Three years ago conducting a web-based wine tasting was ground-breaking. These days there aren’t enough hours in the day to take part in them all; and with this one in 2017 you actually got to taste the wines with the person on screen. During Lockdown a chance to enjoy a feature from the vault…..
Three bottles of Malbec were shipped from Argentina to the middle of rural France where I tasted the wines simultaneously with Graffigna winemaker Nacho Lopez 11,000km away. A fun stunt for Malbec World Day, perhaps, but a giant leap forwards for us digital wine journalists the world over. I have seen the future of modern wine journalism and it is virtual wine tasting.
Three Malbecs were picked by Graffigna’s Nacho Lopez for my first ever virtual wine tasting; the Graffigna Reserve Malbec 2015, the company flagship Santiago Graffigna 2014 and a tank sample of an experimental wine – foot-pressed in plastic containers 1600m up in the Andes, that shows the direction the company is headed in.
There were times during our live video conference call where I could have been forgiven for thinking I was talking to Fidel Castro who had the voice of Stephen Hawking, rather than Nacho Lopez, winemaker at Argentina winery Graffigna.
Technology has its limits, especially with the WiFi in rural France and, one presumes, in the Andes. So there were some parts of my first ever virtual wine tasting that were not 100% clear.
“Sorry, could you repeat that? The wines are on the lees for how many years?”
For the most part, though, the experience of conducting a live, virtual wine tasting was a good one.
What had originally sounded, let’s be fair, like a publicity stunt that could easily go wrong was actually a good way to show the wines without the winery incurring the expense and carbon footprint of a publicity tour, especially at harvest time – Malbec World Day falls on April 17, when the best of the first Malbec grapes in Argentina are being picked.
The French delivery van had found some difficulty finding us (the house is in the middle of nowhere), but I had the bottles, they were decanted the night before so I could taste them with a winemaker friend. My Zaltos were at the ready for Nacho to appear in front of me on my laptop, which he duly did.
What’s more we had the same bottles of wine before us and there was a frisson of excitement.
After all, it is quite nice on holiday to open three bottles of fine wine in the afternoon, ask the family for peace and quiet and wave them away saying “I’m working.”
And, try as hard as I did to locate one, I couldn’t find a spittoon anywhere.
So we started in a mildly clumsy way, until we had worked out the extent of the time delay and how we could effectively engage in conversation without talking over one another.
It was like being on the first ever Eurovision Song contest.
But with bottles of Malbec.
“We wanted to celebrate Malbec World Day in this way, and what more natural celebration than to do it with a glass of wine in our hands,” Nacho began.
No translation issues, then, this guy is speaking my language.
He explains that April 17 is a big deal in Argentina, wineries open their doors for events and there is a lot of cultural activity. The day commemorates the actual day in 1853 when president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento of Argentina officially made it his mission to transform the wine industry of his country.
Since 2011, Wines of Argentina has turned it into a marketable proposition.
And so onto the main point of the exercise… the wines themselves
“And so onto wine number one, the big guy of the family,” Nacho says, holding up his bottle of Reserve Malbec 2015.
He explains that with a production of 800,000 bottles a year this is the bedrock of the business.
“The idea is to conceive a Malbec with a unique character so that the first glass and the last glass sell the second bottle – we don’t want the customer to drink two glasses and say that’s all I can manage, it is about drinkability.”
I profer that it tastes remarkably fresh.
“You have made my day! We started changing the character of this four or five years ago. We have our market for this wine so we cannot change it every year.”
Nacho goes on to explain how wines are made from different valleys 700m, 1000m, 1200m and 1600m altitude with different soil compositions, irrigation and so on. The blend is made after fermentation with the lower valley wines bringing fruit power and volume to the mix while the higher altitude wine brings elegance and spiciness.
The second bottle, the Santiago Graffigna 2014 is on-trade only in the UK, their ‘top wine’ and the one that gets all the Parker points. It is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz that is meant to taste like Malbec but be Old World in style, in homage to the winery’s Italian founder from the mid-Nineteenth century.
The wine is not made every year, with the fruit coming from the Pedernel Valley 1400m up. Only natural yeast is used and the wine trying, as best it can, to reflect the terroir of this remote valley. Although the wine has complexity and layers it is not my style of Malbec, although I do see there is a market for this type of wine.
The third bottle is much more interesting. A tank sample of one of 50 single plot wines that Graffigna is making in the vineyards with foot pressing and natural yeast and the cooling system being the cold nights of the Andes.
They have only made two barrels of this wine and it isn’t commercially available, but signals the direction the company has decided to take with its future production of Malbec.
“I wanted to send you something interesting to celebrate Malbec World Day and to also show you where we are now with our wine-making philosophy.”
“I am an altitude freak, it gives you something very unique – elegance, a strong personality, a floral bite, spiciness and fine grains of tannin in your mouth.”
Nacho is getting quite animated at this point, arms gesticulating, the sound breaking up.
“I gakaodn nmcbsajo cccjsiwoej whhhhhhhhh,”
I think he said.
“The soil is very poor so high up in the Andes, that I want to be able to show the vineyards not the hand of the winemaker.”
High altitude Malbec is becoming ‘a thing’ on both sides of the Andes, of course, and long may it progress. It is high time that the leathery old fruit bombs are consigned to history.
Nacho’s third wine was truly delicious and heralds an interesting change in direction for Graffigna to take with Nacho having become head winemaker two years ago – it had plenty of elegant fruit and spiciness.
The wine also had a nice line of acidity that cut through the rabbit ragout I had made for supper and drank it with.
It is Easter after all.
This is an article that was first posted on April 14, 2017 and is re-posted to coincide with this year’s Malbec World Day.
The Graffigna wines are available in the UK through Pernod Ricard