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ARGENTINEAN WINES

Argentina had been a relatively obscure wine region until the floods began.  And by "floods," I mean the flood of Malbec that's been gushing in to the US market.

For years the wine business there was strictly a local affair and the main market, aside from Buenos Aires and environs, was South America.

The first vines went into Argentina's soil, cuttings being brought from Spain, around the middle of the 1500s.  An influx of Italian and Spanish helped promote the growth of vineyards in Argentina.  In 1853 the first agricultural school was set up and its director, a Frenchman, introduced French grape varieties and new viticultural techniques.   A real turning point was in the 1880s, seeing the construction of waterways, bringing much-needed water to the deserts of Argentina and allowing for agriculture in previously arid lands. 

There are four major wine regions in Argentina: Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja (nothing to do with Spain's region of the same name) and Rio Negro.  By far the most important, at least presently, is Mendoza.  This region produces something like 70% of the wine in Argentina. 

There has been much foreign investment in Argentina.   You'll find some wineries owned by British, French, Chilean, Swiss, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese firms.  This is a good sign, as it helps open the doors to new techniques, as well as opening the minds of local winemakers.

We don't have very many Argentinean wines.  The wines we do stock are quite good and represent some good values.  Ten dollars goes much farther in Argentina than in California!  For ten bucks you can stop by and take home a bottle of wine.  In the Napa Valley, ten dollars might get you in the front door at some winery and an ounce of somebody's precious Cabernet Sauvignon!

Now we are seeing a wave of expensive, supposedly deluxe wines from many producers.  We have tasted quite a number of these and have to admit many wines are rather nice.  But we ask ourselves if we would pay $40-$100 for these wines and most of the time the answer is "no."  

Perhaps the most interesting and expensive wine we've tasted is called "Cheval des Andes" and is made under the watchful eyes of the Bordeaux firm of Château Cheval Blanc.  Their wine is costly but it is one which delivers all it promises and a more.  The single vineyard wines of the large Trapiche winery have been of serious quality.
The Catena family deserves applause, too.  They've also been at the forefront of improving the quality of wine from Argentina and producing wines capable of competing internationally.

These days there's a lot of "plonk" coming our way.  You can easily find "cheap" wines from Argentina and the problem with many of those is they taste cheap.

We prefer to leave the plonk to the chains and grocery stores where consumers buy, typically, for convenience, not for quality/value.

Our entry level Argentinean Malbec goes for a whopping ten bucks a bottle.  And it's actually quite respectable.   We also have a damned good Bonarda for $8.99 and this is a remarkably fine wine for small money.

But $20-$30 gets you a fairly serious wine and you a wine worthy of comparison to California "Bordeaux Blends" and some good wines from Bordeaux.


Some Argentinean wines we like:



COLONIA LAS LIEBRES

There's a Malbec winery founded by some Italian vintners, some of whom are famous consulting winemakers.  An offshoot of their Altos la Hormigas project is this brand which is based on the Bonarda grape.

By the way, Bonarda is the second most widely-planted red grape in Argentina behind Malbec.

They have a very simple recipe for making this wine.  It begins with organically-farmed grapes.  The grapes go into stainless steel tanks and are fermented at cool temperatures to retain fruit.  The wine never sees an oak barrel as they're trying to make an immediately drinkable, somewhat chillable red wine.

It's not intended to be fancy or showy, but the resulting wine is quite delightful.  Especially given its modest price.
 
 

Currently in stock:  2019 COLONIA LAS LIEBRES  BONARDA   $10.99

 

Bodega Aleanna Sale, 59% OFF | www.ingeniovirtual.com

EL ENEMIGO

The Catena name is synonymous with the wines of Argentina and the family has done a brilliant job of being a major ambassador for South American wines.

This label is the work of Adrianna Catena (A UC Berkeley graduate and she holds a PhD from Oxford!) and winemaker Alejandro Vigil (whose day job is making wine at Catena).

Our first introduction to their wines proved a bit shocking...the bottles we tasted were hugely expensive and, in our view, did not come close to justifying the prices.

We recently tasted a few things and their 2018 Malbec, priced at $24.99, passed muster.

The vintage was considered to be fairly classical for Argentina's Mendoza Valley.  

They macerate the skins with the juice and wine for an extended period, as the wine is pressed after about 30 days.  It is then racked into old wood vats where it spends about 15 months before bottling.

They co-fermented Cabernet Franc into this wine, which they say is about 92% Malbec.

This is a medium-full bodied red...dark fruit aromas are front and center and there's a touch of a tannic edge here, making this an ideal partner for a grilled steak or lamb.
 

Currently in stock:  2018 EL ENEMIGO  MALBEC  $24.99


 

MIL PIEDRAS

The Benvenuto de la Serna winery produces this well-priced simple red wine.

We've had several vintages and the wine is a medium-bodied, easy-drinking Malbec.
 


