Bonarda and Malbec from Altos las Hormigas
The savvy winery has a twitter account. How else to know who´s visiting your region or who´s in town to try your wines? It was precisely because of Twitter that I found myself in a popular parrilla in a trendy Buenos Aires barrio one Friday nite tucking into a gigantic steak and talking wine with Estefani Litardo, Mkt Manager of Altos las Hormigas in Buenos Aires.
First off, the most interesting thing I found out was that the vineyards are in the Medrano region of Lujan de Cuyo. It might not be interesting to you but my last name is Medrano. How could I resist a wine that comes from a region with my moniker on it? It has to be good, no prejudice here, no siree, Bob! Seriously, though, she did have my complete attention after I heard the name of the region, purely out of curiousity as my surname is not very common. Not all the vines are in the department of Medrano, they have vineyards scattered around Mendoza and the grapes for the reserva wine come from Valle de Uco. Another interesting side note, the wine is called Altos las Hormigas because when the vines were young, the winemakers were inspecting the vines and saw millions of ants (hormigas in spanish) in amongst the vineyard floor, something quite unusual for the area. They used herbicides and plant protectors to get rid of the ants but kept the name and symbol of the ant for their wine.
Altos las Hormigas is a partnership of Italian and Argentine winemakers. The well known Italian winemaker Alberto Antonini went to Mendoza in the late 90´s to find a suitable vineyard to grow grapes. He was looking for a region that had similarities with his home region of Tuscany. The project was conceived to focus primarily on malbec. At the time, malbec was not the flagship grape of Argentina but Antonini believed it should be and he was one of the first to promote malbec as a premium wine.
He found what he was looking for in Lujan de Cuyo and with Argentine winemaker, Attilio Paglia, set to work. They source many of their grapes from very old vineyards but that is not to say they don´t have a say in how the grapes are produced. Attilio spends a lot of time visiting all the vineyards and directing the growers in how he wants his grapes. They look for only the best small producers and all the contracts are verbal, a throwback to the old ways of growing grapes.
Estefania brought 3 wines for us to try with our steak. Although malbec is the wine that Altos has staked it´s reputation on, they also produce a bonarda. Bonarda may not be very well known outside of Argentina but inside the country, it´s the second most planted grape, accounting for nearly 10% of all vineyards planted. It was used for years as a blending grape or as a table wine but recently winemakers have seen the possibilities of Bonarda and are now making high quality wines from the varietal.
I´ve always had a soft spot for the varietal, having discovered it back in 2005 when I lived in Buenos Aires, but back then it wasn´t all that great so I was prepared to be gentle with it but noooooo, it was actually quite palatable. As a matter of fact, it was good! The Colonia Las Librers 2009 bonarda had a pronounced fruity nose, mostly black fruits, medium bodied, nicely balanced between fruit and acidity. The wine is completely unoaked which is again not something very common in Argentine reds. Bitter chocolate finishing off the wine. Great with the steak, Estefania had made sure that the wine was served at the proper temp as well. She had an ice bucket brought to the table and chilled it down to 14C, she thinks bonarda like beaujolais, shows best when it´s slightly chilled. She chilled all the wines though because it was about 28C, and this at 11pm at night. Summers are hot in Buenos Aires.
The malbecs are what they want to be known for but they only make 4 wines including the bonarda so malbecs were next. The 2009 Altos las Hormigas malbec had intense fruit and good structure, not jammy or over extracted, a lively wine with plenty of blueberry flavours.
The other wine we had was the Altos las Hormigas Reserva 2008, only 40,000 bottles made from 80 year old vines, 20 months in new French oak and further bottle aging for 6 months which make for a very intense wine, complex and fruity, well balanced with supple, round tannins, excellent acidity and a lingering minerality. The tannins of the wine cutting through the steak, we drank it down in no time.
Altos las Hormigas only make 4 wines but they make them very well, at least the 3 that I tried. We didn´t get to the last bottle but I´ve got it tucked away at home just waiting for the right steak to come along.