An Argentine wine by way of France (and Stamford)

From left: Ramiro Barrios, managing director of Clos de los Siete; vintner Michel Rolland; Lauren Lucas, media manager; and Peter Deutsch, CEO of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits.

Recently, I had the pleasure of dining — and drinking — with vintner Michel Rolland and wine importer Peter Deutsch in a private room in Manhattan’s Tocqueville restaurant. In Wine Spectator’s 40th anniversary edition in 2016, Rolland and Deutsch’s father, Bill, founder of Stamford-based Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, were named two of just 43 wine industry giants worldwide, among such noteworthy names as Rothschild, Antinori, Mondavi, Chapoutier, Harlan and Turley — so you know the evening was pretty special.

Over its course, I learned about their backgrounds. Rolland has been in the wine industry his entire life. He grew up on a farm/winery in Bordeaux, learning the lifestyle and the industry from his parents before going on to oenology school, where he met his future wife, Dany. Rolland is an affable and fun guy with a hearty, contagious laugh. He owns wineries in France and produces much wine, but he is better-known as a consultant. His client list is impressive, including more than 150 wineries in 13 countries on four continents.  

Bill Deutsch has been in the wine business half of his life. He came of age in the accounting industry but got a glimpse of the wine world when he was assigned an audit of a wine company. He was soon transported to the seductive world of wine. 

In 1988, Rolland was invited to visit Argentina for a consulting project and immediately saw the winemaking potential of the region. He assembled a small team of partners from Bordeaux and went to work. He decided the weather, the soil, the hot days and cool nights and the local influence of the snowcapped Andes, some 60 miles south of Mendoza, would be a perfect location. They found a perfect plot of 2,000 acres at 3,600 feet above sea level. The idea was to bring Bordeaux winemaking techniques to Argentinian terroir. Rolland and his partners built four different bodegas, or wineries, each owned and operated by a different partner making his own brand. But each bodega would also contribute significant amounts of wine to a group project, a custom Rolland blend of all four bodegas known as Clos de los Siete. 

 The Deutsch family, which has been importing Rolland wines from France for many years, is now responsible for importing Clos de los Siete into the United States. At Tocqueville, we tasted through a brilliant vertical presentation of the label, beginning with the 2015 vintage, followed by the ’14, the ’11, the ’10, the ’09, the ’06 and, finally, the ’03, which was made from baby vines just 4 years old. All of these wines are blends of Bordeaux varietals with slightly different blend percentages in each vintage. The 2015 was comprised of 58 percent Malbec, 23 percent Merlot, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 percent Syrah and 1 percent Petit Verdot.  Each of the other vintages was the same order of grape dominance but the percentages were changed to reflect something in the growing environment that year. With five main grape types to taste and blend each year, it guarantees a quality product each vintage.  Or as Peter Deutsch said to me, “Find me a better wine for under $20. It can’t be done.”

Each of these wines showed the same DNA of flavor profile — dark and dense fruit with a good backbone of tannins and spice.  Dark cherry and blackberry were dominant in all of them. Some showed licorice, spice box and leather, some more generous and giving, some more restrained (think decanter), but all showed good balance, great mouthfeel and an extended finish. My personal favorite of the lineup was the 2006, showing hearty dark fruit and a silky smoothness. The label is attractive and uncluttered with a seven point gold star, each point representing one of the partners. I found these wines online at around $18 per bottle. A 12 bottle case purchase will bring the price down closer to $16 per bottle. Rolland said, “Argentina is so great for wine production. And we want to make wine that people like to drink. And then drink again.” He and his partners are producing close to a million bottles of Clos de los Siete each year and are hoping to bump that number to 1.2 million bottles soon.

Malbec has a long history in the world of wine dating back many centuries. It found its fame and prominence in the southwest of France, specifically the Cahors region. But Argentina imported the grape and over a couple of decades showed what some altitude, a lot of sun, significant stony geological environment and high-quality vineyard and winery practices could create. And Rolland took it to another plane by adding differing amounts of the noble Bordeaux varieties grown in Argentina to improve the nuance, the structure, the flavor and the experience of solo Malbec. As autumn arrives and cooler nights begin to usher in winter, order up some Clos de los Siete. This is a high-value wine at an attractive price brought to you by a couple of wine industry giants. 

Write me at doug@dougpaulding.com.

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