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Mendoza's Glittering DiamAndes

I had met Jean-Jacques Bonnie just once before, about two years ago in Mendoza, but there was no mistaking which table was his when I briefly sat down at the bar in the Brasserie Cognac in Manhattan last week and glanced around the room – the long, wavy blond mane that a 19th Century cavalry officer would have loved was unmistakable, that and the fact that a large decanter of red wine was just being delivered by the bartender to his table.

There was a time when a young winegrower whose family owns a famous Bordeaux estate – Château Malartic-Lagravière in the case of the Belgian-born Bonnies – asked you to lunch to taste his second wine, you might have replied, “Do I have to come to dinner to taste the estate wine?”  But in the case of the Bonnies and a growing handful of other Bordelais, their “second” wine comes from their second estate in Chile or Argentina.  For these ambitious growers across the hemispheres, their vines are always green somewhere.

And, of course, there is nothing secondary about the Bonnie’s DiamAndes estate wines, part of the enclave of wineries put together by Michel Rolland as part of the Clos de Siete estate near the southern Mendoza town of Vista Flores.  Although the project is barely a decade old, the wines are already delicious and will certainly deepen in complexity as the vines age.

“When you visited Clos de los Siete two years ago, the DiamAndes winery [one of five different bodegas on the huge estate] was still under construction,” Bonnie updated me, “but now it has been dedicated and is under full operation.” DiamAndes has 115 hectares or about 285 acres under vine – primarily Malbec and other Bordeaux grapes for the reds and Chardonnay and Viognier for the white.  “We have another 20 unplanted hectares – what is that, about 30 acres? – that we are thinking about planting in Cabernet Franc.”

Bonnie, who has been on a marketing tour of the U.S. and thus missing the opportunity to spend the late summer pre-harvest in Argentina, sees a plate of croque monsieurs floating by - “Ah, I have to have that,” he exclaims, and we are into our menus, ordering that elegant yet basic French ham-and-cheese sandwich, cheese and tomato tart (“a French pizza”) and bavette with frites and a lovely red wine sauce.

They are perfect with the wines Bonnie has bought along: the 2010 DiamAndes Chardonnay ($20), barrel-fermented, complex with savory notes; the 2010 DiamAndes Viognier ($20) in the northern Rhone style, more of a drinking wine than the sniffing ones we sometimes find; the 2010 DiamAndes “Perlita” ($10), an intriguing house blend of Malbec with 20% Syrah, and the 2010 DiamAndes Malbec ($20), young and fresh in a style that we never able to see in Bordeaux, which was often too cold for that variety.  All four are values considering their quality and pedigree.

Then comes the wine from the decanter that has been evolving over the 45 minutes while we have been eating, tasting and talking – the 2007 DiamAndes Gran Reserva ($35), a blend of 70% Malbec and 30% Cab – perhaps even a better bargain than the others.  It is ripe and rich, but not overly extracted, complex in its layers with a lean, long finish similar to that of the grand wine of the Bonnie château back in Bordeaux.

Bonnie says he loves the differences and the similarities of winegrowing on both continents.  “The winemakers and the vineyard managers and I really work as a team,” he says, “all in agreement about what goes on in the vineyard and the wineries,” and often team members fly with him to the other continent to better understand the winemaking overview.

Even though the grapes grown and the styles of wine are somewhat similar – MalarticLagravière is one of a handful of estates in Pessac-Leognan to have both grand cru reds and whites – the physical differences are astounding.  Bordeaux is at low altitude, only a few miles from the sea, while Mendoza is a lifetime from the ocean and more than 3,300 feet up into the thin air of the Andes; Mendoza, a desert climate, must irrigate, while Bordeaux cannot, and, for all their similarities, Malbec is not Cabernet Sauvignon.

And so, we drain the last drops of Gran Reserva, order our espressos and decide we must get together and drink wine again before two years pass – perhaps even in a few weeks during primeurs at their first estate in Bordeaux.  Or is it the second one?


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