One afternoon, while wending my way by car through the jagged outcroppings and deserted mountain ranges of northern Argentina, I passed a dusty turnoff and a small sign that read, if I recall correctly, "Colome: 28 km". If it hadn't been so late in the day, I would have taken a left to visit the winery that uses grapes from the world's highest vineyards. Fortunately for me - and for other Americans who haven't been to remotest Salta - Colome wines are now arriving in their numbers to our shores.
They are wines unlike anything else Argentina (or any other country) produces, for the simple reason that Colome's terroir is utterly unique. Salta is known for its enormous variations in temperature in the space of 24 hours: hot sun during the day and cold clear nights, with a range of 20 degrees Celsius or more. But go higher, and things become even more vexing for the vines. In fact, the growing season becomes so short that many varieties don't even mature in time.
Colome's journey to the literal summit of world winemaking started in 2003 with a trial of one hectare at two miles above sea level. "Quickly we found out that the long-cycle varieties were impossible to ripen," says Thibaut Delmotte, Colome's winemaker, who was recently in New York to introduce his latest selections. Cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot - essential elements of a Bordeaux blend - were out of the question. Instead, they planted pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, and of course malbec.
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