Amalaya, Colomé Estate and Reserva – Tasting Notes

They are high and they are mighty. And all in a good way. Bodega Colomés wines are made from grapes that are grown in some of the highest vineyards in the world. No wonder that they show such wonderful concentration.

A few days back I posted an interview with Thibaut Delmotte – the passionate winemaker of Bodegas Colomé in Argentina. We met last friday and together we tasted some of Colomés wines.

You can read the interview with Thibaut Delmotte here! 

But how good are the wines? Here are my notes from the tasting!

Amalaya Blanco 2010
This is an interesting blend 90 percent Torrontes and 10 percent Riesling grown at 1700 meters above sea level in Calchaqui Valley (Cafayette Valley). The grapes were hand harvested in march (Riesling at the end of february to keep it fresh) with a quite big yield of 12 tons/ha. Just a couple of hours maceration. Cool fermentation at 14°C an no malolactic fermentation and no oak.

Light golden colour. Quite big and spicy aromas with dominated by green fruits and floral notes. Aromatic fresh nose with minerals, honey and citrus. Light fresh and citrusfruity taste with an aromatic greenness to it. Spicy, dry and grapey. The tiny Riesling addition is quite noticeable. Refreshing to drink as it is but will go equally well with fish, seafood or ligher meat.

Colomé Torrontes 2011
100 percent Torrontes from Calchaqui Valley. Once again a quite big  yield of 10 tonnes/ha (Torrontes can be to aromatic at low yields, says Thibaut Delmotte). The grapes were harvested in late mars and the beginning of april. Cold fermentation at 12°C to bring out elegant floral aromas (and at these temperatures the yeast fight to converse sugar to alcohol which gives a lot of glycerol according to Delmotte). 1 months elevage sur lie with frequent battonage for extra complexity.

Golden colour. Big and spicy nose with ripe tropical fruits, spice and flowers. Medium bodied almost fat dry taste of ripe tropical fruits. Great concentration and freshness even though it is quite aromatic. Serious food wine!

Amalaya Red 2009
A blend of 75 procent Malbec, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Syrah and 5 percent Tannat from Calchaqui Valley harvested in mars-april. 4 days cool maceration (24-and then selected yeast-fermentation. 18-20 days maceration. Malo in stainless steel and then 20 percent of the wine was aged in french oak for 1 months.

Dark red in colour. Green fresh aromas of red and dark berries, green peppers and just a touch of smoke. Medium bodied quite fresh and smooth taste of red berries, spices, liquorice and just hints of oak. Well balanced and easy drinking wine.

Colomé Estate 2004
An interesting and a bit oldschool blend of 66 percent Malbec, 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Tannat grown on altitudes between 1500 and 2500 meters. 20 percent came from old vines (60-150 years old) and 80 percent from new vines. Later vintages have used less and less Cabernet which has a hard time to ripen fully at these altitudes. Yields around 50-55 hl/ha. Selected yeast-fermentation in tanks, full malo and 12 months ageing in 66 percent new and 34 percent one year old french oak.

Dark red and dense colour. Developed, herbal and complex nose with dark and red berries, bell peppers, chocolate, black pepper and mint. Medium to full bodied and concentrated taste of dark berries, dried fruits, tobacco, mint, cigarbox and herbs. Long concentrated aftertaste with a firm tannic backbone. Might be on top now but will hold for another 3-5 years.

Colomé Estate Malbec 2008
A blend of 85 percent Malbec, 8 percent Tannat, 3 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 2 percent Syrah and 2 percent Petit Verdot from vineyards at 2200 to 2500 meters in Calchaqui. The grapes were harvested in march-april. Yields as above. Fermentation with selected yeasts. 25-30 days maceration and 50 percent of the wine went through malo in french oak barrels. Ageing also in french oak (20 percent new oak) for 15-18 months. 2008 was great year in Argentina with really ripe fruit.

Opaque dark red colour. Complex nose with dark berries, spices, black pepper, mint and leather. Medium to full bodied and superconcentrated tastes of dark berries, tobacco, herbs and oak. Good acids and quite firm but berry cushioned tannins. Long elegant and yet powerful finish with notes of bitter chocolate.

Colomé Estate Malbec 2009
Basically the same vinification as the 2008. But the vintage was cooler and more cloudy and the grapes were picked late april.

Dark dense colour. Young nose with loads of oak, fudge and minerals. Medium bodied fresh and concentrated taste of red and dark berries, ceder, oak and tobacco. Herbal finish with quite mellow tannins. Will probably not keep as long as the 2008. 

Colomé Reserva 2007
From 8 hektars with very old malbec and cabernet sauvignon grapes (60-150 years old) grown at 2300 m above sea level. Some even pre-phylloxera. Hand picked of course (“almost berry by berry”) and at a much lover yield – 15hl/ha in may (almost overripe grapes according to Delmotte). Fermentation at 28°C and up to 40 days maceration. Malo in new french barrels and then 24 months ageing also in new oak (but according to Thibaut – he uses a very pragmatic approach – if he thinks it is enough oak he transfers the win to older barrels). Only 500 cases were made.

Black dense colour. Almost a port-like bouquet of mint, herbs, black fruits and chocolate. Full bodied superconcentrated palate with a powerful acids and tannins. The wine is full of ripe dark berries and black fruits with elements of herbs (mint), chocolate and oak. Long long powerful finish. Almost portlike on the palate as well. Will probably age well for up to 10 years!

