Friday, September 25, 2009

Darkness from Argentina

I doubt that famed French wine consultant Michel Rolland will ever overcome the portrait painted of him in the film "Mondovino" of a cackling, smoking Machiavelli, coaxed winemakers into the fruit-forward, oak-heavy International Style of wine from the back of his chauffeur-driven car. That portrayal was perhaps unfair. Certainly, the filmmaker of "Mondovino" had an agenda (one that I freely admit I share) against the homogenization, Parker-ization of wine, and in favor of the individual expressive of terroir and character.

But one thing's undeniable: if you saw the film, the image stayed with you. Rolland cut's an unforgettable figure. It was certainly my first thought when a bottle of Clos de Los Siete came through the mail. This Argentinean wine is Rolland's 20-year-old project. In 1988, along with six Bordelais partners, he touring the wine regions of Argentina looking for a vineyard location to make wine. He and he collaborators settled on a region 100 km sound of Mendoza, in the heart of the Uco Valley. The land was prepared, rocks removed, gullies filled, dirp irrigation installed.

The first vintage was the 2002. The name Clos de Los Siete refers to the seven partners. However, Roland's name is the only one that's one the label. Clearly, the winemakers think his is a marketable brand. No doubt it is.

The 2007 has just been released. And it's just as big, as juicy, as inky and oaked a wine as you'd expect, not only from Argentina, but from Rolland. The blend is 48% Malbec, 28% percent Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Syrah. An international marriage of Argentina and France, then. The alcohol level is 14.5%.

The nose is powerful, hitting you with spice and blackberry and black current. Blackberry, in fact, is the keynote of the whole affair. It comes up strongly on the palate, along with tobacco, dark cherry, pepper, spice and clove. It's a big mouthful, smooth overall with a touch of roughness at the back. There's a nice acidity to lift up the overall heaviness of the juice. One could say it's sufficiently balanced. I was surprised to read there had been no filtering or fining. It's rough edges were few.

But there are not surprises here. This is absolutely the sort of wine you'd expect from Rolland. I could have, perhaps, made a tasting note similar to the one above before even opening the bottle, by simply relying on my expectations given the place of origin and the author. Furthermore, I would take issue with the press materials that state "Clos de Los Siete's Distinct Terroir Shines Through." I detect no terroir in this wine. It could just as easily been made in Australia, Napa, Languadoc, Chianti.

I make no denial that this isn't really my kind of wine. However, it's a good example of its type. There is skill in play here and it may very well appeal to the sort of enthusiast who revels in big South American reds. Certainly the price ($19) places it in the realm of a bargain.

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