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
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
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:
You may be
wondering how someone would use the name of a famous Veronese vintner for
wine produced in Argentina.
It's not "someone," but the same Italian family, the Boscaini clan
who make some splendid Amarone and Valpolicella wines.
Rather than produce the same old, same old, they have brought the brilliant
notion of combining New World and Old World winemaking to create something
Of course, Argentina is famed for its Malbec wines. And the Masi name
is famous for Amarone, a red wine made of grapes that are dried to intensify the
resulting wine. Masi, further, came up with a process which is called
"ripasso," where they incorporate the skins of the Amarone back into a
tank of Valpolicella wine. That wine is called "Campofiorin" and
it's a good example of this ripasso technique. Masi copyrighted the term
"ripasso" and other Venetian vintners who make a similar wine are
obliged to pay a royalty if they use that term on their labels.
Masi is making a very interesting wine called Passo Doble. This is an
unusual process. The Malbec is fermented in stainless steel tanks and as
it's finishing its fermentation, they add some lightly dried Corvina grapes
(this is a variety commonly used in the Veneto for Valpolicella) and the
fermentation proceeds for an extended time. The resulting wine is then
matured for a bit less than a year in small oak barrels, more for development
than to give it wood fragrances or flavors.
We have the 2009 in the shop presently. It is not a wine for those looking
for the big, flashy, muscular Malbec wine that's popular with wine
critics. This is a more elegant wine and it's a bit subtle if you're
looking for "gobs of fruit" or a forest full of oak.
We like the red fruits, baked cherries and hint of cola on the nose and
palate. The wine is medium-bodied and not particularly tannic or
aggressive. You can pair it with a range of foods, from a savory pork
roast to tomato-sauced pastas to grilled or roasted red meats.
Currently in stock: MASI 2009 "Passo Doble" $18.99
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
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
One of the top names in Argentina is that of wine "baron"
Carlos Pulenta. His family has been growing grapes in the Mendoza
region for several decades and he was at the helm of the Salentein project
for a number of years before launching his own wines under the Vistalba
Another brand in the Pulenta portfolio is the Tomero label.
We were knocked out by a Petit Verdot of this label. It's 100%
varietal and was matured in small French oak barrels for 19
The wine is from the 2008 harvest. Lots of red and black fruit notes
with a mild clove/spice character. It's quite drinkable now and one of
the very few Petit Verdot wines we've found to be "complete" and
able to stand on its own two legs. Most Petit Verdot wines taste to us
like "blending components." That is, you can see how the
wine would enhance or impact a Bordeaux-styled blend, but it doesn't have
sufficient character to really stand on its own. This wine, however, does
and to its credit.
We also are fond of the Vistalba "Corte B" wine. It's a
2012 vintage and we understand it's 66% Malbec, with 14% Cabernet Sauvignon
and 20& Bonarda this time around. They had some Merlot and no
Bonarda in previous vintages.
It was matured for about a year in small French oak and it shows lots of
dark fruit notes with good wood.
It's quite drinkable now...maybe it will cellar nicely for a few years, but
we find it quite attractive presently.
Currently in stock: 2008 TOMERO Mendoza PETIT VERDOT Sold Out
2012 VISTALBA Corte B $23.99
ALTOS LA HORMIGAS
brand started as a result of some vacationing Italian winemakers finding
they liked some of the wines they tasted of the Malbec grape.
In 1997 a group of Italiani started this brand and it's been hit or
miss ever since. Early vintages were quite the hit, but over the years
we've found the wine to vary dramatically.
The entry level bottling was really good and well-priced, but lately that
wine seems to be made to sell inexpensively and the quality has diminished
in our view.
We found the 2008 Reserva to be quite good (once again) and and it's a
good follow-up to the splendid 2007. This is encouraging and the wine
sells for a reasonable price, too.
The wine comes from fairly low-yielding vineyards and it's entirely
The juice has a fairly long period of skin contact before going into French
oak for its malolactic fermentation. Winemakers claim this helps 'fix'
the dark color of the wine (ML in small oak).
