WHAT: Grapes grown on hillsides, at altitude, tend to produce great wines. That’s true around the world, whether it’s the steep valleys of Germany’s Rhein and Mosel rivers or the hillsides of Burgundy or the mountainsides of Napa and Sonoma.
But for the best values on mountain wine you can’t beat South America. Argentina and Chile produce great wines from the Andes Mountains, and many of them are priced for everyday drinking.
The Colomé malbec is grown in some of the highest vineyards in the world, ranging up to 10,000 feet. There is so little rain on these vineyards, they qualify as high-altitude deserts. The wines that come out of these vineyards is like finding an oasis when you are lost.
This malbec is a beautiful deep red in the glass, with intense aromas of blackberries and red fruit, and floral and spice notes. Fresh flavors of ripe and rich black fruit with spiced oak notes and hints of pepper are balanced by a fresh acidity. The wine finishes with big, bold tannins and mineral notes.
This complex wine is fun to drink, but if you are having a big dinner, it can be a serious wine. There is nothing timid about it. It is drinking wonderfully now, but it should improve in the bottle over the next five years or so.
The grapes are grown on four estate vineyards on the side of the Andes Mountains, ranging in altitude from 5,740 feet to 10,207 feet. The altitude gives the grapes more exposure to the sun, and a great temperature swing from day to night, which allows the grapes to ripen slowly.
The skins also get thicker, producing more robust flavors and fresh acidity.
After fermentation with natural yeasts, the wine spends 15 months in French oak barrels, most of them used, and then spends six months in the bottle before release.
Malbec originated in France, but has become the national grape of Argentina, where it has found ideal growing conditions.
Colomé takes a minimalist approach to growing the grapes and making the wine, using organic fertilizers such as compost and manure and not adding anything to the wine. The company also uses some biodynamic practices to plan vineyard tasks in agreement with the rhythm of the sun, moon and planets.
The 2013 malbec also has a new, modern label, which I think is an improvement. The new label gives prominence to the mountains where the grapes are grown, even labeling the heights of some of the peaks. It’s difficult to tell if this is a permanent change because the 2015 torrontés still uses the old label.
WINERY: Founded in 1831, Bodega Colomé is one of the oldest wineries in Argentina. The Spanish governor of the Salta province is believed to be the founder. In 1854 the governor’s daughter brought the first French pre-phylloxera malbec and cabernet sauvignon vines to Colomé. Grapes from three vineyards planted that year are still used in Colomé Reserva wines.
The winery was owned by the Isasmendi-Dávalos families for 170 years before Donald Hess bought it in 2001.
Sitting high in the Upper Calchaquí Valley, the property is a gem, featuring beautiful tasting rooms and a boutique hotel, Estancia Colomé.
Donald and Ursula Hess first visited the Calchaquí Valley in 1998, searching for the perfect terroir and the ideal weather to produce unique Argentinean wines. What they discovered was beyond their expectations: they actually found their second home.
Their vision goes beyond the winery to include the surrounding community. The Hess family contributed to building the village community center and the church, and to the betterment of the school and the community housing. Colomé is the source of employment and income for most of the village inhabitants.
Colomé produces more than 50,000 cases of wine each year, shipping it to more than 40 countries around the world.
Colomé is part of Hess Family Wine Estates, a family-owned, fourth-generation company with a deep commitment to responsible agricultural and business practices. It was founded in Bern, Switzerland in 1844.
The Hess Family Wine Estates owns seven wineries around the world, including the Hess Collection in Napa Valley. The winery in Napa includes 13,000 square feet devoted to the Hess art collection. Other Hess Art Collection museums can be found at the Glen Carlou Winery in South Africa and at Bodega Colomé in Argentina.
Colomé focuses on Argentina’s two iconic wines, malbec and torrontes.
GOES WITH: We had this with vegetable beef soup, a soup I like so much I could eat it twice a week every week. It’s a hearty soup with big beef flavor and many different vegetables adding to the mix.
The meal needed a big wine to handle the soup, and the Colomé malbec filled the bill. All the big fruit flavors and smooth tannins blended well with the soup. Many nights we still have wine after we have finished eating, but with this malbec it was gone quickly.
The soup is easy to make. Take stew beef (or cut your own from a good cut of beef) and boil it in a large pot for about an hour. Then skim off the foam that floats to the top. I add beef broth and several bouillon cubes to jack up the flavor.
Then add whatever vegetables you like. I particularly like potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, leeks, turnips, parsnips, corn and okra. I also add several cans of diced tomatoes. Add one bunch of chopped parsley leaves and cook for another hour or so. I serve it over noodles. Quantities vary, depending on how much you want to have on hand. If I can’t eat it quickly enough, it freezes well.
You could also serve this wine with grilled steaks, roast beef, venison, a beef brisket or hard cheeses such as aged cheddar.