ARGENTINA’S GREATEST RED WAS ALMOST NOT BOTTLED, WRITES James Suckling, A SALUTARY REMINDER FOR MODERN-DAY WINEMAKERS
It was bracing in june in the vineyards of Viña Cobos outside the Argentine city of Mendoza, and it was dark by 5pm. The peaks of the Andes were partially covered with snow and the temperature was below zero. But once inside, the roaring fireplace of the owners’ simple living room thawed our limbs and kept us cosy as new logs were added every few minutes. I was excited. I was about to have the opportunity again to taste a wine I had rated a perfect 100 a few weeks earlier during a tasting of hundreds of wines in Mendoza.
The 2011 Viña Cobos Malbec Perdriel Luján de Cuyo Cobos is the best wine ever made by Andrea Marchiori and Luis Barraud, the owners of Viña Cobos. The pure malbec, produced on their small, hand-tended vineyard of Marchiori, shows an extraordinary density of fruit yet remains electrifyingly fresh and bright. It takes your breath away with each sip, and I’d compare it with a great vintage of the legendary Napa Valley producer Harlan, such as 2010.
I nearly fell out of my chair at the dinner table when Andrea told me they had almost decided not to make the wine. “Our consulting winemaker wasn’t sure that the wine fit the style of past vintages of Cobos,” she said with a slightly guilty smile. “But Luis and I loved the wine so much that we decided to bottle it regardless. It’s an extreme wine.”
She had trouble describing what had made them doubt the phenomenal quality of the wine. Perhaps it was the contrast between the perfect ripe fruit and intense acidity? But the fact they called the wine “extreme” and second-guessed the quality reminded me of how some of the greatest reds ever made were at first considered borderline failures.
The first 100-point extreme wine that comes to mind is the legendary 1947 ChevalBlanc. This rare and unique wine was made after the war in conditions that would be unthinkable now. Just imagine what was left of France after World War II. Yet the wine is incredible in every sense of the word.
If today’s winemakers were to look at the chemical analysis of the Cheval-blanc, they would say it is flawed. It has an alcohol content of just under 15 per cent and a volatile acidity of more than 1 gram (almost the same as vinegar). This makes the wine technically defective—yet it’s amazing to drink and is considered one of the greatest reds ever made. It sells for about US$15,000 a bottle. Most of today’s winemakers would not have bottled the 1947 Cheval, considering the extreme levels of volatile acidity.
Maybe the 2011 Viña Cobos Malbec Perdriel Luján de Cuyo Cobos was a little like that for the winemakers. The analysis and style of the wine may have been slightly out of their parameters for what they thought was great wine. Yet they had the courage to believe in the 100-point quality of the wine. And that’s why it’s Argentina’s greatest red and one of the world’s best.