Ok, maybe it just wasn’t a remarkably intriguing sweet wine from Argentina that had me breathing heavy. It also could have been that I was in Aspen for a spell (courtesy of a trip sponsored by Terrazas de los Andes) and trying to acclimate to being at 7,908 feet. Luckily there was some oxygen provided for just that purpose. And not just plain ol’ oxygen (BORING), but scented. I think this could provide a valuable assist in mastering wine, no? Especially with identifying aromas. “Yes, I AM getting partially dried honeysuckle on the nose. In my nose. LITERALLY.” (Seriously, this sea-level dweller was greatly appreciative.)
But enough about inhaling oxygen. Let’s get to imbibing wine. Terrazas de los Andes is a winery in Argentina, and this post-Apsen Food and Wine Classic event was undertaken to educate a group of thirsty writers. And when you think of wine from Argentina, naturally the first thing that comes to mind is Late Harvest Petit Manseng? What? You said Malbec? Seriously?
We were fortunate enough to have Hervé Birnie Scott, Estate Director of Terrazas de los Andes, with us for the duration of our time in Aspen. (He’s also the Operational Director of Estates and Wines for Moët Hennessy worldwide. Feelings of inadequacy and sloth are coursing through my veins when I contemplate what I do in comparison.) And we were even more fortunate that Hervé brought a special treat from the winery: the 2010 Terrazas de los Andes Petit Manseng Cosecha Tardía (Late Harvest). A sweet wine from the El Yaima vineyard, it is regrettably not available for purchase outside of the winery. My goal, however, is not to tease you with the unavailable but to illustrate a point about wine and Argentina. Which I promise I will deliver shortly. If it helps at all, I’m happy to get on a plane with you and we’ll share a glass in Argentina. Deal?
I have to admit I was surprised that this sweet wine from Argentina was wine made from Petit Manseng. Especially because the country’s signature white wine grape, Torrontes, is such an aromatic grape that I thought it would be a shoo-in for a late harvest wine. But I found out that Torrontes is susceptible to rot, so if you let it hang on the vine too long in the hopes of creating a sweet wine you run the risk of ending up with some very unpleasant grapes. Petit Manseng, on the other hand (vine?), has a track record of making sweet wines in Southern France, and has the acidity to keep any late harvest wine from becoming overwhelmingly cloying. We had some kind of sweet (and delicious) fruit and pudding parfait to enjoy with the Petit Manseng, but I think its finest match would be with blue cheese.
While our first night was an informal, oxygen-filled occasion, the next day we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. Hervé was a most thoughtful presenter, combining a passion for the land with a keen appreciation for what science can bring to the understanding of a vineyard. I was most struck by his comments about the place of Malbec in Argentina. While the runaway success of this grape and the astonishing amount that gets exported to the United States is certainly cause for celebration, Herve challenged us to think less Malbec and more Argentina. Meaning that not only is Malbec not a monolithic entity within the region of Mendoza (where it is most famous), but Argentina as a whole is grandly diverse when it comes to climate and elevation. As Hervé put it, the grape-growing regions of Argentina have a “North Africa to Champagne climate.”
So is Petit Manseng going to challenge Malbec for preeminence in Argentina? Uh, no. But I wanted to focus on it because the Terrrazas Late Harvest Petit Manseng is like dumping a bucket of cold water on your preconceived notions, stopping you in your tracks and shocking your senses. (In a most flavorful, pleasure-delivering, and contemplative manner.) And then once you calm down you’re willing to hear more about the diversity of Malbec, the presence of other grapes, and Argentina as a whole.
It somehow seemed appropriate that I was absorbing all this information while in the midst of the imposing and iconic mountains surrounding Aspen. Because, like the story of this picturesque Colorado town, understanding wine in Argentina starts with acknowledging the towering presence and influence of the mountains that dominate the landscape. From Aspen to the Andes, it’s breathtaking stuff.
Maroon Bells photo courtesy mark gallagher.