The wine spends more than a year in wood and is fairly deep in color and
shows a nice plummy, dark fruit character. We like the mildly woodsy,
cedary notes from the French oak. It's quite drinkable now and is not
a wine for cellaring, so don't buy cases of this in hopes of it turning into
some enological treasure. It's ready to drink now.
Currently in stock: 2008 ALTOS LAS HORMIGAS Mendoza MALBEC Sold
COLONIA LAS LIEBRES
with so many Italian vintners setting up shop in Argentina, it should be no
surprise to find some Italian grape varieties being cultivated...
And so we have this magnificent Colonia Las Liebres wine, made from a
northern Italian grape called Bonarda.
This brand is an off-shoot of the Altos Las Hormigas brand and we like it a
hare better than the basic Malbec of the Ants' label.
Bonarda is a medium-bodied red...not heavy or concentrated. It has
some red fruit aromas and flavors and with the 2014 vintage, we find a nice
hint of a spice tone. Nicely berryish and a delight.
This is best served at cool cellar temp. Easy to drink with white
meats, red meats, track meets or no meats at all.
We had a full display of this at one point and it's sold well. Ellen
describes it as a "receding hare line" and it has its rabbit fans.
Currently in stock: 2014 COLONIA LAS LIEBRES Bonarda $8.99
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
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
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
It pairs well with many Asian dishes...Thai, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and
Vietnamese...If you're serving prawns, crab, sea scallops, this may be
And it makes for a delightful (and economical) aperitif wine, too.
Currently in stock: 2014 COLOMÉ Torrontes $13.99
name Lamadrid doesn't refer to a Spanish wine, nor is the some fantasy
name. It's the name of a fellow who, when he was a kid, was able to
immigrate from Cuba to Miami, Florida.
Guillermo Garcia Lamadrid has been in the food importing and distributing
business, dealing primarily in Puerto Rico and Central/South America.
Now he aspires to both fame and fortune and so he's launched a little
vineyard and winemaking project.
It's situated in Agrelo, a smallish wine area a bit south of the city of
Mendoza. The place is run by Hector Durigutti, a well-respected
We tasted a remarkably good Bonarda, a wine styled along the lines of
Malbec from Argentina.
The vines were planted in 1973 and the vineyard is hand-harvested and
cropped to fairly low yields to intensify the character. They even
bleed off a bit of juice to further concentrate the character of this
wine. The juice is cold-soaked as they attempt to squeeze every drop
of character out of those grapes. After a long period of skin
contact, the wine is matured in French oak, half the barrels being brand
new. Unfined and unfiltered, too.
We like the woodsy, cedary bouquet from the oak and there's a fairly
complex red fruit aspect to the Bonarda. It's a medium-full bodied
wine, close to the weight of a good Malbec.
We find it to be quite drinkable at this stage and don't see it developing
additional complexity with cellaring, so drink up.
They only made 1300 cases...
Currently in stock: 2010 LAMADRID BONARDA Reserva
PUNTA DE FLECHAS
This is an interesting new partnership between two French wine families.
One is the hugely famous Rothschild clan...this branch being that of Baron
Benjamin de Rothschild. The other is a family which has been
building aircraft and which also owns a winery in St. Emilion. That
would be the Dassault family (and they own the Dassault Falcon company
along with Chateau Dassault and a share, with another Rothschild branch in
Château Rieussec and Chateau L'Evangile).
So the two families collaborated to start a business in Argentina near the
village of Vista Flores in the Uco Valley. This is about 70 miles
south of Mendoza.
They began planting the property in 1999 and today have more than 100
hectares of vineyards. Malbec, Syrah and Cabernet are planted at the
We have the 2012 vintage in stock. It's a terrific ten-buck
red and a good entry level Malbec. We like the red fruit notes
here...if there's oak in the mix, it's fairly well in the
background. The wine is dry and medium to medium-full in
This is intended to be consumed in its youth, so you need not stash
bottles of this and wait for it to "come around." It's
Currently in stock: 2012 PUNTA DE FLECHAS
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.
have now tasted a number of their single-vineyard Malbec wines and these are
top-notch, in general.
