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(They're Fast and we're Furious.)
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:
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
- 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
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,
The vintage was considered to be fairly classical for Argentina's Mendoza
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
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
- The Benvenuto de la Serna winery produces this well-priced simple red
We've had several vintages and the wine is a medium-bodied, easy-drinking
Currently in stock: 2020 MIL PIEDRAS MALBEC
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
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: 2021 COLOMÉ Torrontes $13.99
- 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.
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
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
Currently in stock: 2015 ALTOCEDRO Reserva Malbec Sold Out
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'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
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
- 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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
2018 CATENA ALTA MALBEC
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
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.
- 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
- 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
Wines of Chile