The ribeye steaks at my favorite butcher, Hopcott Premium Meats (www.hopcottmeats.ca), looked fantastic! The kind of marbling and precise trimming that makes me immediately think of firing up the hibachi, pulling the dried hardwood *(applewood, mesquite, whatever is handy) out of the garage and opening a great bottle of Malbec.

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That was a few weeks back on April 17, World Malbec Day. What could be more fitting than the classic Argentinian pairing of Malbec and barbeque? Of course, the Argentinians aren’t the only ones growing it! Malbec, or Cot as it is known in France, has been cultivated for centuries. In fact, it is one of the original varietals for the much-coveted Bordeaux red blend that fetches princely sums of money around the world. These days little of the grape is grown in Bordeaux and one must search rather earnestly to find it there.

But vineyard managers around the globe are checking their own plots of land to ascertain if the dark purple grape can grow in their backyards: California, Australia, Chile and British Columbia are amongst the candidates toying with it at present, to varying levels of success. But to find great value for money, always a focus for me, I find I continually return to Argentina and, especially, the vineyards of Vistalba (www.carlospulentawines.com )

What can I say about Carlos Pulenta, owner of the winery? Now in his late 60’s, this is a man who has devoted his entire life to the crafting of world-class wines. He is achieving that goal with the passion behind Vistalba and their blends: Corte B and Corte C… both achieving international scores beyond their modest prices. I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing Gustavo Crespo, Managing Director of Blends, the Vistalba family of wine estates. I asked Gustavo about his relationship with Carlos and what drew him to Vistalba.

Kristof Gillese / Vino247: Gustavo, many thanks for making the time to speak with me today. I know you’re a busy man.

Gustavo Crespo: A pleasure.

Firstly Gustavo, I know that you were working in London, had a great career… what drew you to leave England and move literally across the world to work with Carlos?

Well I was already working with Carlos’ company but in a completely different division, so it was less of a transition for the company then if they had hired outside of the company. But for me, personally, it was the opportunity to work more closely with Carlos himself. Carlos has a huge personality: so driven, so focused, so passionate. I think that he and I connected on that level and there was a mutual respect.

Still: a big change for anyone! London to Argentina.

Well yes, but it was the very nature of that change, that challenge, which was the excitement for me. If we don’t challenge ourselves…

—Understood. So, new topic: How do you then in this new role of Managing Director try to translate the finesse, concentration and identity of Vistalba wines to over 30 countries?

That’s easy. I don’t! These are wines with such a connection to the land that they speak for themselves. I just make the introductions.

Ha – I like that way of explaining it.

And you know, Carlos is really a legend in Argentina, in South America, and throughout the wine world. He comes from a family that is like nobility in wine and each of his brothers has crafted his own place in today’s market. Just having that name behind the label opens many doors.

And so what’s the next step for the winery? I know the winery is run in a very sustainable manner but are there plans to take that further now that organics and bio-dynamics are making an impact?

—you took the words out of my mouth. We’re already quite advanced in our process for full organic certification throughout the vineyard. These are practices that we’ve been using since day one – now we need to get the documentation.

And this is to get in front of certain consumers or a demographic?

Actually no; in Europe especially being organic when it comes to wine has very little impact on sales. We are doing this because, since the beginning, our goal has been to create “the best expression of the land” Organics are just a fundamental part of that process: don’t put into the soil what you don’t want in the wine, right?

Right! All of this sounds like, as I like to put it, a return to a more ancestral type of viticulture.

Absolutely. For Carlos, whose passion and vision are our driving force, organics are a return to how his grandfather and great-grandfather farmed the land. It’s about understanding our place in that ecosystem and respecting it. It’s about tradition, and in Argentina tradition runs deep.

Bravo my friend. Thanks so much for making a few minutes for me.

Always a pleasure Kristof – come and visit soon!

THE WINE

Vistalba “Corte B” 2010

51% Malbec, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Bonarda
90+ points, EXCELLENT VALUE; 91 points Wine Enthusiast
*Benefits from 1-hour decant or 1-run through the aerator…

Vistalba  2010 Corte B and 2012 Corte C. Photo: © 2014 Kristof Gillese

Vistalba 2010 Corte B and 2012 Corte C. Photo: © 2014 Kristof Gillese

No wonder these über-professionals are winning awards around the world! Plush aromas of ripe red berries *(cherries, red currants, young raspberries) are accentuated by deep earth tones, graphite-minerality and a hint of wild herbs growing on the hillside. Energetic acid in the wine craves the touch of fat from fresh grilled carne Asada or just about any premium cut of beef/lamb… fine/chalky tannin will cosy up to that barbeque goodness in the best possible way. A delight with food, you cigar-smokers in the audience will also find it a brilliant pairing with full-bodied Dominican or Cuban tobacco.

Vistalba “Corte C” 2012

76% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Bonarda
90+ points, Great Value; 90 points Wine Spectator
*No decanting/aeration necessary…

By reducing the percentage of Cab-Sauv, the winemaker at Vistalba has created a wine much more plush, velvety in the mouth. Here is a wine that drinks more like a Merlot… the rich red berry flavors of the Malbec are accentuated by a well-focused line of Cab and made generous by the Bonarda. What does this mean for you? For me, this is the wine while I’m cooking… nibble a bite of food, chat with friends, tend the barbeque, drink more wine. Repeat. Excellent balance and structure this wine is a joy to drink on its own. Of course it pairs well with grilled meats, but did you know that wines like this love dark chocolate? Yum~!

THE FOOD

The real genesis behind this article was my craving for terrific grilled food. So let’s not get bogged down with tedious recipes because, at its heart, barbeque (to me) is more about passion then it is about formulas. Find a premium butcher, like Hopcotts, who are using locally sourced, steroid-free, naturally-raised meats. Clean your barbeque before you start using it this spring! There’s nothing worse than a grease fire destroying $100 worth of steaks! Then invite some good friends over, open a few bottles of Vistalba and enjoy the process. Because, really, isn’t that worth celebrating?

So enjoy your meal with great wine and family or friends. Treat yourself, spoil someone else, and above all: savour the moment~! Many thanks to Patagonia Imports *( www.PatagoniaImports.com ) for the brilliant samples!

As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:

on Twitter @AStudentofWine

About Author

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Kristof Gillese: trained chef, certified wine steward, journalist and proud father. In these articles it is the human story that takes priority: to tell the tale of common people accomplishing uncommon goals. In the world of wine these tales are prolific. It has been Chef Kristofs privilege to have worked with luminaries such as Pierre-Henry Gagey of Maison Jadot, Nik Weis of St Urbans-Hof, Ray Signorello of Signorello Estates and Ezra Cipes of Summerhill Pyramid Winery; leaders in the industry. With almost 3 decades of experience working with the synergy between food and wine, Chef Kristof is proud to share the stories of these amazing stewards of the land. These articles are written with a profound reverence for the family aspect to winery culture as, to this writers understanding, nothing has ever had a more far-reaching effect than the love and devotion for a parent to a child. All great wineries are built by parents for their children and it is because of this that Chef Kristof writes.
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