Currently in stock:  2020 MIL PIEDRAS MALBEC  $10.99

 
 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Anabelle Sielecki
 


MENDEL
Virtually everybody whom we know who have visited Argentina have spoken glowingly of the Mendel wines.

It's a smallish venture with a well-regarded winemaker who's had connections to France's Bordeaux region and then was involved in the first bottlings of Cheval des Andes.

Roberto de la Mota's father was a winemaking pioneer in Argentina and Roberto is a chip off the old block.

With his partner Anabelle Sielecki, de la Mota has old vineyards to draw from.  Winemaking is traditional and minimalist in terms of cellar treatments (no filtering, for example)...The Malbec is matured in small French oak, some of the wood being brand new.  

In an era when so many wines from Argentina are big "fruit bombs" and have "gobs of fruit,"  we find the Mendel Malbec to be a more refined and elegant rendition.

It, in fact, strikes us as a bit more "Old World" in terms of its style, rather than the big, flashy sort of wines one typically finds from Argentina.


The 2012 is a medium-bodied Malbec, showing some dark fruit notes and a woodsy/cedary tone from the oak.  The tannins are modest, so drinking this now is a good idea.  It may cellar well for a few more years, but we view it as "immediately drinkable."

The name Mendel?  It's Anabelle's father's first name.
 
Currently in stock:  2012 MENDEL Malbec (List $30) SALE $25.99

 
 

 
 

COLOMÉ

The Colomé winery is said to be one of the oldest bodegas in Argentina.  It's passed through a few ownerships, most recently coming into the family of wineries owned by Donald Hess (Hess Collection in Napa is one of his estates).


The wines we've tasted from Colomé have been well-made, but the real gem of this portfolio is the white wine made of the Torrontes grape.

We understand there are several clones of Torrontes. 

If you taste a lot of Torrontes wines, you'll notice some have a pleasantly aromatic character.  Others are disappointingly bland and "quiet."  

For several vintages now, head and shoulders above the rest is the Colomé Torrontes.  The wine has such a wonderfully perfumed fragrance...jasmine, sweet flowers, lemon and lemon peel, more flowers, a fruit basket and sweet spice notes...it's beautifully intense.  The same characteristics shine on the palate and the wine is nicely dry.  

It pairs well with many Asian dishes...Thai, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese...If you're serving prawns, crab, sea scallops, this may be your wine.  

And it makes for a delightful (and economical) aperitif wine, too.

Currently in stock:  2021 COLOMÉ Torrontes  $13.99


 

 

 

 

 
TRAPICHE
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Trapiche is a very large Argentinean winery, still family owned and operated.   Having made such "normal" quality wines for years, it's nice to know they are striving to improve their quality.  They've hired some foreign help in order to improve their viticulture as well as their cellar practices.  We've got a rather pleasant, but simple, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Trapiche.  

We no longer see their Medalla Real or Fond de Cave wines.  They introduced a label called Broquel to replace the Fond de Cave and none of our South American customers know this label.  We've tasted these and they're nice, but we already have a store chock-full-of-wine.  
 
 
 
 

 
We have now tasted a number of their single-vineyard Malbec wines and these are top-notch, in general.



I'd say it's one of the few premium-priced Malbecs to be worthy of the tariff.

The distributor changed in 2021 and the new one seems to be allergic to buying anything that won't sell rapidly.  As a result, we've not had access to these.
 

 
 
 
 
 

Currently available:  TRAPICHE Chardonnay  $7.49
TRAPICHE Cabernet Sauvignon $7.99
TRAPICHE 2011 "Ornella de Escobar" MALBEC   Sold Out


 



 

 

 


ALTOCEDRO
The owner of this small estate is of Lebanese heritage, explaining the choice of a winery name with a reference to cedar.  The country's flag depicts a cedar tree and it's a symbol of pride amongst Lebanese.

Karim Mussi Saffie has a few acres in the La Consulta region  of the Mendoza appellation.  He's a fan of sustainable agricultural practices and he restricts the yields in his vineyards in an effort to produce wines of balance and intensity.

We found his 2015 Reserva bottling of Malbec to be a very good wine.  It's from a couple of old vineyard parcels, one plot being 70 years of age and the other is 51 years old.  The wine was matured for 18 months in French oak and bottled without filtration.   

This is fairly dark in color, with a lovely black fruit fragrance and a hint of oak.  It's medium to full bodied and only mildly tannic.  Paired with red meats, this will be rather supple and silky on the palate.  


Currently in stock:  2015 ALTOCEDRO Reserva  Malbec Sold Out
2010 ALTOCEDRO Malbec Sold Out
 

 

 

 

 

 


 




BODEGAS WEINERT
The Weinert family started this estate in the mid-1970s and it's been a highly-regarded winery since its first wines were released.

They've not gained much traction in the U.S. market as they routinely change importers every couple of years.  

The wines are more a traditional style, rather than being the big, fruit and oak bombs which are so popular today. This is "old fashioned" winemaking and represents an adherence to tradition.   

