Make room on the “Other Reds” shelf, the Argentine wines are moving in.
It had been 4 years since our last visit to Argentina and from what we experienced then to what tasted now was an awakening. The Argentine wine road is a long one. In the North the Province of Salta at 25º Latitude South to the Province of Rio Negro in Patagonia at 39º Latitude South is a winding vine trail of 1915 kilometers, or about 1200 miles.
The many wineries we visited are too vast to list, but here are some of our favorites from North to South.
In Salta in the Cafayate Valley is Michel Torino, in a beautiful setting along side of Patios de Cafayate, a luxurious resort, spa and hotel. Michel Torino produces a wine under the Don David label from 100% Tannat, a grape variety that is very important to the winery and rather unknown in the U.S. The 2008 vintage, available around $16 is rich in color, high in juicy blackberry flavors, and very sexy to drink now. Also from Michel Torino their 2005 Altimus $32, is an exciting blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Tannat and Syrah, that grabs you by the collar and keeps your attention with its seductive umami grip of earth, mushrooms, and dark fruit. While at Patios de Cafayate, a representative from Bodega Colomé brought 4 wines, in particular the 2008 Torrontes $13. This wine is bursting with peaches and apricots and a crisp dry citrus-like finish making it a great wine for shellfish, sushi or as an aperitif, perhaps the best Torrontes we tasted during our trip. This is the only white from the winery that was founded by Donald Hess, the Swiss art collector, businessman and proprietor of a Napa Valley estate bearing his name. His 2006 Estate Malbec $25 is from biodynamically grown grapes from the highest vineyards in Argentina. This is beef wine, the balance of the wines complex black fruit, peppered with exotic spice represents a great value for quality.
The heart of the Argentine wine world surrounds the Province of Mendoza. Mendoza is the business heart of the industry with the most important wineries in Argentina. Argentina says Malbec, a grape whose roots came from Bordeaux, but is now almost extinct from the classified growths of the region. Malbec has adapted well in Argentina, so well in fact, that investors from France and the United States have bet big Dollars and Euros that this is the best home of the grape. Here are our favorite from the trip and notice the variations in pricing:
2005 Catena Zapata Argentino (Uco Valley) $120, is a powerhouse of Malbec from 2 of the best vineyards from Nicolas Catena. This is a blockbuster wine, needing time and another year of rest in the bottle to show off its greatness. 2007 Alamos Malbec Mendoza Selección from Catena $10 is a drink now wine that shows how delicious a Malbec can be at a modest price. Berries and fig flavors with undertones of holiday cake will work with beef, roast turkey for the holiday table or a cheese platter with fruit. Belasco de Boquedano produced wines from old vine Malbec, some over 100 years old. The 2005 Swinto $35 is an inky dark delicious wine that lingers long after the wine has left your tongue. Perfect with a grilled steak, it screams Argentina. The Rosa $15, a 100% varietal Malbec rosé, is beautiful to look at and a delight to drink as you would a medium bodied white. Great Malbec character full of flavor and also produced from 70-100 year old vines this will show you how great Malbec can be as a rosé.
California winemaker Paul Hobbs has been instrumental in Viňa Cobos, an exciting project that produces about 40,000 cases and exports 90% out of Argentina. These meticulously crafted wines command big dollars and are proof that there is a market in the international wine world for these. The 2006 Bramare Malbec $75, aged 18 months in French and American oak is a big mouthful of blue fruit, violets, dark chocolate and cocoa nibs produced from the Marchiori Vineyard in the Perdriel appellation of Mendoza. The 2006 Branmare Cabernet Sauvignon $75 is a deep garnet wine boasting of blackberry, red cherry and cedar undertones with smoke and earth. Extraordinary! The flagship, 2006 Cobos Malbec $150 was conceived as the ultimate expression of pure Malbec. This wine boldly flaunts enticing aromas of currants, black walnuts and baked bread. The flavors of anise, dark chocolate, raspberries and spice are complex and taunt you to open the bottle and consume now. This powerhouse needs several years of rest in a quiet place to prove its worth. A contender to any wine on the planet for greatness.
