I participated in West London School of Wine’s online guided tasting ‘Wines with Altitude’ on the 18th May 2021. The tasting featured a variety of wines from Argentina’s oldest continuously operating winery, Bodega Colomé (since 1831) and was hosted by their chief winemaker Thibaut Delmotte. Tim Atkin MW has recently classified Bodega Colomé as a “first growth” producer. Wow! That’s quite an honour!
Bodega Colomé is located in the northwestern province of Salta. It is believed to have been founded in 1831 by Nicolás Severo de Isasmendi who was the Spanish governor of Salta. During this time the vineyards were planted in Torrontés and Criolla Chica (Mission Grape), which were producing very simple table wines. However, the popularity of French wine was growing and in 1854 his daughter Ascensión, who was married to José Benjamín Dávalos, travelled to France in search of varietals that would make higher quality wines. She returned to the estate in 1856 with the first French pre-phylloxera Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon vines, as well as some white varietals. That’s some serious dedication…all in the name of grapes and wine! To this day, grapes from the original vines planted in 1856 are still used to produce Colomé Reserva wines. After having been in the Isasmendi-Dávalos families for 170 years, Donald Hess acquired the estate in 2001. Impressed by the incredible sunlight, dynamic terroir and awe-inspiring heights he set out to make exceptional ‘high altitude’ wines! Today, the estate is comprised of several vineyards; each with its own unique terroir.
LET’S TALK TERROIR
Vineyards within this area are planted at altitudes that range from 1700 to 3000 metres. Compared to Mendoza’s highest heights of 900m, the vineyards of Salta are exceptionally high! The reason they are located at such extreme heights is because this region is located along the Tropic of Capricorn and tropical conditions pervade at lower altitudes. In order to achieve the most desirable growing conditions for wine grapes, the vineyards must be planted at higher elevations to avoid humidity, excessive heat and disease pressure. This particular area is extremely dry with low annual rainfall and little snowfall during the winter months. There is also relatively low disease pressure due to these dry, arid conditions. However, due to a particular ant that damages the buds during budbreak in the spring, a sustainable viticulture programme is in place to manage this pest.
Growing grapes at such high altitudes definitely impacts them in ways that you won’t necessarily see at lower elevations. For example, the sun’s solar irradiation is much greater at these heights due to less protection from the ozone layer and as a result, the grapes develop thicker skins. Additionally, the greater range of temperatures lead to a prolonged period of ripening, yet this enables the grapes to develop fresher, more refined complexities. Finally, as this is a desert area, the soil isn’t very fertile, which means that the grapes have to develop deeper root systems to get the nutrients they need. This is ideal, especially when growing rather vigorous varieties such as Malbec, because it forces the vines to produce lower yields of fruit with more concentrated flavours and aromas.
ALL ABOUT THE WINE
Throughout the years, the Salta region has developed a reputation for producing incredible Torrontés wines. The high altitudes and wide temperature ranges enable the Torrontés grape to present itself at its best; floral aromas to die for combined with fresh, mouthwatering acidity. However, within the past 20 years, increasing demand for red wine has led to more red varietals being planted, mostly Malbec but also others such as Tannat, Bonarda and Pinot Noir.
Throughout the entire tasting, Thibaut conveyed a true passion for winemaking and dedication towards preserving the terroir within his wines. Each wine that I tasted was unique, truly reflected the goal of ‘high altitude’ wines; well balanced with concentrated, expressive complexities.
Bodega Colomé ~ Estate Torrontés 2020 ~ Salta, Argentina
The Torrontés grape is the only native grape variety grown on the Bodega Colomé Estate. Researchers at UC Davis in California believe that it developed naturally as a variety through vineyard cross pollination between Criolla Chica (Mission Grape) and Muscat de Alexandria varieties. In fact, many people often compare the aromas of Torrontés to that of Muscat.
The grapes for the Estate Torrontés are harvested from two vineyards. A majority of the blend comes from the Brava vineyard, which is at an elevation of 1700 metres, ideal for this variety. This vineyard has sandy, rocky soil that adds intense floral aromas. About 10% of the grapes come from the Colomé vineyard which is planted on clay soil. and located at 2,300 metres. The soil is rich but the growing conditions are cooler. Together, this adds citric flavours on the palate. The high altitude and temperature extremes enable the grapes to retain their freshness, acidity and develop fresh floral aromas of jasmine blossoms. Honestly, the beautiful aroma bouquet intoxicates you before you’ve even taken a drink!!
In order to maintain the fresh, floral elegant aromas and create a wine with a bit more body that can hold up to food pairings, the grapes are fermented at a cool temperature for 30-40 days at 12°C. This is much longer than normal for a Torrontés wine; however, Thibaut believes that this process creates a very elegant wine. I completely agree!
Once you’ve recovered from your drunken aroma stupor, then indulge in a drop (or two..or three) of this incredible wine. On the palate, fresh mouthwatering acidity carries flavours of lemon zest and subtle notes of ripe pear along on a lengthy finish. If you love citrus, then these flavours will have you dancing! I absolutely love this wine!
I always like to think local when I’m pairing food and wine. So, why not pair this beauty with an Argentinian Picada or even my recipe for empanadas Salteñas? Anyone else ready to buy a one-way ticket to Salta, Argentina?
Producer: Bodega Colomé
Grapes: Torrontés (Torrontés Riojano)
Closure: Screw cap
Colour: Pale Lemon
Body: Medium bodied
Floral: jasmine blossoms
Fruit: Lemon zest, pears, white peaches
Drinking Window: Drink now!