We've read comparisons for Weinert with Lopez de Heredia in Spain's Rioja region and that's not far off the mark...both make old-school wines which will not appeal to those looking for wine critic Robert Parker's "gobs of fruit" in describing a red wine.

Weinert does have smaller barrels but typically their wines are not oak-driven.  And they're not especially fruity.

They typically seem to give some wines a fairly lengthy period of bottle aging.

We currently have a 2008 vintage of Cabernet.  It's certainly not modern Napa Cabernet, so despite what some consider to be "New World" origins, this is more akin to "Old World" wine.

It's well-priced and a bit below the radar of most wine drinkers.  But it might be worth checking out to see if it floats your boat.


Currently in stock:  2008 WEINERT CABERNET SAUVIGNON  $24.99
 










 

RICARDO SANTOS
 
In the late 1960s Ricardo Santos was studying architecture in the United States.  When he returned home he discovered his father had recently purchased an old winery, one called Norton (still operating today). 

Soon after his return he had designs on winemaking more than creating buildings and such, so he was fully engaged in making wine.

Santos is credited with being the first vintner in Argentina to sell wine made from Malbec to a US importer.  If he wasn't actually the first, then he was certainly an early entrant into the American market.

He sold Norton in 1991 and had seemingly thrown in the towel regarding the wine business.  But in 1995 he and Mrs. Santos purchased a little place which had some vineyards and olives, so he was soon, again, making wine.

Sons Patricio and Pedro run the business these days as Dad passed away some years ago.  They're about 20 kilometers south of the city of Mendoza and they have a new winery, built in 2005.
 














CATENA (Bodegas Esmeralda)
The Catena family came to Argentina from Italy and planted their first vineyards around the turn of the 20th century.  They make boat-loads of wines, but it was only after one of the younger generations of Catena's came to study at U.C. Davis in California that things got to a serious level of international quality.  They hired Paul Hobbs, who used to be at the University of Wine at Robert Mondavi (the Oakville campus) and then at Simi.  

Hobbs helped elevate the quality and brought a more international style (like new oak barrels) and an emphasis on starting with higher quality grapes.  The first Catena-labeled Chardonnay and Cabernet wines were extraordinary.   Perhaps the company had grown so quickly that managing the quality of each and every wine has been difficult.

At one point they had some Chardonnays which retained a bit of sweetness.  One rep claimed the wines had a stuck fermentation and yet they brought them to the market anyway (this was a few years ago).
More recently we tasted through the range of Chardonnays and were still disappointed in the wines.
One was appalling high-priced and it had nothing in common with what we know to be "Chardonnay."  
Maybe the Catena family should taste stylish white Burgundies or some of the top wines from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and some West Coast bottlings to get a better handle on this grape.


Meanwhile, a few of their red wines are worth a look.
 
 




2018 "Altamira"  MALBEC
This is a really nice, ready-to-drink, showy Malbec from Catena.    The vineyards in their Altamira parcels are about 21 years of age and they're about 3600 feet above sea level.

They do a pre-fermentation, cold maceration for about 5 days and then start the fermentation.  
It's matured in 225 liter, new French oak barrels and this really gives a charming bouquet and flavor to the wine.

It's not intended for cellaring, so you'll want to enjoy this wine over the next year or so.

 



 

 

 

 


 CABERNET SAUVIGNON
This wine is made entirely of Cabernet Sauvignon. Like their Malbec, this is matured in both French and American oak barrels.  We find the fragrance to show notes of cassis and red fruits such as plums.  We find a note of cola and tea here, too.  The oak seems hidden in the background.
Got steak?

 

 

 

2018 CATENA ALTA MALBEC

This wine is a big, dark colored, full-throttle Malbec.  The yields in the vineyards are rather low in an effort to produce a more intense, concentrated wine.  

They mature this is small French oak barriques and then mature the wine further in bottle before releasing it.

As a result, it's an nicely impressive Malbec.

Big.  


 

 

 

 

 



Currently available:  2016 Catena "Alta" Cabernet  sale $35.99
2019 Catena "Altamira" Malbec SALE $21.99
2005 Catena "Alta" Chardonnay Sold Out
 Catena Cabernet Sauvignon $17.99 
2018 Catena Alta Malbec   Sale  $49.99
 
 

BLACK CABRA

This is an entry-level bottling from the Bodegas Zolo/Tapiz wineries.

It's made from young vineyards and they are cost-conscious.  As a result the juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks with some wood staves in them to pick up a hint of wood.  It's then racked into seasoned oak barrels to round out the tannins.

The 2020 vintage is presently in stock...our third year to make the cut.  It's a medium-bodied, mildly berryish red wine.  

It's not a hall of fame candidate but for the price it's a simple, drinkable red.  We have customers who are repeat buyers of this as they find value in Malbec from Argentina.

Currently in stock:  BLACK CABRA 2020 Mendoza MALBEC  $13.99

 


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