Colomé Reserva 2008
100 percent Malbec basically vinified as above (12 months in new oak and 12 months i second year barrels).

Black opaque colour. Young nose filled with elements of smoke, fudge, chocolate, black berries and cocoa powder. Full bodied, young and superconcentrated wine with massive amounts of dark fruit and elements of chocolate, fudge and toasted oak. Big powerful structure, just a sting of alcoholic burn (15,9 % alcohol) and a peppery finish. Serious wine that needs a couple of years cellaring for the elements to come together. 

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Meet Thibaut Delmotte of Bodegas Colomé

On friday this week Thibaut Delmotte – young, charming and passionate winemaker of Bodegas Colomé – visited Helsingborg in Sweden. I was invited to taste the main wines from Colomés range and also had an opportunity to talk with him about his winemaking philosopies.

Although it is one of the oldest bodegas in Argentina (founded in 1831) – Bodegas Colomé’s fame is quite recent. In 2001 Donald Hess and The Hess Family Estate bought the old vineyards and started an extensive quality regime and began bottling the wines in it’s own name. Two years later Donald Hess planted his first new vineyards in Argentina.

Thibaut Delmotte came along in 2005 and it also marks the date/year for the first harvest from the new winery. Being from Burgundy he was first a bit confused by the strong, dark and tannic malbec wines from the Andes. But it didn’t take him long to tame and master the sometimes wild characteristics of malbec. Today his wines ranges from the early drinking and fruity Amalaya to the dark, dense, tannic and alcoholic Colomé Reserva.

And it didn’t take long for the wine media to take interest either. In 2006 and 2008 the Colomé Estate was among Wine Spectators top 100 wine-list. And after the taasting I can’t but agree. These are some of the best malbec wines I’ve tasted from Argentina.

They key to success lie partly in the very high altitudes of the vineyards in Salta in the far north of Argentina. Some as high as 3100 meters above the ocean (highest in the world?). Great daytime/nighttime (35°/15° C) differences in temperature gives the grapes great acidity, and the high UV-radiation gives lots of polyphenolic content.

Another key factor is old vineyards. Although the new plantings have been extensive since 2001 –  Colomé has some 4 hectars of very old malbec (90-150 years old) – and some very old Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontes as well. Important not only for making concentrated wines but also for future plantings.

– It’s fantastic to have such a genetic heritage. We take cuttings from these pre-phylloxera vines when we plant new vinyards, says Thibaut Delmotte.

Malbec comprise the great majority of vines in the vineyards. But there is also Tannat, Syrah, Cabernet, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot. And some new plantings of Merlot and Pinot Noir.  And for white wines there is Torrontes, Sauvignon Blanc and some Chardonnay, Sémillon, Riesling  and Sauvignonasse. But not all varietys thrive equally well on these extreme altitudes.

– Malbec is really ideally suited for the altitude and dry climate. Our Tannat is very floral. The Syrah is very spicey and the Petit Verdot is very elegant.

But cabernet and tempranillo is a whole nother ball game. And at 2600 meters and above – Tannat also has a hard time to ripen fully.

– It’s impossible to get Cabernet and Tannat to ripen fully. Cabernet gets too much green and herbal aromas and green acidity. And Tempranillo gets loads of tannins but too low acicdity and fruit concentration. If we can’t get Tempranillo to work we will probably replace it with Malbec.

For Thibaut Delmotte working in winerys in Bordeaux really gave him a sense and understanding of blending different grapes.

– In Burgundy we just do one wine more or less. We do of course make the premier cru and the village wine – but that’s about it. Malbec really needs blending with other varieties to give it more complexity. And it does really give different wines in different terroirs.

The approach to winemaking and vineyard maintenance is minimal intervention. Already from the outset the farming methods were organic and in 2008 Colomé became the first certified biodynamic wine producer in Argentina.

But why bio-dynamism?

– Donald Hess always wanted a biodynamic vineyard and Colomé is perfect. It is a 39000 hectar farm with no neighbours which is very important – there is no risk of contamination. Second it is a very dry climate with only 120 mm rain a year and the cold nights are very good against diseases.

But he himself wasn’t a true believer from the beginning. But over the years he has been convinced. He says that that they get greater bio-diversity this way, a greater soil composition with more microorganisms. And he wouldn’t go back to conventional farming.

Pressed on the subject he admits that there probably aren’t any real quality differences between oraganic and biodynamic farming. It has more to do with personal preferences.

– It’s more of a thing for ourselves. We don’t even put it on the labels. It is more of a philosophy to follow the astrological calender. For me it is more complete. I understand better why and how I do things. Organic is fine but it is also more of a marketing argument.

So organics is a marketing strategy and biodynamism isn’t? But how does he feel about another recent trend in winemaking – that in making so called “natural wines” (non-interventionist wines with little or no addition of any chemical ingredients, sugar or acids)?

– I really feel that I am doing “natural” wines. We add nothing but oak and sulphur. I use natural yeast. We probably couldn’t live without sulphur dioxide because our ph-levels are ideal for bacterial development. So it would be very risky doing wine without SO2.

– When I started there were not many that fermented with natural yeast. But now that people have seen what we are doing more and more are returning to natural yeast. I find that I get a better fermentation with natural yeast.

And now what? What is the next challenge?

– For me it is improving what we have done so far and continue to experiment. I was only 25 when I became winemaker of Colomé. It was an incredible opportunity for me. It’s fantastic!

For more on Bodegas Colomé and the notes on the wines tasted – stay tuned to Ericsson Uncorked!