About Laurel Glen Vineyard
The precious 3-acre parcel that gave birth to Laurel Glen Vineyard was first planted by German immigrants back in 1880. At the time, the vines were of several varieties, all red. In 1968, the vineyard was replanted entirely with Cabernet Sauvignon by Carmen Taylor. It would be her planting that had a lasting impact on the wines of today -- one particular vine was selected as the parent for the officially certified Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon Clone. The story continues with Patrick Campbell, who rediscovered the plot atop Sonoma Mountain in 1974 and set to work expanding the vineyard to its current size of 16 acres. Campbell produced the first vintage of Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon in 1981, and 5 years later came out with the vineyard's second release, Counterpoint. The flagship Cabernets are powerful yet elegant wines characterized by brier-y mountain berry aromas complicated by minerals, flowers and dark chocolate. These are wines that repay extended cellaring, developing great complexity with bottle age. The Counterpoint, made chiefly from lots that miss the cut for the flagship bottling, is dependably a terrific value, and unlike the primary Cabernet, especially enjoyable when young. In 2011, with 30 vintages under his belt, Campbell decided to sell the vineyard to a group led by Bettina Sichel, formerly sales director at Quintessa winery. A new team, including David Ramey, and winemaker Randall Watkins now runs the show, although Campbell remains as a consultant. Sichel aims to revitalize the winery, which has come up short in recent vintages.
Until the early 1990s, Argentina's wine industry was focused inward, as the local market's thirst was sufficient to absorb the huge quantities of everyday drinking wine produced there. But with per-capita consumption in the domestic market in sharp decline since the mid-1970s, Argentina's wine producers realized that they had to look to export markets to remain in business, and winemaking in Argentina began its transformation.
In just a few short years, Argentina has shifted its emphasis to the production of quality wine and turned its attention to export markets. Vine yields have been reduced dramatically. Large old wood casks have been widely replaced by oak barriques. And a major wave of new planting has taken place in mostly cooler, high-altitude sites that are better suited to producing serious wines, such as the Uco Valley, in the foothills of the Andes, about 80 miles south of the city of Mendoza. Despite the widespread reduction of vine yields, Argentina remains a huge wine producer, ranking number five in the world. Red Argentine wines, especially those from Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and blends incorporating these two varieties, represent the lion's share of the best bottles.
Many of today's finest Argentine wines have barely five years of history. Consulting winemakers from California and Europe have brought their technical expertise to Argentina, as well as their knowledge of what is necessary to compete in the world wine market. At the same time, there has been an explosion of foreign investment by wealthy wine producers, luxury corporations and individual investors attracted by inexpensive vineyard land and by Argentina's warm, dry climate. Since the Argentine peso was sharply devalued in late 2001, land prices have been even more attractive to outside investors.
Structured, robust wines, with notes of blackberry, plum, and leather
Grilled meats, steaks
The Malbec grape may have originated in southwest France, where it still is grown under the name Cot. However, the grape's international profile has surged not because of what's going on in France, but rather because of current trends in Argentina.
Malbec came to Argentina in the late nineteenth century, before the Phylloxera epidemic punished European vineyards, necessitating grafting of fruiting wood onto rootstocks that aren't native to Europe. In Argentina, which was never subject to the epidemic, most of these vines are not grafted. Instead, vines grow on their own roots. But if escaping the blight of Phylloxera provided a start, the key reasons for the recent emergence of the grape are improvements both to viticulture and vinification.
Argentine producers have dramatically cut yields and replaced large old wood casks with oak barriques. They've taken more care in selecting appropriate planting sites, developing cooler, high altitude vineyards that benefit from warm days and cool nights. International consultants have arrived, too, imparting up-to-date knowledge about vinification techniques as well as a sense of what style of wines compete successfully in the international wine market.
Some are critical of this trend, arguing that it leads to homogenization of wine styles. Maybe so, but we still feel that some of these improvements are certainly welcome, for the best Malbecs are polished, structured, and concentrated, but still showcase the local terroir. The results are clear: Malbec was once produced almost entirely for the domestic marketplace, but now bottles marked $50 dollars or higher sell briskly in the international marketplace. But you need not spend that much money for a solid example of this varietal: there are plenty of compelling and satisfying wines in the $15-25 dollar range.
With these wines, you can expect deep red colors and intense flavors, with notes of blackberry, plum, leather, and pepper. Many have the necessary structure to age for a decade or more. We've been impressed with wines from Vina Alicia, Val de Flores, and Terrazas de los Andes.
Argentina is known as much for its grass-fed beef as it is for its red wines. The affinity between the two is more than just geographical-- with its robust tannins, Malbec makes a natural partner for steak.