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The complexity of 78-year-old vines

The cycle: most vineyards are replanted when vines reach 35 years of age, as production of fruit goes way down with old vines, but old ones are more complex, Michael Robinson says (Photograph supplied)

The Mendel Winery is the result of Roberto de La Mota, one of Argentina´s most respected and experienced winemakers, joining with a near century old Argentinian family.

Their sole objective is to produce wines of unquestionable superior quality expressing the character of old vineyards and the excellent attributes of the exceptional native soil of Mendoza, Argentina. They choose the best lots from very mature vineyards. Every artisan winemaking step is rigorously performed – from careful bunch sorting to fermentation in small tanks to ageing in the finest French oak. Ancient vineyards, passionate people, experience and friendship are blended to create these wines.

We now stock three reds and two whites from Mendel and so far, I have just tasted their 2021 Mendel Semillon from the Valle de Uco. I expected complexity as I knew that the vines were 78 years old and that they grew on their own rootstocks. As you may know, most of the world’s vines are grafted onto phylloxera-resistant American root stocks. I was not sure of what to expect as I do not recall tasting a wine that was 100 per cent from this varietal that is so important in Bordeaux white blends.

I noted, on the back of the bottle, that a serving temperature of 54F was suggested, which is not as cold as most whites. I strongly suggest this, as pear, pineapple and honey emerged as it warmed a bit from my fridge. It also revealed complexity and certainly a character of its own, which was unique and interesting. $32 (Stock #8920).

Just as we consider malbec to be “the” red wine grape of Argentina, we should list the torrontés grape as “their” white. The 2021 Mendel Lunta Torrontés is from grapes grown near the northern town of Cayfayate in the region of Salta, where this grape flourishes in high altitude vineyards. Although I have no definite proof of where this grape originated, I find that it has some of the vibrant personality of grapes like muscat and gewurztraminer.

This one is pale yellow and slightly greenish at the rim, but brilliant and clean. It is aromatic and refreshing and evokes ripe tropical fruit such as pineapple, passion fruit and mango, together with stone fruit like peach, backed by fragrant white flowers like jasmine and orange blossom. Citrus notes harmonise with tropical fruit on the finish. $23.95 (Stock #8924).

We lead off the reds with 2020 Mendel Lunta Malbec that is from engrafted vines planted in Luján in 1928. The grapes have been fermented in stainless steel tanks and the wine then aged in French oak (one third of which are new) for a year. Typical of this grape, it is dark red with violet hues. The nose is intense and fruity with ripe raspberries, plums, and blackberries. The oak adds vanilla, caramel, and a touch of smoke. It has that easy-drinking juiciness that seems to hit in the back of my palate and just say, “I am malbec.” $25.80 (Stock #8925).

Now we step up to 2020 Finca Mendel Malbec that their winemaker describes in this way: “Intense, bright red, violet at the rim. The nose is complex, elegant and very intense. The wine shows a perfect combination of fresh red fruit such as black cherries, raspberries and blackberries. Spice touches and liquorice hints contribute complexity. The ageing in French oak masterfully integrates subtle vanilla and caramel nuances. Pleasant attack. The aromas on the palate are harmonious and persistent. It is a balanced, refreshing and very easy-to-drink wine which boasts a lingering finish.”

Critic James Suckling obviously agrees as he awards it 93/100 and writes: “A perfumed red with notes of fresh wild berries, just-picked violets, sweet spices and cocoa-dusted walnuts. Medium- to full-bodied with layers of plush, polished tannins and a lingering, silky mouthfeel. Velvety and seamless with delicious blue-fruit and blue-flower character. Drink or hold.” $32 (Stock #8922).

The cream of the crop is 2019 Mendel Unus. Here we again have malbec vines planted on their own roots in 1928. Cabernet sauvignon is included as well as something very unique and super special – a massale selection of petit verdot from the great Chateau Margaux! Before you hit that Google key, let me explain. The French call massale “the old way”. Most new vines today are created by making clones, but the massale method consists of taking individual cuttings from the very best vine stock. Each one is genetically unique, just like you and me.

The aromas of dark cherries, plums and roasted cocoa come leaping out of the glass. This is a big but very suave wine with layers of ripe cherry, berry fruits, white pepper, mint, chocolate, caramel, smoke, and toast. There are loads of ripe, soft tannins, so this wine will certainly age beautifully for a decade or longer, but the temptation to drink it right away may be too much to resist. This would be a classic match for that grilled steak you may enjoy over Cup Match.

Vinous rates it 94/100 and comments: “The 2019 Mendel Unus is a blend of 65 per cent malbec, 25 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 10 per cent petit verdot. It was aged for 16 months in new French oak. Dark purple in hue, the complex, compact nose presents aromas of lightly candied plum and blackberry with subtle hints of herb, cedar, furniture polish and a whiff of liqueur. A substantial wine with good concentration and elasticity, the flow is voluminous and juicy, channelled a little by finely grained tannins that also keep the palate taut before the long, compelling finish.” $48 (Stock #8921).

• This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Contact Michael Robinson at mrobinson@bll.bm. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). Visit www.wineonline.bm

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Published July 27, 2022 at 7:47 am (Updated July 27, 2022 at 7:47 am)

The complexity of 78-year-old vines

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