit in the reserve and more structure in the grand reserve. Plums, blackberries and spices dominate the palate, leading to an elegant finish. Tannins are soft and well integrated.
“We wanted to have a balance between European tradition and Argentine fruit,” said Ameri.
The differences between the reserve and grand reserve are the grapes and how they are handled. The best grapes go into the grand reserve, though all the grapes in both wines are estate grapes. For the reserve, the fermentation starts in tanks and finishes in barrels. For the grand reserve, the first maturation is in oak and the finish in oak barrels.
Domaine Bousquet uses larger barrels than many wineries – 400 liters instead of 225 liters. This diffuses the oak in the wine. “We don’t want to overpower with the oak,” said Ameri. “After a while the fruit disappears and all you taste is oak.”
The barrels can be used up to five times, further reducing the oak effect.
The reserve spends 10 months in barrels while the grand reserve gets 12 months. Both spend 4-6 months in bottles before release.
I would serve the wine slightly chilled.
WINERY: Four generations of the Bousquet family made wine in southern France, in the city of Carcassonne, before Jean Bousquet had the idea that Argentina would be a good place to produce wine.
He sold his vineyards in France and in the 1990s moved to Argentina with his daughter Anne and her husband Labid Al Ameri, to find a good location. Mendoza, the largest wine region in Argentina, was the obvious choice, but not so much the part of Mendoza they settled on.
Bousquet bought about 270 acres (since expanded to 600 acres) in the Gualtallary valley in Tupungato, Mendoza, in 1997. With cool nights and a near-constant breeze, the vineyard is in a region with the ideal conditions to produce ripe grapes and extraordinary wines.
The area gets little rain, but snowmelt from the Andes provides clean fresh water for drip irrigation. In fact, the same water that goes on the vines is bottled and sold locally. It is one of Argentina’s most popular bottled waters.
“The nature is so imposing,” said Anne Bousquet. “There is nothing between you and the Andes. It is pure. You don’t want to be the first to spoil this pristine land. You don’t want to pollute that.”
After selling grapes for a few years, Domaine Bousquet produced its first wine in 2003. Jean Bousquet died in 2011, but Abid and Anne have carried on his traditions, joined by Anne’s brother Guillaume.
The winery sells about 400,000 cases of wine a year in 50 countries and recently increased its presence in the American market by forming its own import company. It increased sales from 10,000 cases to 90,000 cases last year and reduced prices.
The winery buys some grapes from neighboring vineyards for some of its wine and helps those growers gain organic certification.
Besides these two malbecs, the winery also produces a grand reserve chardonnay; a malbec blend called Ameri; premium cabernet sauvignon, merlot, rosé, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc; a white blend and a red blend under the Gaia label and several sparkling wines.
GOES WITH: There’s no question the best pairing with this wine is beef, but I wanted to see how versatile it could be. So we had it with chicken cooked on the grill.
Each of us had a half chicken that Modoc Volunteer Fire Department sold as a fund raiser. They did a great job cooking it slowly over low heat. The meat had a great flavor. The inside was juicy, but done, and there was no charring on the outside.
Both these wines were great with the chicken. They didn’t overpower the food, probably because of the muted oak and integrated tannins. The ripe fruit flavors balanced the smoky chicken. I think I liked the Grand Reserve a little better with the chicken, but either one was a chicken dinner winner.
Both wines also would go well with red meat on the grill, meats with rich sauces, a wide variety of cheeses, and chocolate desserts.