Friday, March 1, 2013

Gascon Winery: Malbec To Give People Joy

Nesti Bajda (pictured above), the winemaker at the Don Miguel Gascón winery in Mendoza, Argentina, told me that in the end, he makes wines to give people joy. Nesti also loves to cook, and his motivation is the same, to give people joy. No one can argue that is not a worthy motivation. Maybe more winemakers need to understand that should be their basic rationale.

Earlier this week, I was invited to dine with Nesti at Stephi's on Tremont, as well as to taste three of his wines. The Don Miguel Gascón winery dates back to 1884, founded by Don Miguel Escorihuela Gascón, and it may have been the first winery, during the 1940s, to produce Argentina's first 100% Malbec wine. Change came to the winery in 1993, when a group of investors, led by the famed Nicolas Catena, purchased the winery and currently Ernesto Catena is the winery president. With Ernesto at the helm, one can feel confident that justice will be done to these wines.  

The winery is the only one still located in the city of Mendoza and their focus is on Malbec, the signature grape of Argentina. They own a couple vineyards, one being Biodynamic, and with these vineyards they generally focus on higher end wines and experimentation. In addition, they purchase grapes from over 150 vineyards, most which are small, about twenty acres or less. Their goal with their wines is to show what Argentina is like, to capture the essence of Malbec.

Nesti Bajda, of Slovenian ancestry, was born and raised in Mendoza. He originally studied accountacy but soon learned that he hated paperwork so knew he had to find another career. Thus, he decided to try agricultural school and ended up volunteering at the school's vineyards, where he discovered his true passion. Nesti mentioned that his father and grandfather were both coopers, barrel makers, so he likes to say that "they made barrels and now he fills them." In 2003, Nesti began working at Don Miguel Gascón, and has even helped to plant vineyards at Alma Negra. Though he has been heavily involved in advanced technology to assist vineyard growth and wine making, his desire remains simple, to make wine that brings joy.

About 70% of the winery's production is sold within Argentina, and only a few of their wines are exported, being distributed in Massachusetts by Martignetti Companies. Nesti wants their wines to reflect tradition and history and noted that 2011 was the best vintage he has seen at the winery. The weather in 2011 was just perfect for their grapes. The result was that the wines of 2011 possess a "beautiful natural acidity" which is not common in Argentina, making them even better food wines than usual.

I got to taste three of their Malbec based wines and all of them paired well with my delicious lunch of Smokey Bacon Macaroni & Cheese.

The 2011 Colosal ($15) is a blend of 61% Malbec, 16% Bonarda, 13% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The name translates as "Colossal" and reflects the history of the winery as this was similar to a high quality blend they made in the late 1800s. Back then, wine was sold in barrels, each possessing a large label that depicted a huge, mustached man who held a barrel under each arm. It has only been in the last twenty years or so that Argentina wineries started commonly making single varietals. The majority of this wine was aged for fifteen months in a combination of French and American oak, and it has an alcohol content of 14.1%.

The Colosal has a dark red color with a pleasing aroma of dark fruit and spice. On the palate, it is full bodied, with smooth tannins, and presents an elegant balance. Delicious plum, black cherry and spice notes dominate the taste and it offers good complexity for the price. The Malbec plays the starring role and the international grapes support the Malbec without trying to steal the show. An excellent value wine, this should appeal to many wine lovers.

The basic 2011 Malbec ($15) is produced from 100% Malbec, sees only a touch of oak for some added complexity and has an alcohol content of 13.9%. This is an introductory Malbec, created to show the "true" Malbec, the typical flavor profile. It is inky dark with an intense aroma of black fruit, violets and deep spice. On the palate, it was a simple but smooth and delicious wine, with tasty flavors of plum and blackberries, with a spicy backbone. An easy drinking wine that also offers a good value.

The 2010 Malbec Reserva ($25) usually is a blend of mostly Malbec, with small percentages of Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc, but for this vintage it is mostly Malbec with about 4%-5% Petite Verdot and no Cabernet Franc. The grapes are sourced from the same vineyards as the basic Malbec but they selected the best grapes for the Reserva. It was aged for 15 months in a combination of French and American oak and has an alcohol content of 14.26%. The wine is more complex than the basic Malbec, though containing a fairly similar flavor profile. The taste is also deeper, richer and spicier though still maintaining a delightful elegance. Unlike the basic Malbec, you will also find some chocolate notes, especially on the finish. This is a wine that shows the potential of Malbec, indicating its potential complexity and showcasing the skills of the winemaker. Highly recommended.

I think Nesti succeeded in making three wines which will bring you joy.

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