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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:


MASI
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 totally unique.

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

 

 



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 2011 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:  2011 MENDEL Malbec (List $30) SALE $25.99

 
 

 
 
 
 

BODEGA VISTALBA (Carlos Pulenta):  TOMERO

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 brand.

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 months.  

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 2010 vintage and we understand it's 57% Malbec, with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13%  Merlot.

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 $25.99

2010 VISTALBA Corte B   $23.99


 
 



ALTOS LA HORMIGAS
This 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 Malbec.  

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 Out
 
 
 

 


COLONIA LAS LIEBRES
What 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 2012 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:  2012 COLONIA LAS LIEBRES Bonarda $8.99



 

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:  2013 COLOMÉ Torrontes  $11.99




LA MADRID

The 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 winemaker.  

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 $19.99


 
 


 

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 Flechas estate.

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 body.  
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 around already.
 
 

Currently in stock:  2012 PUNTA DE FLECHAS Malbec  $9.99


 


 
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 Jorge Miralles vineyard from the 2009 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 2009 "Jorge Miralles" MALBEC SALE  $49.99



BENVENUTO DE LA SERNA

This 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 Malbec.

But their blended red called Trisagio is a delight and a seriously good $20 bottle.

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 2008 in stock and this is very showy presently.  
If you're planning on some grilled red meat on the dinner table, this wine might be one to consider.


Currently in stock:  2008 BENVENUTO DE LA SERNA "Trisagio"  $19.99

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
AMANCAYA
This is the work of two "royal" wine families.  From Argentina, there's the Catena clan.  From France, there's the (Lafite) Rothschild family.

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 Malbec-based blend.

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 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 2008 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:  2008 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 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
The "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 red wine.  

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












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.

2005 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.


2008 CHARDONNAY
Creamy, mildly buttery and lightly vanillin, the 2008 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.


2011 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?

 

2009 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 $16.99
2011 Catena Malbec $24.99
2005 Catena "Alta" Chardonnay $29.99
2011 Catena Cabernet Sauvignon $19.99 
2009 Catena Alta Malbec $54.99


 


Wines of Chile

 

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