Domaine Bousquet: High Altitude, Organic Wines Worth Finding

Regular readers know that South American wines have been getting a good share of attention on the pages of imbiber's journal lately, and not without good reason. Increasingly, wines from south America are breaking out from the value end of the spectrum, which coincides with their immunity from the vagaries of wine tariffs. And the focus on organic farming not only caters to growing consumer preference, but translates into more expressive, honest examples.

Regular reader may also have noted more of a spotlight on less dense, lower alcohol wines that still deliver plenty of aromatic thrill and boatloads of flavor. This seeming contradiction does exist, and generally points towards wines grown at higher altitudes where phenolic ripeness can be achieved without going overboard on sugars. A nice bonus is that these regions tend to produce exciting acidity in the wines, adding energy and freshness. But one thing I hadn't realized until a recent zoom call is that higher altitude vineyards can also turn out bolder styles balanced by moderate alcohol while retaining acidic vigor. 

Earlier this week Domaine Bousquet in Argentina's Tupungato area of Uco Valley (a sub-region of Mendoza) hosted a Zoom call with their agronomist Franco Bastias and proprietor Anne Bousquet. A number of Domaine Bousquet's wines have been reviewed here, here, and here recently (with more below and yet more on the way,) but perhaps the biggest surprises have been their incredible box wines reviewed here last year. So far all of these wines have been uniformly clean, honest, and terrific values. Collectively, they illustrate a range of capabilities in the cellar and meticulous caretaking in the vineyards.

Our Zoom session covered the nearly 25 year history, vision, and insights into the challenges of greenfielding a winery in the remote highlands of Mendoza in the foothills of the Andes - all very interesting - as was the visual deep-dive into the soils under the vines, and how they impact the structure in the bottle.

Cross section of soils under vines at Domaine Bousquet
But the discussion on the benefits of farming grapes at higher altitudes was most intriguing, and of particular poignance as the effects of a warming planet impact the wine world.

So, what's different about making wine at 4,000 feet above see level in an alpine desert climate? Quite a bit, as it turns out:
  • Very low humidity, so there are fewer pests - both the moldy kind and the creepy-crawly variety - to contend with.
  • Fewer pests makes organic farming more accessible, and Domaine Bousquet wines have been made from organic grapes since day one. 
  • Huge diurnal swings (the difference in highest and lowest temperatures in a day) translate to grapes with a higher level of acidity. 
  • Extreme sunshine means robust phenolic ripeness.
  • Extreme dryness, combined with sandy, stony riverbed soils cause desireable vine stress, which, in turn manifests as minerality and elegant structure. It also keeps vine yields low, increasing concentration of flavors.
Combined, these factors protect wines from being flabby bombs, and instead result in wines or firm vigor and elegance. And of all the samples sent, the most expensive is their Gran Malbec with a suggested price of $25, evidence of their emphasis on affordability.

Following are two contrasting examples, but stay tuned for more.

2019 Bousquet Chardonnay Reserve Tupungato Uco Valley $18
Medium-hued straw in the glass, the nose is clean, though showing interesting tropical and citrus character. But, boy, does it unfold in the mouth where a plump, round continuation of tropicalia is cloaked in toasty, voluptuous oak, a thin vanilla line, and finished with zippy acidity. A heady, generous wine for fans of California's archetypal profile, but at a much lower price point.

2019 Bousquet Pinot Noir Reserve Tupungato Uco Valley $18
Very, very old world in style, this lean example is tough to appreciate it it's youth, but shows incredible promise to evolve into a swan. Taut and coiled, but with elegant fruit and copious acidity, this is a surprise in its departure from fruit-forward, candy-like pinots, and its seriousness of structure that suggests dry farming conditions. I'd love to meet this wine again in five years. And ten. And beyond.