Friday, August 12, 2016

Cool Climate Malbec? Cool Climate Malbec. Domaine Bousquet.

This space has a long history with Malbec, the varietal that has become the national wine and biggest export from Argentina. Malbec was one of the first wines I ever reviewed around here. Malbec’s popularity really took off in the mid-to-late 2000’s as Argentina started sending more and more of this fruity, sweetly tannined concoction to our shores, much of it from warm-climate areas of the Mendoza region. I was very excited recently to get a chance to try some cool-climate Malbec, produced by Domaine Bousquet.

One of my evolutions as a red wine drinker has been the change of my palate from a love of big, alcohol-laden fruit bombs to an admiration of lower-alcohol wines with more subtle flavors and textures. Some of this has to do with the varietals I prefer – I’m much more into Pinot Noir than Zinfandel these days, for instance. But a lot has to do with where the grapes are grown. You know, good ol’ terroir. I’ve discovered that I prefer wines from cooler growing climates.

The warmer the region, the more sugar is produced in the grapes themselves – which makes for a fruitier, more alcoholic wine. Cool weather makes grapes ripen more slowly. Sugar levels stay lower and flavors become deeper and darker. If you want a domestic example – compare a Pinot Noir from the cooler Sonoma Coast vs. those produced in Russian River Valley. I was very interested to see how this difference plays out in Argentina.

These Bousquet wines are produced in the Alto Gualtallary area of the region of Tupungato, one of the coolest regions in Argentina. This region, situated 4000 feet above sea level, is where Bousquet co-founders Labid Al Ameri and Anne Bousquet set up shop. The two met in school at St. Cloud State in Minnesota and founded the winery in 2005. I had the opportunity to ask them a few questions about the wine and what they’re terming a “cool climate revolution” in Argentina.

These grapes in Tupungato have a pretty good view.
“The cool climate in Tupungato offers plenty of sun during the day which helps increase the sugar level in the grape and good acidity during the night when temperatures can drop 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Labid. “This creates more balanced grapes and allows a longer maturity period that lead to more complex and fresher wines.” Anne added, “The disadvantage here is that that some high altitude areas could get frost once in a while due to low temperatures in Spring.” The soils, they shared, also have more in common with those in Burgundy than in most of the rest of Mendoza.

The two wines that I had the opportunity to try were the Domaine Bousquet 2013 Reserve Malbec and the Domaine Bousquet 2013 Grande Reserve Malbec. The two wines are produced from nearly identical blends – both are 85% Malbec with the rest comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The Reserve is aged for 10 months in French oak and 4 months in bottle, while the Grande Reserve goes for a year in both barrel and bottle.


The Reserve has really pretty nose of cherries, chocolate, and herbs like jasmine. It’s plenty fruity, but it doesn’t have the super-fruit forward nature of other Mendoza Malbec. The palate is full of rich, smooth blackberry and plum with a nice graphite and mineral backing. Tannins are well balanced. I thought it was a very drinkable, if slightly muscular, red, and a very solid value at $12.

As for the Grande Reserve, where its cousin was full of fruity brightness, the Grande Reserve shows some sexy restraint. The nose is deeper, richer. Blackberries and cocoa, as well as a little bit of herb. The first word on my notes is “silky.” I’ve sampled a fair amount of Malbec over the years, and this is one of the smoothest. Rich, opulent mouthfeel that eases on into a wonderfully balanced raspberry covered-chocolate and soft tannin finish.  It’s just a gorgeous wine, especially for $20.

I asked the pair what they would recommend, mealwise, to accompany their wines. Anne suggested, “Definitely red meats, red sauces, Indian and spicy Asian food such as Thai. The fact that Malbec tends to have sweet tannins cools down the spiciness of the food.”

We went the red meat route and tried them alongside a London broil that I’d marinated. It was my first attempt tenderizing meat with a kiwifruit. I was surprised at how well it worked, although I think I’ll still stick to my “salt and sit” technique in the future. (If you want to try, take half a peeled kiwi, mash it up, and smear it all over the steak. There’s an enzyme in kiwi that breaks down protein. Rinse it off in 30-45 minutes. Don’t marinate too long, lest you end up with pudding…)

Both of them, as expected, went well with the grilled meat. There wasn’t a great deal of difference between the two, pairingwise, so if you’re buying a bottle for dinner, I would suggest going with the less expensive of the two. With some chocolate, though, or to just drink on its own – oy, the Grande Reserve was quite choice.

I like asking winemakers what they drink when they’re not drinking their own stuff. “We love Pinot Noir from California, Oregon and Burgundy,” said Labid, “and we also enjoy Chablis, White Burgundy, Chateauneuf-Du-Pape red and white, and wines from the Sonoma and Napa regions.” (I liked this response, since if you asked me to list my own current favorites – they basically rattled off my choices.)


I’m very curious to see whether these cool climate wines will catch on. Some Malbec fans have strong opinions about what an Argentine Malbec is “supposed to” taste like. Exploring these and other Tupungato creations will certainly be on my list moving forward. 

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