A sense of place, history, tradition, culture, and people: according to Altos Las Hormigas winemaker Alberto Antonini, this is what wine is about. And that is precisely what he brings to people through the wine he makes.
Founded in 1995 by Antonini and Antonio Morescalchi, who came to Argentina from Italy to explore the possibility of making great wine, and in particular, great Malbec wine, the Altos Las Hormigas team aims to focus consumer attention on the place the wine comes from as opposed to the grape variety.
I had the unique opportunity to speak with Mr. Antonini one-on-one about Altos Las Hormigas from its beginnings to the present day. The amount of thought and care that went into starting what was the first winery to make just 100% Malbec wine in Mendoza is evident in both the company’s history and in the wines themselves.
Altos Las Hormigas’ website states their mission, with regards to Malbec:
We claim to be the first winery to envision Mendoza as ‘The Land of Malbec’. ALH started in 1995 as a specialist ‘Malbec only’ house, when Malbec plantings were at their historical lowest. Ever since, our passionate quest to capture the heart and soul of Mendoza Terroir – as expressed by this grape – has led us to explore all the different superior sub regions, to fully appreciate terroir awareness.
ALH doesn’t produce international varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot, or Chardonnay; our work here is to combine Tradition and Innovation, and we consider Malbec the utmost and most unique vehicle of Mendoza tradition. This grape carries in its genetic code 150 years of adaptation to the area’s conditions, and this patrimony makes Malbec the living memory of generations of past vintners.
Throughout the course of the evening, while Mr. Antonini spoke with the group, I tasted three of the available wines.
Colonia Las Liebres This wine is made 100% of Bonarda and had a deep purplish color. It was a very easy-drinking wine with lots of flavors of raspberries and strawberries, very smooth, very balanced. I am not very experienced with Bonarda, and I am glad Altos Las Hormigas brought this along for the tasting. I was completely shocked to learn that it retails in Boston for around $10!
2009 Malbec “Terroir” Part of the winery’s tiered Terroir Project, the Malbec “Terroir”comes exclusively from the Valle de Uco vineyards within the region of Mendoza. This wine was a lovely violet-red, and as I sipped it I noticed a hint of spice, which I enjoy immensely in a wine.
Vista Flores Single Vineyard Derived from a single vineyard within the Valle de Uco, the Vista Flores is a made from the best of the best. Antonini described the vineyard like a cow; the entire cow is not top filet, and in a similar way, a vineyard has its premium sites, which is where Vista Flores comes from. And it is good, very, very good. The color of this wine is so dark that it almost appears black. It was full of complexity, from dark berry flavors to a hint of cedar, and a little bit of spice.
I have some experience tasting Malbec, and these wines left me wanting more. I was stunned by their beauty and even more so by how reasonable they are for the quality and care that goes into making them. They are truly a labor of love and an education about the place they come from. They truly make drinking wine learning about the world.
I will be further able to test and write about the concept of terroir in Malbecs this Sunday when my friends and I will taste a Malbec (known in France as Cot) from Cahors, France, a Malbec from Argentina, and a Malbec from Napa Valley side-by-side. I will report back my findings on Monday!
The team from Altos Las Hormigas could not have been more warm or informative, and they were very interested in hearing from me about blogging. I later learned, from reading his bio more carefully, that Mr. Antonini is a fellow marathoner; I wish I had known that to ask him about training in Mendoza’s unique climate!
Regarding the event logistics, which were planned by a local distributor, there seemed to be confusion about the inclusion of bloggers, though we were invited, and from that end I definitely got a lot of “Who are you and what are you doing here?” looks and questions. It made me feel a little unwelcome, but the stars of the evening, the wines and Altos Las Hormigas folks more than made up for that. I do need to remember that not everyone is hip to the blog-o-sphere quite yet like we are
I only scratched the surface in this post; there is so much more to learn about Mendoza and Altos Las Hormigas. If you are at all interested in the concept of terroir or Malbec, I would suggest clicking on some of the links peppered throughout the post.
Have you tried Malbec from Mendoza? What about Malbec from other areas of the world?