WHAT: Soil and climate mean everything when producing wine. Each unique combination of those elements creates a different wine.
Winemakers in Bordeaux and Burgundy have been emphasizing that for decades. In those regions, vineyards 100 feet apart can command wildly different prices. Savvy wine buyers will look for vineyards close to the first growths to get less expensive wines that have some characteristics of the legendary wines.
With Amalaya wines you won’t find anything close to their soil and climate. They are grown in a remote place with extreme conditions. Luckily for us wine drinkers the wines are real bargains.
The grapes are grown in the Salta region in a remote part of the Andes Mountains about a mile high and in extremely arid conditions. At that altitude the sun is more intense, so the grapes get warm, sunny days and cool nights. That allows the grapes to ripen over a longer period of time and helps the grapes retain acidity and concentrated fruit characteristics.
You can almost taste the rocky, sandy mountain in this flavorful blend of 85 percent torontés (torr-ron-tez) and 15 percent riesling. It is a shiny gold in color with grapefruit and lemon mixed with floral notes in the aroma. Some people say it has a fruit salad aroma, and it does smell like it would be a sweet wine.
In the mouth, it is dry, with crisp acidity. The flavors are delicate and silky with a long, pleasant mineral aftertaste that comes from the rocky soil. The riesling adds some floral aromas and body to the finished wine.
Torrontés is the national white grape of Argentina, with its vineyards accounting for 97 percent of all torrontés in the world. Because torrontés is known for its freshness, it is best to drink it young. This is not a wine you would age. The lively fresh fruit flavors make it ideal for summer meals. The bottle has a convenient twist-off cap, making it great for picnics.
As the grapes are harvested by hand they are placed in 30-pound boxes, sorted and immediately crushed. The grapes then go through a chiller before final pressing.
The juice is chilled to 40 degrees and cold settled for 24 to 48 hours. Then juice is racked off the settlings and inoculated with yeast for fermentation. Fermentation usually lasts between 14 and 20 days.
Then the wine is racked and chilled again. It is then aged in stainless steel for 90-120 days and bottled.
WINERY: Bodega Amalaya is part of Hess Family Wines, a Swiss company owned by Donald Hess. The company owns wineries in the United States, Argentina and South Africa.
The vineyards are in Argentina’s Northern Calchaqui Valley in the northwest corner of the country. Because of the harsh conditions there, for centuries, farmers made offerings in hope for the miracle of a bountiful harvest. The word Amalaya means “hope for a miracle.” The region contains some of the highest vineyards in the world with less than 6 inches of rain per year.
The wines grew out of an experiment at another Hess winery, Bodega Colomé, where Donald Hess tried to find varietals to blend with Malbec.
The region’s rugged landscape and high desert didn’t look like a grape-growing area, but Hess saw the potential for great wines. Amalaya and Colomé produce flavorful and complex wines that make a case for the Calchaqui Valley as one of the great wine regions of Argentina.
In 2003 Hess said, “If blends are successful in the Old World, why can’t we have them here?”
Hess expanded Colomé and continued to experiment with New World blends for his white wines as well as his reds.
Amalaya’s new home features a modern winery and a trio of vineyards, each with distinct soils and micro-climates that produce compelling fruit. The winery produces an Amalaya Tinto, an Amalaya Blanco a malbec, a rosé and the Amalaya Gran Corte. All are wonderful wines.
Hess Family Estates has specialized in making and marketing top quality wines in constant association with art, food and tourism.
The label features a holistic circle that stands for the fertility of the “pachamama” or mother earth. The winery says the hoped-for miracle is revealed from the heart of the Cafayate desert in a mystical and magical way resulting in excellent wines.
GOES WITH: We had this wine with broiled lobster tails and pan fried potato wedges. Usually lobster pairs well with lush, creamy whites, but I wanted to see how the crisp torrontés would handle the flavors.
The pairing was perfect. Each sip of the silky wine cut through the lush butter and lobster tastes. At 13 percent alcohol the Amalaya didn’t overpower the food either.
This is an excellent food wine and will pair well with Asian and Indian cuisine, poultry such as roast chicken, fish like teriyaki salmon, shellfish, pork chops or such cheeses as feta, gruyere, swiss, paneer, pecorino, asiago, manchego and farmer’s cheese.
Serve the wine well chilled.