Altos las Hormigas Gualtallary Malbec 2016
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
In 2012, Altos Las Hormigas took a significant step in their ongoing evolution from boutique value winery to the terroir-driven, serious player in the world of Malbec that they are today. After seeing the potential for wines of consequence in the Uco Valley, the team decided to stop using new oak and small barriques for all of their wines; instead going with older, untoasted, large oak foudres across the board. This decision has allowed for much more expression and elegance, especially on the sublime Appellation series of Malbec, which features the limestone-driven Uco Valley sites of Gualtallary, Altamira, and Vista Flores.
They’ve teamed up over the past decade with Pedro Parra, PhD in Terroir, to use various techniques to find both the ideal sites for their wines as well as a way to measure the ideal ripeness of their fruit. With Parra’s guidance, the team at Altos Las Hormigas has dug over 1,500 soil pits in the Uco Valley, chasing the chalky Mendoza gold that is limestone, which imparts a beautiful minerality to Malbec. In Gualtallary, Altamira, and Vista Flores, they have found the limestone trail, where the vineyards have shallow topsoil and the vines dive deep into the calcareous mother rock. They also use electromagnetism to map out the soil depth of their vineyard sites so that they can avoid picking a whole block where, due to the warm and hilly vineyards of Mendoza, there may be some underripe and overripe grapes in addition to the ideally ripe grapes. Instead, they use that information to harvest in irregular polygons, and pick the fruit with ideal ripeness in every section.
With a winning combination of cool weather, high elevation and well-draining alluvial soils, it is no surprise that Mendoza’s Uco Valley is one of the most exciting up-and-coming wine regions in Argentina. Healthy, easy-to-manage vines produce low yields of high-quality fruit, which in turn create flavorful, full-bodied wines with generous acidity.
Known for its big, bold flavors and supple texture, Malbec is most famous for its runaway success in Argentina. However, the variety actually originated in Bordeaux, where it historically contributed color and tannin to blends. After being nearly wiped out by a devastating frost in 1956, it was never significantly replanted, although it continued to flourish under the name Côt in nearby Cahors. A French agronomist who saw great potential for the variety in Mendoza’s hot, high-altitude landscape, brought Malbec to Argentina in 1868. But it did not gain its current reputation as the country's national grape until a surge in popularity in the late 20th century.
In the Glass
Malbec typically expresses deep flavors of blackberry, plum and licorice, appropriately backed by aromas of freshly turned earth and dense, chewy tannins. In warmer, New World regions, such as Mendoza, Malbec will be intensely ripe, and full of fruit and spice. From its homeland in Cahors, its rusticity shines; dusty notes and a beguiling bouquet of violets balance rich, black fruit.
Malbec’s rustic character begs for flavorful dishes, like spicy grilled sausages or the classic cassoulet of France’s Southwest. South American iterations are best enjoyed as they would be in Argentina: with a thick, juicy steak.
If you’re trying to please a crowd, Malbec is generally a safe bet. With its combination of bold flavors and soft tannins, it will appeal to basically anyone who enjoys red wine. Malbec also wins bonus points for affordability, as even the most inexpensive examples are often quite good.