Having helped Domaine Bousquet into the UK market for the first time, when she was working with UK importer Vintage Roots, wine writer Sarah McCleery is re-united with Anne Bousquet and husband Labid Al Ameri over dinner at London’s Soho House. The domaine’s 1600 metre high location at the foothills of the Andes is the perfect place to practise organic viticulture which shows in the freshness of the fruit-forward wine range, the new additions to which McCleery reviews including the flagship Gran Malbec 2018 and Ameri Malbec 2019.
“I know that there’s a lot of enthusiasm for Malbec and chocolate but as uncultured as I perhaps sound, it’s a combo that’s wasted on me,” writes McCleery.
The Argentine estate, Domaine Bousquet is not new to me. Back in the happy days when I was gainfully employed at Vintage Roots, I think I’m right in saying that we were the first importer to bring the wines to the UK.
An invitation to a Bousquet dinner at Soho House was, therefore, happily accepted.
Jean Bousquet bought 400 hectares of vineyard in the arid terrain of the Gualtallary Valley in the 1990s. French family, friends, and colleagues he left behind thought he was crackers, and his new ‘neighbours’ were, in daughter Anne’s words, “suspicious”. He paid $200/hectare at the time. Not a bad investment, with today’s prices closer to $1000/hectare.
For Bousquet, this land was a dream find. Altitudes reaching 1600 meters above sea level and ideal diurnal temperatures offered the possibility of growing grapes that would yield fruit-forward, yet fresh wines. The area’s particular climate also made it an ideal place for organic viticulture. The need to sort water and electricity supplies and build access roads seemed like an entirely reasonable price to pay. With not much other than the odd condor for company, it is impossible not to admire the spirit of Jean Bousquet.
As Anne Bousquet neatly remarks her dad moved from being described as “crazy to visionary” in 2004, when the Bousquet wines came fifth out of 160 wineries at a wine fair in Miami. This was also the time that Anne and husband, Labid al Ameri joined the business. Economist and financial trader respectively, they make for an impressively shrewd duo. They would become full owners of the business in 2011.
Anne Bousquet talks keenly about Domaine Bousquet’s organic ethos. For the estate being organic isn’t just about what happens in the vineyards and winery. “For us, being organic is based around three central pillars. Organic viticulture as well as social and economic factors.” Anne cites the opportunities that Domaine Bousquet has offered local people. Staff who have joined to work in roles on the bottling line have had the opportunity to grow with the business. One lady in particular is today, Anne’s “right hand” woman, in charge of purchasing and a core member of the senior management team.
The economics are a little harder to get to grips with. Domaine Bousquet buys in 50% of the fruit they need. Abid tells us that he offers a 15% uplift to growers who are organic, in a bid to support increased conversion to organic viticulture. I suspect this isn’t unusual, with other larger wineries doing likewise. It is also hard to know whether 15% is sufficient to support growers in the transition from conventional to organic. Labid tells us that they do buy ‘in conversion’ fruit, selling it on to appropriate markets.
There’s also the fact that the road to organic certification is a three-year long process. It is a costly process and not without risk. Securing clarity on the matter, at the dinner table, isn’t an easy task. My feeling, from the numbers given, is that independent growers have converted – or are on the road – to organic certification with a proportion of their vineyards. Anne is also candid about the cultural challenges of securing long-term contracts with growers – a concept that is currently alien to many growers.
Still, if anyone can change the cultural thinking, it would be a fool who would bet against Anne and Labid in doing so.
The wines are as slick as they have always been. Rodrigo Serrano has led the winemaking team since 2017. His impressive CV includes Terrazas de los Andes, Domino del Plata, and Bianchi (Argentina). His deft touch with Malbec has gained considerable traction in his time with Bousquet, the wines at dinner proving to be something of a Malbec masterclass.
The Domaine Bousquet wine flight at Soho House
The evening kicked off with the eminently drinkable 2019 Chardonnay. The wine strikes a winning balance between ripeness and freshness. Six month of oak ageing lends creamy texture to seeping tropical citrus fruit. I have just enough left to drink alongside the salmon ceviche, avocado, jalapeno and burnt orange starter.
Next up came Finca Lalande Malbec 2021. Though not one of Bousquet’s premium wines, it was my wine of the evening. I love Malbec best of all when it comes with a spot of earthy crunch and a nod to its more rustic origins. Oak-free, it’s a bustling, characterful offering with ripe hedgerow fruit.
Not yet in the UK, Gaia Malbec Nouveau Carbonic Maceration 2020 is an opinion-splitting offering. I find it a little hefty for its carbonic maceration origins. In keeping with all Bousquet wines, the fruit is ripe and plentiful, but I would prefer some containment of the 16% alcohol cited on the technical spec.
Not on the tasting sheet, a cheeky Gaia Cabernet Franc 2020 makes an appearance before the main course. Peppery black fruits with a whiff of charcoal, it’s a polished new world Cabernet Franc with ten months of oak ageing.
Along comes the house steak and chips (what else?!) with a pouring of Gaia Malbec 2020. The Gaia range is made entirely from estate-grown grapes, distinguishing the wines from the ‘premium range’ which are blended with purchased fruit. It’s another succulent, moreish Malbec. More concentrated than the Finca Lalande, there’s a touch of sweet spice too, the tannins melting seamlessly into the fruit.
The final two wines of the evening are the Gran Malbec and the estate’s flagship wine, Ameri.
Gran Malbec 2018 is made from fruit harvested from the first vineyard, planted in the late 1990s. The site is distinctive because of its sandy soils which lend considerable elegant wines. Malbec is supported by 5% each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah with fermentation and ageing taking place in French oak. Undeniably classy, Gran Malbec is as fresh as a daisy with impressive fruit concentration and balance. For the first time I pick out more prune, fig and dark chocolate flavours and am pleased that it stays fresh on its feet to the finish.
I know that there’s a lot of enthusiasm for Malbec and chocolate but as uncultured as I perhaps sound, it’s a combo that’s wasted on me. I didn’t skip the chocolate moelleux, caramelised white chocolate and banana but I did opt to enjoy the Ameri Malbec 2019 solo.
Named after co-owner Labid Al Ameri, the wine is appropriately effusive and smooth at the same time! Malbec fruit comes from the highest (1,257 meters above sea level) planted vineyard on the property. Fermented and aged in French oak, it is more sumptuous than the Gran Malbec. Broad and deep, Ameri is long-lived and finely balanced in every way. A hugely enjoyable finish to an entertaining and illuminating evening.
Domaine Bousquet wines are available from: Vintage Roots, Davy’s Wine Merchants and Champagne & Château