The rare opportunity of tasting the 1974 Bodega Norton Malbec, one of the few bottles left in existence, was one of the many draws to a tasting lunch hosted by Norton winemaker David Bonomi. A wine older than scribe Chris Wilson – but had it aged as well? Also on offer was the new 2017 vintages of the Finca Perdriel and Altura but it was the 2015 Privada and Lote Agrelo wines that really turned Wilson’s head – that, and a chance to enter the Hogwarts-like Gothic St Pancras Tower.
“It’s always a treat to taste a wine that’s older than you are and, according to David and his team, Norton’s 1974 is ‘the first Malbec from Argentina’,” writes Wilson.
My daughter is getting into Harry Potter at the moment so many an hour is spent reading of wizardly tales and circumnavigating in prose and imagination the myriad corridors and staircases or Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Imagine my delight when I received an invite to a tasting inside the St Pancras Clock Tower, a Hogwartian building if ever there was one! Sadly I couldn’t bring my 7-year-old along to experience the majesty of this Grade 1 listed building, designed in the 1860s by William Henry Barlow, as she was at school (and she doesn’t like Malbec anyway).
The occasion was a tasting with Bodega Norton’s winemaker David Bonomi to showcase the various expressions of Malbec, and it included a very rare chance to taste the Norton Malbec 1974, one of the oldest vintages from Norton’s library cellar.
“The winemaker is somewhere between the alchemist and the shaman,” David joked as he talked us through the wines, the land and the processes which stand these Malbecs apart from each other and, in case of the Lote Agrelo, from most other Malbecs on the market.
He’s one of the most softly-spoken, laidback winemakers around and it was a delight to taste these modern Malbecs (excepting the 1974, which was decidedly classic) with him in the driving seat. While it was a rare treat to step back in time with the ’74 (there are now only 1,003 bottles in existence), the highlights for me were the Privada and Lote Agrelo wines; different in style from each other but both very clearly Malbec and the type of wines that can sit comfortably in the heavyweight category (in style and price) on most wine lists.
Finca Perdriel Malbec 2017
This comes from some of Norton’s best Mendoza vineyards at between 900 and 1,000 MASL. The wine is matured for 11-12 months in second-use French oak. Deep purple in colour, with bacon fat and blackberries on the nose. Noticeable tannins which wrap around the blackcurrant liquorice and earthy savouriness nicely. Punchy finish.
Altura Malbec 2017
A blend of wines from concrete vats and barrel plus a splash of press wine. A bright nose of blue fruit and leather. Fresh on the palate with up-front bruised/ripe plum, blackcurrant pie and keen tannins which are followed by baking spices and mince pie fruit. Dark and brooding finish.
Privada Malbec 2015
As the name suggests this was initially a private blend made only for the family and estate and not released to the public. Since 1994 it’s been commercially available, however. There’s lovely balance here between sweet fruit (damson, raspberry, cranberry) and earthy texture. A lick of vanilla and Sichuan pepper spice complete the picture. Tremendous length and complexity; a real tongue tickler.
Lote Agrelo Malbec 2015
Grapes come from a pre-Phylloxera vineyard planted on sandy soil in Finca Lunlunta, Maipu. The winemaking process is incredibly hands-on; the grapes are harvested by hand, de-stemmed and put into barrels (the end of each barrel is removed then replaced once filled). Fermentation takes place inside the barrel which is rolled – again by hand – 14 times a day. The wine is incredible; it starts with a spirit-y nose that’s studded with gingerbread and mulberry, then in the mouth it’s lush and long with raspberry compote, crispy bacon and a lean, mineral finish.
It’s always a treat to taste a wine that’s older than you are and, according to David and his team, Norton’s 1974 is ‘the first Malbec from Argentina’. It arrived in the UK six weeks before the tasting so it could settle before the cork was pulled, and when David did the honours it came out intact and the wine was briskly decanted.
With the colour of an old red leather armchair and a stunning mineral and fruit nose there’s plenty going on here. Dried figs, prunes, leather, cigar, dried herbs and iodine all make a play for attention. This is light but developed – it has seen better days but the bones of Malbec are present; acid, tannin and concentration. A true slice of history.