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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:

 



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:  2016 COLOMÉ Torrontes  $13.99


 


 


 

 


 
TRAPICHE
wpe2E.jpg (3433 bytes)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.

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 prominent.

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



 

 

 

 

 



 


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 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 palate.  

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 red wine.

Currently in stock:  2012 ALTOCEDRO Reserva  Malbec $33.99
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 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 Sold Out
 







 
















NAVARRO CORREAS
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 left).  

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 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.  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 additional smokiness.


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.
Got steak?

 

2011 CATENA ALTA MALBEC

This 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 so.

Big.  




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

 


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