The Wild (North) West of Argentina
Salta may be the most remote and most exciting wine region in the world.
Bodegas Amalya Vina Tinto de Altura $20
I was in Argentina last year when I made something of an ass of myself. I knew I would have a few days in Mendoza so I queried whether it might be possible to make a quick side trip to the Salta region, as I had heard some great things about the high-altitude wines they were growing there. It turns out my request was like being in Regina for the weekend and wondering whether a short side trip to the Northern Yukon might work. Salta is so far off the beaten path that I wonder how they ever get the wine that they make out of there, but thank goodness they do because it’s easily among the most exciting regions in the world right now. My handlers politely said sorry a “side trip” to Salta wouldn’t work while no doubt wondering if I might want to look at an atlas once in a while.
I wanted to go for two different reasons that arose from the same person: the vintner and art collector Donald Hess. The first reason is Hess has built a museum to the artist James Turell beside his middle of nowhere winery that is supposed to be amazing. The second reason is the wine that Hess produces. I first came across this bottle several years ago when I was searching for a wine that used the little-used grape Tannat, and was grabbed by its then-atypical approach to making a Malbec dominated wine. It avoided the cloying sweetness that can mar some Malbecs and it really emphasized the spice and the pepper in a way that really grabbed me. And I’m happy to report the most recent vintage continues this trend. Make no mistake, this is still an easy-drinking, black-fruit-forward wine with soft tannins but it also incorporates some good acidity and a persistent spiciness that makes it stand out from the pack. At $20, it’s a very solid deal.