In particular, the Ornella de Escobar vineyard from the 2010 vintage.
It's a big, dark, deep red wine with lots of black cherry and plummy
notes. The wood comes through nicely, too...cedar, vanilla notes are
I'd say it's one of the few
premium-priced Malbecs to be worthy of the tariff.
Currently available: TRAPICHE Chardonnay $8.99
TRAPICHE Cabernet Sauvignon $6.99
TRAPICHE 2010 "Ornella de Escobar" MALBEC SALE $49.99
BENVENUTO DE LA SERNA
is a smallish winery founded by a couple...his name is Benvenuto and hers
"De la Serna."
We gather he's from Italy and she hails from Spain. They have three
children, as well.
Their property comprises about 180 hectares of which perhaps 120 could be
devoted to vineyards. The land had been planted with walnuts.
Presently they have about 35 hectares of vineyards.
The first harvest was the 2005 vintage.
We have had an entry level wine from this family, a good, solid ten-buck
But their blended red called Trisagio is a delight and a seriously good
It's a three wine blend (Trisagio, after all) featuring Malbec as you
might expect in Argentina. There's also Petit Verdot (which seems to
do very handsomely in Argentina) and the grape we find so fascinating in
the French wines of Madiran, Tannat.
The wine is matured in small French oak and displays black fruit aromas
and flavors along with some nice wood.
We currently have the 2010 in stock and this is very showy
If you're planning on some grilled red meat on the dinner table, this wine
might be one to consider.
Currently in stock: 2010 BENVENUTO DE LA SERNA "Trisagio"
is the work of two "royal" wine families. From Argentina,
there's the Catena clan. From France, there's the (Lafite) Rothschild
They began formulating this project in the late 1990s and vinified the first
batch of wine from the 2000 harvest.
There's a label called "Caro," and it's the main bottling, a
The Amancaya wine is a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon which carries
a fairly sensible price tag. The 2008 is currently in stock, a wine
which shows some dark fruit aromas and a faintly woodsy bouquet (20% new
oak). It's drinkable now and not especially cellar-worthy, so enjoying
this in the next year or two is ideal.
Currently in stock: 2008 AMANCAYA Malbec/Cab blend Sold
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 2012 Reserva bottling of Malbec to be a very good wine.
It's from a couple of old vineyard parcels, one plot being 67 years of age
and the other is 49 years old. The wine was matured for 15 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
Their normal bottling of 2010 Malbec is rather nice, too. A portion of
the wine is matured in wood and it's a good Malbec with some dark fruit and
faint oak notes. The tannins are low, so it's a drink-it-now kind of
Currently in stock: 2012 ALTOCEDRO Reserva Malbec $33.99
2010 ALTOCEDRO Malbec Sold Out
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 currently have a blended red called "Cavas de Weinert," a blend
of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. The 2004 vintage is
available and it's a medium-bodied red wine. Oak is not a major part
of this wine and it shows dusty notes and a bit of red fruit. The
tannins are modest, so this may be consumed now or held for several years.
Currently in stock: 2004 Cavas de Weinert $24.99
CHEVAL DES ANDES
"Cheval" here is a reference to the famous Bordeaux estate in St.
Emilion called "Cheval Blanc."
The Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy group owns a sparkling wine facility in
Argentina and a table wine place called Terrazas des Andes. Pierre
Lurton, who's the director at Château d'Yquem and Cheval Blanc, was
intrigued by the potential for good wine in Argentina, so he's teamed with a
local enologist and they've embarked on a project of truly deluxe quality
We're skeptical about many of these collaborative endeavors, finding most to
be merely a way to gussy up some decent wine with an association of famous
wine people in hopes consumers will fork over a king's ransom. Look at
the Mondavi's "Luce" project in Tuscany or Antinori's Washington
State "Col Solare" wine for examples of this.
But after tasting the 2002 Cheval des Andes in blind-tastings and, even better,
with dinner, we can say this wine delivers!
