With the stunning Andes mountains framed in the large bay window, a seemingly endless array of Argentinian wines gleamed in the sunlight as a small group of professional top Argentina winemakers tasted the bottles before their honored guest arrived. The numerous wine stains on the white tablecloths showed that the professionals were hard at work as there was a nervous energy in the air creating a manic tempo, like a fast swing dance, with many ups and downs, back and forth and the tempo never slowed down , except for an abrupt moment. The room froze momentarily as everyone looked towards the door, where a smartly dressed man with a warm, boisterous laugh entered the room.
Michel Rolland, the world’s most famous wine consultant, hails from Bordeaux, France, and his reverence within the wine industry is unparalleled. On this day in Argentina, back in 1988, he was given a list of some of Argentina’s most famous wine producers to get to know the wines better, as he was called by one of the top producers, Arnaldo Etchart. to help with his project in Argentina.
“Arnaldo was a very nice man who had a winery with a great reputation in Salta, Argentina and he asked me to come over and help. I was curious about Argentina, I had never been there, and I knew nothing about the wines,” Michel remarked during an intimate blind tasting at a restaurant tucked away in Manhattan, New York City, called Sweetbriar. The blind tasting consisted of a vertical of his Argentine wine project, Clos de los Siete. This first tasting of Argentine wines in the 1980s originally inspired this project as his curiosity was piqued. It’s been quite a journey for Michel and Argentina because when he first came to the country, the wines weren’t what they are today. “The Cabernet Sauvignon wines were terrible,” Michel said bluntly, but he could tell the Malbec wines had potential. Over time, not only have Argentine Malbecs taken the world by storm, Cabernets have also achieved a high quality status.
Michel was born in the small village of Pomerol on the right bank of Bordeaux in the late 1940s, and at that time the left bank had all the wine fame; The winemakers in Pomerol had no fancy classification that would automatically give them a formal hierarchy. The Rolland family was one such wine producer with their small vineyards surrounding their Château Le Bon Pasteur estate, and their son Michel was to improve the quality of wines not only in Pomerol but in the rest of Bordeaux as well. With his remarkable tasting skills and talent for blending, he eventually became the most famous wine consultant in the world.
At university, Michel met his future wife Dany, also an oenologist, and they opened their laboratory in the early 1970s, where they began their consulting business, which is still thriving today with their daughter. His reputation became so well known in the wine world that other places around the world chased him for advice on their wine projects, and so he was one of the first to go to the Napa Valley and beyond.
As with any tremendous fame, there are critics as two of the greatest sins of the wine business are trying to be successful and gaining international recognition. The wine world is a world where many know it will be a thankless job and the pay is just enough to make ends meet, and for some it may be necessary to balance more than one job. And so you have to be so passionately and hopelessly in love with what you are doing that it will carry the person through many hard times. Some see Michel as an inspiration – one of the few who can do what he is most passionate about in the wine world while also being successful, while others can’t help but be jealous and pick apart everything he says and does.
But for those who have had the opportunity to taste the wide range of wines Michel Rolland has advised on, it is evident that there is no one-size-fits-all style that he forces across the board, as each winery has its own sense of place and has its own sense of balance; Added to this is the influence of the winemaker, which Michel respects very much. And although many winemakers learned a great deal from Michel and watched him practice his passion for blending, it was different when Michel started his consulting career as winemakers initially thought Michel would take over their jobs. “I would never want a winemaker’s job because I have the greatest job in the world,” Michel said with a roaring laugh.
Michel has advised some of the most fantastic wines in the fine wine world, but his love and talent for blending shines most through his Clos de los Siete project in Argentina’s Uco Valley. In 1998 he convinced some adventurous Bordeaux producers to come to Argentina and build a winery where Michel would also build his own. They would each make their own wines, but then each winery would present a portion of their production for use in Michel’s blend, which would include all the wineries to make Clos de los Siete. It was considered crazy back then, and although Michel admits in a way that it was a gamble when he chose a place where there was no vineyard yet, in another way he used his knowledge and experience to choose an excellent site . The hillside and soil were key factors in choosing the site and today it has paid off as Michel found that in 20 years there has been only one hailstorm and never frost – two problems that plague many wine regions in Argentina as well as on the the whole world.
