Just for grins, click here to see where this wine was grown – it’s about as far off of the beaten path as you can get in North America. I had to zoom out at least half a dozen times (in Google Maps) before I had even the vaguest idea where in Mexico these grapes were grown: turns out it’s Zacatecas, a relatively obscure state south of Coahuila, which is where the first winery in the New World was constructed all the way back in 1597.
The vineyard is 2,057 meters above sea level, which would probably explain how it’s at possible, and why this is a moderate 12.2 pct. alcohol, which is very low for anywhere in North America. But let’s skip all of the geography and technical details and jump straight to the wine.
It’s a lovely, deep, rich, dark red wine; it isn’t lacking for color. It gets immediately interesting on the nose; at first, I thought I smelled sweet, dusty fruit; after a few minutes, it changed to a slightly sweeter, incredibly unusual nose with a tinge of mulberry and something approaching volatile acidity. More than anything, though, it smells of damp earth, coffee, soft red fruits, and fig paste.The taste of the wine is a surprise, but only briefly; with Malbec, I’m preconditioned to expect more alcohol, so the initial approach of the wine seemed disappointing: it’s not a monster, so you don’t get the thickness the alcohol lends. It does fill out rapidly after that, though, with a fairly rich, thick midpalate accented by sweet, dusty notes but again with that charming coffee-like, smoky note that I’m guessing is strictly from oak. The finish sings on for a good half a minute, alternately sweet and savory, and often with a wonderfully intriguing oakiness, but only just. On the down side, there’s a very slight, only occasionally noticeable component that seems faulty, but I can’t say exactly what it is (I’m thinking volatile acidity, but I’m just not sure). In short, it’s not factory wine.
If I had to compare this wine to anything, it would be to an imaginary Beaujolais that had been aged in lightly toasted oak barrels; I don’t think I’ve ever had anything like this. It almost reminds me of some of the lesser known southern French wines like Cotes du Marmandais, but what really stands out here is the impressive length of the wine, going on as it does.
Yes, this is about as obscure as it gets – I found this wine in a small shop in Mexicali, the capital of Baja California, yesterday (and wound up in secondary inspection at Customs because I didn’t realize that the state of California only allows residents to return with one liter of any kind of alcoholic beverages… oops) – but this is worth seeking out for anyone who’s interested in what you can do in new winegrowing areas with traditional grapes. Of all the Malbecs I’ve had, this isn’t as immediately delicious as, say, most midrange Argentine malbecs, but the Zacatecan expression of the grape is pretty damn interesting. Of course, this is probably too much money to pay for what you’re getting here – you could have a mind-blowing Argentine malbec for about the same amount – but you’ll never have tasted a wine like this before.
Viñedos Santa Elena