While at Viňa Cobos, we had the opportunity to taste a newcomer to the wine game, located across the vineyard, the wines of Finca Decero (meaning “from scratch”) The winery is less than 6 months old, produces 5000 cases all for export., except for sales from the cellar door. They produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petite Verdot, all $19. Their first vintage is 2006, and the Cabernet of 2006 is a well made wine that shows the promise of the winery. The 2006 Petite Verdot is 100% varietal wine that is absolutely delicious and unusual for this varietal to be 100% in Argentina. The 2007 vintage of the Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon both show great promise as does their Icon wine 2006 Amano, a blend of 65% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petite Verdot. This wine is a symphony on the palate, brilliant and balanced, well crafted and friendly now offering a South/North marriage with violets at the altar. We’ll be hearing a lot from Finca Decero in the near future.
Brothers Jacques & François Lurton founded their winery in the Uco Valley of Argentina in1992 bringing them into partnership with Catena. Their vineyards are planted in Vista Flores at the Chacayes estate. The wines that we loved in particular were, 2004 Chacayes $65, showing a bouquet of dark plums with a palate of black cherries, and mocha coffee cake. The 2004 Piedra Negra $50, is a 100% Malbec estate grown wine from Vista Flores exhibiting spiced fruit and shows a wine made for Argentines by Argentines. The subtle flavor nuances of clove, cinnamon and pepper are brilliant.
French wine guru, Michel Rolland has had his fingers all over the world, as a chateau owner in Bordeaux and as a consultant in every corner of the wine world. His Argentine project Clos de los Siete is in it’s sixth vintage with the 2007 Clos de los Siete $17. A blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, the wines boasts juicy fruit, and a balance of toasty oak and cocoa.
One of the greats from the same region is the 2006 Cuvelier Los Andes $50 from the Cuvelier family who own Chateau Leoville-Poyferre in St. Julien. The wine is a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah and promises to become a classic. Though Malbec is no longer grown in Bordeaux, my initial impression was that of a classic St. Estephe. Big, muscular, earthy with a mouth feel of dark fruit, berries, plums and currants. Yet on the tongue extremely well balanced as a St. Julien will be. The 2005 Cuvelier Los Andes, is currently in the U.S. market, and has received rave reviews so far. I’ll keep you updated on this and the arrival of the 2006.
2004 Lindaflor $50 from Bodega Monteviejo is a 100% Malbec from 5 year old vines. The notion that great wine can only come from old vines is a myth. This vineyard has been brilliantly farmed and managed, and has produced a wine of textural sexiness and finesse, with complex flavors of mocha, figs, cocoa nibs and earth.
Bodega Familia Zuccardi 2005 Q Tempranillo $20 is a great example of the classic Spanish variety, and proves that the Maipú region of Mendoza is a perfect growing region for this variety. Bright cherry red with a mouthful of blueberries, plum pudding and lots of yum. The 2005 Zeta $45 is a blend of Malbec and Tempranillo and delivers beautiful balance of baked plums, sweet roasted red peppers, tropical frit and raspberries. Zuccardi was a pioneer with Tempranillo, and has consistently produced worthy wines from this classic varietal.
Bodega Norton 2006 Privada $25 is a poised wine with concentrated fruit characteristics of berry compote, chocolate pudding and fresh baked sweet bread. Produced from Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is flawless.
A wine that has become the cult classics of Argentina are the wines of Achaval-Ferrer. The 2006 Finca Altamira $112 is young, brooding with velvety black berry fruit. A powerhouse of purity, this will live on for decades and though tempting to drink now, the rewards of patience will prove the greatness of this baby.
Bodegas Salentein 2004 Numina $35 is fleshy, fruity full-bodied wine of Malbec and Merlot. The wine is beginning to show the complexities of the vanilla, coffee, bittersweet chocolate flavors, balanced by the tasteful oak ageing of 16 months in new and used French barrels. Delicious now, Numina will continue to unwind with more time in the bottle.
Patagonia, the southern most wine producing region of Argentina is an exciting newly introduced area to the U.S. market. Familia Schroeder was built in 2004 and is a relative newcomer to the wine world. The area is unique in that Schroeder is growing a wide variety of grapes from Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the best wines from the property is the 2004 Pinot Noir Malbec blend. An unusual wine of excellent balance showing the feminine sexiness of Pinot Noir with the brawny muscle of Malbec, this is truly unique.
For more information on the wines of Argentina, visit www.winesofargentina.org