Ex­treme Per­fec­tion

AR­GENTINA’S GREAT­EST RED WAS ALMOST NOT BOT­TLED, WRITES James Suck­ling, A SALU­TARY RE­MINDER FOR MOD­ERN-DAY WINE­MAK­ERS

Hong Kong Tatler - - Opinion -

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.

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