It’s a fascinating project as each of the winemakers of Bodega y Viñedos Monteviejo, Cuvelier Los Andes, Bodega DiamAndes and Bodega Rolland will highlight a different aspect of the terroir. So it’s the mix that combines the different expressions of the sense of place of the same country in the high-altitude Vista Flores district of Argentina’s Uco Valley. And every year, Michel says he can always count on one of the winemakers to say they made the best wine for that vintage. Nonetheless, the final blend of any winemaker is always the best, as nothing compares to the full personality of the terroir presented in Clos de los Siete.
Clos de los Siete
As the small group sat at this NYC restaurant, blind tasting the different vintages of Clos de los Siete, it became clear to all that the wines were the ideal expression of Michel’s love of wine blending. His charm and overall happy energy were on full display on the day, although when it comes to blending or evaluating a wine he’s brutally honest, even with himself. He had no problem revealing that he initially thought that the Clos de los Siete would only be accessible, easy-drinking wines and that in its creation he never thought for a moment that it could age so beautifully. He was satisfied with the development of all wines in the blind tasting, except for the 2015, which was too weak for him. It was a vintage described as a “Bordeaux” year on its technical sheet, and Michel noted that he did not agree with such a description, as Bordeaux has come a long way and it is one of the reasons for its rise to the quality winemaking.
It is remarkable to think of Michel as this little boy in the quaint, tiny village of Pomerol, walking his family vineyards all those years ago. Yes, everything he witnessed would be a part of his life as he knew he would do something with wine. But how could you imagine back then that he could find his meaning in life at a relatively young age and completely change the world of wine in the process? There comes a point in the life of every man and woman when he becomes passionate about where his talent lies and what his time on earth is for. For many, that mission is only partially accomplished, and most people never get a chance to discover their gift.
But every now and then, against all odds, someone is set down a path where his extraordinary gift is evident and he can succeed in unimaginable ways at capturing lightning in a bottle, and that someone is Michel Rolland.
Clos de los Siete wines tasted in a blind tasting:
2019 Clos de los Siete, Vista Flores, Valle de Uco, Argentina: 50% Malbec, 24% Merlot, 11% Syrah, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. 2019 was called a “great vintage” and the wine showed great fruit. Unspoilt blackberry and black cherry flavors with hints of cocoa powder, quarry and baking spice with silky tannins along the juicy and spicy finish; an overall elegant quality for this wine.
2018 Clos de los Siete, Vista Flores, Valle de Uco, Argentina: 55% Malbec, 19% Merlot, 12% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. This vintage was described as the “best vintage in 30 years”. An intoxicating nose song with floral notes, ripe blueberry and blackberry fruit and an intense minerality with intense concentration, balanced by bright acidity and seamlessly integrated tannins with a very long and expressive nose – stunning.
2017 Clos de los Siete, Vista Flores, Valle de Uco, Argentina: 52% Malbec, 21% Merlot, 15% Syrah, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. Frost in the spring made this vintage a poor crop. Lush fruits like preserved blackcurrants and blueberry pie lending a light touch to the tannins, giving the plush fruit on the palate much-needed structure.
2015 Clos de los Siete, Vista Flores, Valle de Uco, Argentina: 58% Malbec, 23% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Syrah and 1% Petit Verdot. This was referred to as the “Bordeaux” vintage, which produced lighter wines due to the rain. Dusty earth, dried herbs and subtle aromas of black and blue fruit thin on the palate with a nice freshness on the finish.
2010 Clos de los Siete, Vista Flores, Valle de Uco, Argentina: 53% Malbec, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 11% Syrah and 1% Petit Verdot. 2010 was a warm, dry vintage that had excellent fruit concentration with more pronounced notes of espresso and fresh tobacco with a rich taste of mulberry cake with round tannins.
2009 Clos de los Siete, Vista Flores, Valle de Uco, Argentina: 57% Malbec, 15% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 3% Petit Verdot; is considered a very good vintage on the cooler side. Hints of violet leaves with wild mushrooms and blackberry jam on toast create an intriguing nose with lots of juicy fruit on the palate and very fine tannins; a harmonious wine with many nuances.