Aiming Extremely High

Aim high. Then aim even higher. That’s Alejandro Martorell’s philosophy.

Cardon cacti tend to rule the terroir in Calchaquí Valley.
Cardon cacti tend to rule the terroir in Calchaquí Valley.

The engineer only sees extremes when it comes to altitude. And lofty heights are at the heart of his first three releases born in Calchaquí Valley, Salta province.

Clearly a man who likes a challenge, Alejandro purchased two fincas, one of which is so remote, it doesn’t have the luxury of electricity or even a mobile phone signal.

While his Cafayate finca is located at a reasonably lofty 1,750 metres above sea level (the norm in this part of Salta), the Molinos vineyard positively towers in comparison thanks to its 2,590 masl location. This is inhospitable terroir usually inhabited by cardon cacti straight out of a spaghetti western or even-toed llamas designed for traipsing these harsh lands – just ask neighbouring bodegas Colomé and Tacuil about the challenges of setting up shop in this part of the world.

Respectively growing 40 hectares of Malbec and Torrontés, and 14 hectares of Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc, Alejandro has aimed high, then higher with his vineyards. And it is these varietals grown at altitudes considered downright nuts in the rest of the world that have led to Altupalka winery’s début releases.

Don’t look down.
Don’t look down.

Meaning “high lands” in Quechua – daughter Lucia says dad Alejandro has a bit of an obsession with the native indian language – Altupalka’s first three releases are Sauvignon Blanc, a vineyard selection Malbec and single vineyard Malbec aged for 12 months in second-use French oak.

Two of my favourite Argentine Sauvignon Blancs are Tukma – whose grapes are sourced from Jujuy, a province bordering Bolivia – and Tacuil’s RD. Real go-tos thanks to distinctive characters that ditch the tropical fruit usually associated with Argentina’s Sauvignon Blanc.

Altupalka’s 2013 easily keeps up with these two. Harvested at 2,590 masl, its green nose is pure asparagus and peas with a slight hint of musk and chilli pepper, while high acidity reigns in the mouth. Savoury notes are so welcome after the fresh tropical fruit that usually seems sexy is now humdrum in comparison. 168 pesos.

Go green with Altupalka’s Sauvignon Blanc.
Go green with Altupalka’s Sauvignon Blanc.

The Malbec Malbec 2013 – so-called as it’s sourced from both fincas that offer different altitudes and terroir – takes 65% from Molinos’ vineyards at 2,590 masl and 35% from Cafayate at 1,750 masl. Jammy with plenty of plum and red fruit in the nose, it opened up to feature earthy notes as well as a little liquorice in spite of the lack of oak ageing. Enjoyable and fairly satisfying, it wasn’t as exciting as other terroir blends I’ve sampled from the zone. 240 pesos.

The Extremo Malbec 2011, however, was far racier. Made with grapes harvested exclusively from the Molinos finca – robust fruit that’s developed thick skins thanks to the steamy hot days and chilly mountainous nights – this offered up ripe red fruit such as plums and sour cherry as well as berries including blueberry and spice such as black pepper. Tannins were big, as to be expected, with medium to high acidity, the fruit vibrant in the mouth while green notes included bell pepper and eucalyptus. 480 pesos.

My outright romance was with the white, however. Making Malbec – and a Malbec that comes from a crazy altitude, to boot – in Argentina is completely logical, but producing a highly original Sauvignon Blanc under the same conditions from a region usually known for Torrontés is way more exciting.

While Altupalka doesn’t have a physical bodega – Alejandro has rented production space from Colomé and Domingo Molina among others – do keep an eye out for this new project’s wares, wines that aim high and naturally have heaps of altitude.

Ph: Consultor STG

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