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The Altos Las Hormigas Malbec has been consistently excellent from vintage to vintage, but the estate's present offering, the 2001 Malbec, has raised the bar. Exceedingly deep in color and infused with purple overtones, the 2001 Altos Malbec sets the stage for the grandeur of the vintage as well as the varietal. Scents of ripe black cherries, hickory, sandalwood, and bacon fat waft from the glass in what can only be described as a command performance. Tantalizing is another adjective that comes to mind. In the mouth, smooth, full-flavored tannins mingle with lush, refined flavors that must be experienced to be believed. As the wine airs, it seems to form one single, seamless garment that reveals additional even more intriguing flavors with every sip a hallmark of Altos' Malbec. Unquestionably, the 2001 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec remains one of the finest examples of this exciting varietal we have ever encountered, and that says a lot; the wine captures the light and space of the great, sprawling land of Argentina and reproduces perfectly all of its fruits, remarkable character and latent vitality all in a single glass. We suggest drinking this alluring Malbec at cool room temperature (64º-68º F), and often.
Gutsy, stick to your ribs kind of fare best suite the 2001 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec, so save the dainty delights of Nouvelle Cuisine for another wine. Steaks, braised meats, stews and wild game all provide excellent accompaniments to the intriguing Altos Malbec. Venison is a particular favorite; ostrich and buffalo are excellent, as well. Full throttle pasta dishes work well, too, especially those made with plenty of garlic, olive oil and fresh, ripe plum tomatoes. Yet, the 2001 Altos Malbec is so good, especially after an hour or two open, that it needs no accompaniments. Typical for Altos, we have rarely tasted such a young Malbec that shows so beautifully at such a young age, and without any accompaniment or pretense. It, also, makes us shiver to think that this wine may actually be in its infancy, and have its best years ahead of it, so why not plan a party some two or three years hence and impress your friends. In other words, put a few bottles away for a rainy day, and a sunny one, too.
Altos Las Hormigas remains the hottest boutique winery in Argentina. Situated in the midst of the mighty Mendoza, the Altos estate is located at an altitude of 2500 feet, which puts it high into the foothills of the towering Andes as its name implies. Unlike most Mendoza wineries, Altos specializes in the cultivation and production of a single varietal. In fact, this estate produces only one wine outstanding Malbec. Presently, the 475-acre estate has 75 acres of vines under cultivation, all of which are devoted to Malbec. Formerly known as Altos de Mediano when it released its debut vintage in 1997, Las Hormigas changed its name in 1999. This modification paved the way for the estate to use very old vines of Malbec from outside of the immediate geographic area of the property, which is solely within the Medrano region of Mendoza. Now under the ownership and direction of Marco de Grazia, whose portfolio of great Italian estates is second to none, Altos Las Hormigas produces sensational Malbec from selected old vines. Indeed, if there is a single great varietal in Argentina, it is Malbec. Malbec is a French red wine grape that traveled to Argentina well over a century ago from Bordeaux, before Phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Europe. In Bordeaux, where it is sometimes referred to as Cot or Pressac, it plays an important, but subordinate role alongside of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. However, around Cahors in Southwest France, Malbec remains the major player, accounting for the traditional, full-flavored black wine of Cahors. It is with this excellent, dark colored Cahors-style Malbec in mind that Altos Las Hormigas excels, transforming Malbec's great color, flavor and tannin into tasteful velvet.
Argentina and the Mighty Mendoza Argentina has long been one of the world's leading producers and consumers of wine. Presently, this sprawling nation, which contains some of the world's most diverse geography: tropical jungle, barren desert, towering snow-capped mountains and windswept deserted islands that herald Antarctica, is the world' fifth largest producer of wine and the planet's third largest consumer of the fruit of the vine, placing it just behind Italy and France. It was in the 16th century that learned Jesuits, with fervor for faith matched only by their desire to cultivate the seeds of civilization, first brought the vine to the land of the pampas. Father Cedron, a Jesuit missionary from Spanish Mexico, is believed to have planted the first vineyard in what is now Argentina in 1556. His early plantings survive as the Criollas grape variety, which still produce light red and rose wines. Once the most widely cultivated grape varietal in Argentina, the ancient Criolla is now giving way to Chardonnay, Torrontes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and most importantly, Malbec. Although Argentina acknowledges its viticultural debt to the early Spaniards who settled there, the modern tale of wine in Argentina really begins with the Italian migration of the late 19th century. Sparked by political strife and economic stagnation, many Italian growers and winemakers headed for Argentina. Settling in the dry rain starved Mendoza at the base of the Andes, these Italian immigrants began to sluice the snow waters from the mountains out over the vineyards, causing the desert to bloom. In less than a century, the Mendoza, a state approximately the size of Illinois, has become Argentina's leading wine producing region, accounting for the vast majority of the nation's wine production and more than half of all the wine made in South America. Driven by Argentina's seemingly insatiable thirst for wine, as well as the burgeoning worldwide demand for fine wine, especially well-made reds, the Mighty Mendoza now comprises some 700,000 acres of vines, and is still growing. The vast majority of wine from the arid, nearly insect-free environment of Mendoza is red, and happily the quality of these wines continues to grow exponentially. The recent attention to quality is much to the delight of savvy North American consumers, finally astute enough to notice the myriad of fine Mendoza offerings flowing north, without holding the region's previous viticultural history of favoring quantity over quality against it. Since the early 1980's, relative political stability along with the infusion of money and talent from abroad has transformed the Mendoza. With the likes of Paul Hobbs, Jacques and Francois Lurton and most recently Marco de Grazia, this recent wave of immigrants and investors has transformed the once sleeping giant into a treasure trove of fine wines. Moreover, savvy consumers would be wise to look to Mendoza for value as well as quality because unlike most other wine producing nations whose prices have risen sharply due to the decline of the dollar, Argentina's economic woes have kept prices in check. And with the likes of 2001 Altos Malbec, this is as good as it is going to get, so enjoy!
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