A Wine for the Devil’s Throat

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“The ancient Egyptians believed the god Anubis met each of us on the other side, and that he stood before a great scale on which our hearts were set. There each was weighed, tested for its worth. Was this the heart I wanted measured? “
Victor LaValle

Anubis

Anubis was an important deity to the Egyptians, depicted as a canine or a man with a canine’s head: he was the god of death and all pertaining to it, mummification, embalming, the afterlife, cemeteries, tombs, and the underworld. Anubis was the protector of graves, the one who would guide your soul into the afterlife. It was the god Anubis who would weigh the hearts of the dead to determine whether they could enter into the realm of the afterlife.

Grave of Sorrows

The Valle de Cafayate is a part of the Valles Calchaquíes, in Salta Province, northwest Argentina. The area is famous for is breathtaking topography, its intricate geology and unique geography, where sub-tropical forests are folded into mountain desserts.
The multi-coloured rock formations in the area are famous landmarks, with names like: El Sapo (The Frog), El Fraile (The Friar) and El Obeslico (The Obelisk). And then there is the Garganta del Diablo, (The Devil’s Throat) near the ghost town of Alemania.
The Cafayates were a tribe who, together with the Tolombón, inhabited the Valles Calchaquíes prior to the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores. The word “Cafayate” in the ancient dialect of the Cacana means “burial place for all sorrows”.
Cafayate is the heart and soul of the local wine culture, the epicenter for high-altitude wine production in Argentina. With vineyard heights averaging 1700 meters, the area is home to some of the highest winemaking sites on earth.

Susana Balbo

Of Italian heritage, Susana Balbo’s parents sold tablecloths door-to-door in Guaymallén, Mendoza, and by all accounts they were humble, modest people. As a young girl Susana herself, was nothing if not ambitious; she wanted to study nuclear physics but Susana’s parents forbade her from going away to study. This was understandable at the time given it was the onset of what was to become known as the ‘Guerra Sucia‘, (The Dirty War) in Argentina, when hundreds were killed, thousands were ‘disappeared’ and students were often targeted as sympathizers or agitators.

Ultimately, she took up oenology as it could be studied locally, and her parents had purchased a small vineyard because her brother did not want to follow in the family business.
In 1981 Susana Balbo became the very first woman in Argentina to earn a degree in oenology, receiving a gold medal along with her Master’s degree for having the highest GPA. This was only the beginning of a hugely successful and much decorated career at some of her country’s most recognizable wineries.
Often cited as one of the most influential women winemakers in the world; after gaining experience in Spain, Chile, Italy, Brazil, Australia, and California, Balbo established her own winery in 1999. Since then, she has gone on to forge a much rewarded and respected career, gaining recognition as one of her South America’s greatest winemakers and one of the world’s leading female winemakers. Not satisfied with putting her country’s wines onto the international stage, Balbo has extended her influence into politics and female empowerment.

Her list of achievements is substantial:

First Woman to graduate in Enology in Argentina – Masters degree with gold medal for highest GPA. Universidad Juan Agustín Maza (Mendoza);
1997 – Awarded by the Argentine Organization of Businesswomen as Women Entrepreneur of the Year;
2001 – Susana Balbo Torrontes selected by British Airways in a blind tasting to be served to Business Class passengers;
2006 – Elected as the President of Wines of Argentina (WofA);
2015 – Awarded the “Woman of the Year” by The Drinks Business. Balbo made the top 10 in 2012 &
2020 – Awarded “Wine Making Legend of the Year” – Tim Atkin MW;
Chairwomen of W20 Argentina – A group focused on closing the gender gap in Argentina; and
She lists her two children as per greatest achievement with José, a winemaker who graduated from UC Davis (California) and Ana, a Bachelor of Business Administration from University San Andrés (Buenos Aires), both have decided to go on with the family tradition and join the Susana Balbo Winery team.

Torrontes

Early in her winemaking career, the Torrontes grape variety was being turned into cheap, bulk wine sold in demijohns, or blended away with other white grape varieties as generic blends. The owner of the winery she was working at wanted her to try and make a high quality Torrontes, so Balbo set about making a wine that would have global appeal. Local critics somewhat predictably called the wine ‘too feminine’, but once it was selected for service on Pan-Am airlines first class and began to gain an international audience, the critics were silenced and she is credited with almost singlehandedly changing the fortunes for the variety in Argentina. Because of her success with the variety, Balbo was known for a time as the ‘Queen of Torrontes’.

Malbec

Although and official variety of Bordeaux, its use in the region diminished significantly after the great frost of 1956, which killed off almost 75% of the Malbec crop. Today, it is Argentina that ‘owns’ the variety on the world stage, producing single varietal Malbec wines that consistently fetch perfect point scores from the critics, win medals and trophies on the world wine show circuit, and fetch breathtaking prices from collectors and connoisseurs.
Susana Balbo’s Anubis range is an inexpensive, fruit driven, high quality offering and a great place to start with Argentinian Malbec. This 2020 Malbec comes from the Valle de Cafayate: the wine is dense, dark plum and ox-blood in colour, the aromas are of ripe, fragrant black cherry, pomegranate and blueberry, with notes of black olive, poêle à épices and mixed peel combines with subtle hints of graphite and smoke.
Ripe fruit floods the palate, the wine is plush and juicy, with appreciable depth and richness, forest berry flavours fill the mid-palate, with subtle smoked charcuterie, licorice and sweaty leather notes adding a touch of complexity. This all held in check by subtle, fine, silky tannins which give the wine a nice structure and balance. This wine oozes great fruit and finesse in the winery, it is a remarkably good wine for the price, bound to please lovers of full-bodied reds, try it with a hearty lamb shank or beef lok-lak.

Written by Darren Gall

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