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Pedro Parra in Mendoza
29 Jun 2012 by Julia Harding MW
Having presented his personal project, Clos des Fous, with many questions, and rocky digressions, Pedro Parra went on to explain what he has been doing since 2007 at Malbec specialist Altos Las Hormigas, owned by Tuscans Alberto Antonini and Antonio Morescalchi, in Luján de Cuyo and in the Uco Valley south of the city of Mendoza.
When Parra first tasted a selection of Mendoza Malbecs, he found them averagely good but boring and he felt that the terroir was more complex than the wines. All people ever talked about was altitude, not soil or rocks. The process of identifying the different types of alluvial soils is fully described in the Terroir project section of the Altos Las Hormigas website, complete with Parra's own sketches. Parra highlights the alluvial terraces with the highest stone content as the best and they are planting 25 ha in Medrano and working with US biodynamic consultant Alan York, the first to work in this way in Mendoza.
They have also identified limestone areas combined with gravelly clay in Gualtallary (where Catena have a great site), Altamira and Vista Flores. This limestone, he believes, contributes the finesse of chalky tannins. The identification of such privileged sites within areas previously treated as if they were one terroir, led them to take drastic steps in 2010, when they got rid of 80% of the growers that supplied their fruit. The remaining 20% needed careful schooling in wise irrigation. They have also worked not only on such macrozones but also on microzones within their own vineyards. Once again, Parra puts emphasis on scale. To make the very best wines, you have to work on a micro scale. The two 2009 wines that we tasted clearly showed the effects of this work. Below are my brief notes on all four wines. Incidentally, they do add tartaric acid to these wines but much less, Parra says, than most producers.
Altos Las Hormigas Clasico Malbec 2011 Mendoza 16 Drink 2012-14
Fruit from La Consulta, Vistalba and Pedriel, chosen for their low vigour. At 900-1,000 m. Semi-desert climate with hot days and cool nights. Fermented with indigenous yeasts at 24-28 ºC, with rack and returns and pumping over. Aged with new French and US oak insert staves. pH 3.68. Soft but also fresh with just a slight chew in the tannins. Dark fruit, but with a savoury finish. Opens up to more floral and delicate aromas but for me the oak gives too much of a sweet chocolatey overlay, especially when I went back to the wine after the Terroir Malbecs and the Reserva. (JH) 14%
Altos Las Hormigas, Terroir Malbec 2009 Uco Valley 16.5 Drink 2012-17
From Vista Flores, Altamira and Eugenio Bustos subregions. 100% old gravelly terroir. Five days' cold maceration at 10 ºC. Fermented over 12 days at 28-30 ºC. Aged with French oak insert staves. pH 3.5. Quite peppery on the nose. Really savoury and a touch of tomato. Dry and a little chewy but has a lovely mineral finesse to the structure too. Rounded but very fresh dark gentle fruit flavours. Rich fruited but has fine bones and doesn't slop all over the sides. Tannins more chalky. So much fresher and tighter than the Clasico and easily worth the price difference. (JH) 14.5%
Altos Las Hormigas, Reserva Malbec 2009 Uco Valley 17 Drink 2012-18
From Vista Flores. All own vines, densely planted. Microsite selection using GPS and electromagnetic imaging to see where the deeper soils are, where there's more clay. This is a blend of several microsites. Two days' cold maceration at 10 ºC. Aged 18 months in tight-grain Fench oak (50% new). Already has more chalky finesse on the nose. Slightly smoky/reduced dark fruit and some sweet oak spice. Some sweet vanilla on the palate, fresh mulberry fruit and a light touch of scented violets but those fine tannins are its hallmark and it has excellent length. Lots of sweet oak spice. It's the texture and the freshness that mark it out. Lovely tension and energy and great length. (JH) 15%
Altos Las Hormigas, Vista Flores Single Vineyard Malbec 2006 Uco Valley 16.5 Drink 2010-15
More stony and sandy soiils. Before Parra was involved. Seven days' cold maceration. Malo and 12 months' ageing in new French oak. Then put into another set of new oak for 24 months. pH 3.6. Less aromatic on the nose. Rather square and the tannins just a little bit dry and the oak more evident. Less finesse than the 2009 Reserva. More chewy. Expensive, too. I suppose they had to pay for all that new oak. (JH) 14.5% s
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