As the breathtaking Andes Mountains were framed in the big bay window, a seemingly endless line of Argentinian wines shone in the sunlight as a small group of top professional winemakers from Argentina tasted the bottles before their honored guest arrived. The numerous wine stains on the white table cloths indicated 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, backs and forths, and the tempo never slowed, except for one abrupt moment. The room temporarily froze as everyone looked towards the door, where an elegantly dressed man with a warm, boisterous laugh entered the room.
Michel Rolland, the most famous wine consultant in the world, originated from Bordeaux, France, and his reverence within the wine industry is without compare. On that day in Argentina, back in 1988, he was given a lineup of some of the most well-known wine producers in Argentina, to get to know the wines better, as he was called by one of the top producers, Arnaldo Etchart, to help out 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 to help. I was curious about Argentina, I had never been there before, and I knew nothing about the wines,” noted Michel during an intimate blind tasting in a restaurant called Sweetbriar, tucked away in Manhattan, New York City. The blind tasting consisted of a vertical of his Argentina wine project, Clos de los Siete. That first tasting of Argentina wines back in the 1980s initially inspired this project as his curiosity was piqued. It has been quite a journey for Michel and Argentina because when he first came to the country, the wines were nothing like what they are today. “The Cabernet Sauvignon wines were awful,” Michel said bluntly, but he could tell that there was potential in the Malbec wines. Through time, Argentina Malbecs not only took the world by storm, but the Cabernets have also reached high-quality status.
Michel was born on the Right Bank of Bordeaux in the small village of Pomerol in the late 1940s and at the time the Left Bank had all of the wine glory; 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 plot of vineyards surrounding their Château Le Bon Pasteur winery and their son, Michel, would not only go on to raise the quality of wines in Pomerol but also in the rest of Bordeaux. He would eventually become the most famous wine consultant in the world with his remarkable tasting skills and blending talent.
At university, Michel met his future wife, Dany, who is also an enologist, and they opened their lab in the early 1970s where they started their consulting business, which still thrives today with their daughter joining them. His reputation became so renowned in the wine world that other places around the globe would chase after him to consult on their wine projects and so he was one of the first to go out to Napa Valley and beyond.
As with any tremendous fame, there are critics as two of the greatest sins of the wine business are to be successful and to become internationally recognized. The wine world is one where many know going in that it will be a thankless job and the pay will only be just enough to get by, and for some, balancing more than one job may be necessary. And so, one has to be so passionate and hopelessly in love with what one does that it will sustain the person through many tough times. So 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 feel envious and pick apart everything he says and does.
But for those who have gotten the opportunity to taste a wide range of wines on which Michel Rolland has consulted, it is evident that there is no one style he is forcing across the board as each estate has its own sense of place and its own sense of balance; there is also the influence of the winemaker, which Michel greatly respects. And despite many winemakers learning a great deal from Michel and watching him practice his passion for blending, it was different at the beginning of Michel’s consultant career, as the winemakers initially thought Michel would take over their jobs. “I would never want the job of a winemaker as I have the greatest job in the world,” Michel said with a boisterous laugh.
Michel has consulted on some of the most fantastic wines in the fine wine world, but his love and talent for blending shines the most through his Clos de los Siete project in the Uco Valley in Argentina. 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 part of their production to use in Michel’s blend that would include all the wineries to make Clos de los Siete. It was considered crazy at the time and although, in some ways, Michel does admit it was a gamble as he chose a place where there was no vineyard yet, in other ways, he used his knowledge and experience to pick an excellent site. The slope and soil were critical factors in selecting the site and today it has paid off since Michel noted that in 20 years, there has only been one hail storm and there has never been any frost – two issues that plague many vineyard areas in Argentina as well as all over the world.
It is a fascinating project as each of the winemakers at Bodega y Viñedos Monteviejo, Cuvelier Los Andes, Bodega DiamAndes and Bodega Rolland will highlight a different aspect of the terroir. So, it is the blending that combines the various expressions of the sense of place of the same land in the high-elevated Vista Flores district in the Uco Valley of Argentina. And every year, Michel says he can always count on one of the winemakers saying that he has made the best wine for that vintage. Still, the final blend of all the winemakers is always the best, as nothing can compare to the complete personality of the terroir presented in Clos de los Siete.
Clos de los Siete
As the small group sat in that NYC restaurant, blind tasting the different vintages of Clos de los Siete, everyone realized that the wines were ideal expressions of Michel’s love for blending wines. His charm and overall joyful energy were on full display that day, although when it comes to blending or assessing a wine, he becomes brutally honest, even with himself. He had no issues revealing that he initially thought the Clos de los Siete would only be approachable, easy-drinking wines and never thought for a moment in its inception that they could age so beautifully. He was happy with how all the wines in the blind tasting had evolved except for the 2015, as it was too thin for him. It was a vintage described on its tech sheet as a “Bordeaux” year and Michel noted his disagreement with such a descriptor as Bordeaux has come a long way and he is one of the reasons for its ascent into high quality winemaking.
It is remarkable to think of Michel as that young 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 involving wine. But how could anyone ever imagine, especially back then, that he would be able to find his purpose in life relatively young and, in the process, completely change the wine world? In every man and woman’s life, there is a point when he fiercely searches for where his talent lies and the purpose of his time on earth. For many, that mission is only partially satisfied and most people never get the chance to discover their gift.
But once in a long while, against all odds, someone is placed on a path where his extraordinary gift is evident and he can succeed in ways that are unimaginable, 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 noted as a “great vintage,” and the wine illustrated great fruit. Pristine blackberry and black cherry aromas with hints of cocoa powder, broken rocks and baking spice with silky tannins along the juicy and flavorful finish; an overall elegant quality to 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 noted as being the “best vintage in 30 years”. An intoxicating nose singing 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 a low-yielding vintage. Lush fruit such as blackcurrant preserves and blueberry pie that has a slight grip to the tannins, which gives some much-needed structure to the plush fruit on the palate.
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 called the “Bordeaux” vintage, which produced lighter wines since it was so rainy. Dusty earth, dried herbs and subtle black and blue fruit flavors that is 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 an excellent fruit concentration with more evolved notes of espresso and fresh tobacco with a rich flavor of mulberry cobbler 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; considered a very good vintage on the cooler side. Hints of violet petals with wild mushrooms and blackberry jam on toast create an intriguing nose with plenty of juicy fruit on the palate and very fine tannins; a harmonious wine with lots of nuances.