The 2007 is an elegant and refined bottle. It's drinkable now, showing
some dark raspberry notes and a some woodsy, cedary tones from the
oak. It's a robust red and perhaps a shade less tannic than some of
the earlier vintages.
Still, it's quite nice.
Currently in stock: 2007 Cheval des Andes SALE $79.99
Regarded as a producer of premium and special quality wines, this winery launched a
special artist label series for its "Coleccion Privada" Cabernet
Sauvignon. The wine used to come in a curious frosted black
bottle. They've changed it to a normal bottle (see the depiction to
The wine, from the 2007 vintage, is a medium-bodied,
berryish Cabernet with a touch of cedary oak. It's not particularly
complex, but it is nice with some grilled red meats.
Currently available:2007 Navarro Correas Cabernet $13.49
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
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. My impression is
that they've either hit a bump in the road or have focused on attracting a market
different from the original plan.
Chardonnay the past couple of years seem slightly
sweet. The wine we have in the shop presently is big, oaky and buttery, but
with a touch of sweetness. The local importer claims the sweetness is
due to a wild yeast fermentation. Hard to believe.
And Mr. Hobbs
is no longer affiliated with Catena.
CATENA "Alta" CHARDONNAY This is their no-holds-barred Chardonnay. It's entirely
barrel-fermented using native yeasts and it undergoes a full malolactic fermentation,
making it quite buttery and creamy. It's as showy a Chardonnay as we have
seen from Argentina. It is matured in a high percentage of new oak, giving
it a toasty character and it spends a fair bit of time on the lees, adding
CHARDONNAY Creamy, mildly buttery and lightly vanillin, this comes from several
vineyard sites. The wine offers elements familiar to those who drink
California Chardonnays, as it shows some tropical fruit aromas along with appley
tones and a touch of minerality. It does not strike me as bone dry, but
perhaps low acidity gives one this impression.
2012 MALBEC Some
earlier vintages struck as as being rather meaty and leathery on the nose and
palate. This new vintage seems brighter, cleaner and showing more
blackberry and dark fruit tones.
We like it quite a bit, as it's a good example of Malbec. You can even
compare it to some lovely French wines from the region of Cahors, a European
bastion of Malbec.
The wine was matured in French and American oak, mostly the former. The
wood is merely a spice tone in this wine. If you're firing up the grill
and preparing steak or lamb, this is a good choice. The wine probably can
be cellared for a few years, but it's drinkable now.
2011 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.
2011 CATENA ALTA MALBEC
wine is a big, dark colored, full-throttle Malbec. Some of the tanks
fermented on the skins for nearly two months in an effort to capture the maximum
of character. Blackcurrant fruit is in the middle with notes of violets
and wood spice around the edges...
It's a delight right now and should remain in top form for another 5 years, or
Currently available: 2008 Catena Chardonnay Sold Out
2012 Catena Malbec SALE $21.99
2005 Catena "Alta" Chardonnay Sold Out
2011 Catena Cabernet Sauvignon $19.99
2011 Catena Alta Malbec Sale $54.99
Here's a smallish winery which has an interesting
history. Five friends, all working in some area of finance in
various industries, pooled their resources and purchased a farm in Alto
Tunuyán in the Valle de Uco.
Their original idea was simply to grow grapes. Good quality
fruit. Not "industrial" or "hey, that's good
enough" quality. And neighboring estates were thrilled to buy
such quality, apparently.
Then a little cellar was on the market and they bought it. It's a
bodega that's about 20 miles from the city of Mendoza. It was
a bit of a fixer-upper but they made the investment and today they own a
nice little winery.
The friends are a bit scattered, though. One partner is located in
Moscow, while two are in Buenos Aires and another in Brazil, while one
fellow seems to be the on site manager.
The 2011 vintage is in stock presently.
It's not a typical "fruit bomb" of a Malbec, but it is a
perfectly elegant, low-tannin red wine.
It's not a show-stopper, so you won't be hearing violin music when you
pull the cork out of the bottle.
Still, it's a nice bottle of wine and it's well-priced.
They vinify the wine to be drinkable at the outset and we would advise
consuming this by 2018 or 2019.