SAN JUAN, Argentina – Argentina has a deep history in winemaking that stretches back to the 1550s. Today, the South American country has hundreds of wineries.
To stand out, Graffingna Winery – which was started more than a century ago by an Italian immigrant, knows it must do something to stand out from the crowd. It takes more than making superb Malbec, something that is done by many in this Malbec-crazy country.
Ignacio Lopez, chief winemaker for Graffigna, does his best to bring a sense of place into each bottle of wine. He produces a high-elevation Malbec from vineyards that stretch to the some of the highrest regions of Argentina. He then crushes and ferments the wines in the vineyard, with the idea that to ferment with native yeast he doesn’t want to take a chance of a commercial yeast in the winery getting in and taking over.
“This is not a mainstream wine,” he is the first to admit. “It’s not a wine that will be understood by regular consumers. It’s a wine that goes from vine, to barrel, to bottle.
It shows off high-toned red fruit, emphasizing purity of fruit. As expected, acidity carries the fruit, lifting it off the palette. Though still in barrel, it is ready to go and should be anticipated by collectors upon release.
More widely distributed is the Graffigna Centenario Malbec, a $13 bottle that is imported to the United States. It uses grapes grown at 700 to 1,500 meters above sea level. That is Argentina’s super power, high-elevation vineyards growing a red grape that naturally emphasizes acidity over tannin. This wine is the first step in Graffigna’s premium range. First impressions are of the fresh fruit on the nose that leads to flavors of plum, strawberry and raspberry. Thanks to blending in fruit from lower-elevation valleys, fruit is emphasized alongside superb acidity.
This is a value-priced wine that reveals everything good about Argentina Malbec.
A wine that shows a forgotten side of Argentine reds is Santiago Graffigna, a red blend that pays tribute to Graffigna’s founder, who founded the winery in San Juan in 1870. It’s a suave blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. It’s ironic, really, that we forget that Malbec’s traditional role in its native Bordeaux is as a blending grape. That’s a role often overlooked in Argentina because it’s rarely seen.
We tasted the 2014 example, a wine not yet released. The grapes are grown at 1,400 meters above sea level, again highlighting what is great and special about this grape in Argentina. At this elevation, the growing period is shorter because of light intensity. The grape grower and winemaker get one shot at it each year.
“Extreme terroirs give you something extreme,” said Lopez. “We are pushing boundaries. We think this is the way we should be walking to differentiate our wine. This is how we interpret the variety.”
Working at this elevation is a bit of a high-wire act, but it results in thicker skins, which result in more intense color, aromas, flavors and color, something abundant in the Santiago Graffigna.
On this, 2017 World Malbec Day, Lopez is not off in some foreign market pushing his wines. Instead, he is wrapping up 2017 harvest, putting in long days working with some of the top grapes in Mendoza.