The Sommelier Journal April 2009 Catherine Fallis, MS
Argentina is the eighth-largest country in the world—and the largest of all Spanish-speaking countries—in terms of land mass. Thanks to the majestic Andes Mountains, brilliant year-round sunshine, and plentiful pure, clean water, Argentina is also home to some of the finest and most pristine grape-growing terroirs on the planet. From the Andean valleys of Mendoza and the 7,000-foot plateaus of Salta to the grasslands of La Pampa and the high Patagonian desert, established local families and outsiders alike are producing some of the most exciting wines on the world market, and at strikingly low prices.
“Every varietal is great here,” says Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, proprietor of Bodega Chacra in Patagonia and grandson of Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who created Italy’s first Super Tuscan wine, Sassicaia. “The terroir we have in Patagonia is magical,” he adds. “Unlike Piedmont or Burgundy, we get perfect maturation of our grapes. We are in the Patagonian desert, with a high percentage of sunlight per square foot, giving us great luminosity. There is a lack of pollution, a lack of phylloxera, plentiful water from the river, and soil that is a riverbed with patches of limestone sand and residual crustaceans. Being in the desert gives us very cold nights, which is good for maintaining high acidity, and even if it does rain or get humid, strong winds blow through and dry out the clusters right away.” Incisa della Rocchetta believes the southern tip of Argentina is the only place in the world with this set of conditions, and he’s producing some stunning wines at Chacra. His Pinot Noir berries are as tiny and tightly packed as corn on the cob, and he finds plenty of skilled labor to oversee the vineyards and work in his winery.
The more familiar Mendoza region is just as beloved by its winemakers, primarily because it is “high and dry.” Ants and nematodes aside, it is virtually pest-free, planted with both new and old vines that provide pure, superbly expressive fruit. The region has about 300 days of sun annually and, with a well or government-controlled access to the Andes runoff, plenty of water. The vines are exposed to sunlight an average 19 hours per day, yielding intensely colored, fleshy, juicy fruit. Green harvesting is usually required despite the constant threat of hail, which forces most producers to use multiple fruit sources and expensive hail netting. Several wineries have recently begun to showcase single vineyards.
Dozens of subappellations within Mendoza are also gaining recognition, and some vintners are starting to highlight these on their labels. Laura Catena, daughter of industry pioneer and visionary Nicolás Catena, says, “In Mendoza, I care much more about specific vineyard sites than about the appellation.” Although she recognizes that most of the top vineyards are concentrated in appellations such as the Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo, she notes that “within an appellation, there are so many different qualities, altitudes, and viticultural methods applied that it is the specific vineyard that matters most. For Catena and Catena Zapata, all our fruit is estate-grown, so we know that the yields are low and the vineyard management extremely meticulous.” Catena buys most of her grapes from familiar growers for the increasingly well-regarded Luca label, but doesn’t determine the appellations until after making her blends. “For Luca Malbec,” she says, “all my fruit comes from growers in the Uco Valley, so I use this appellation. For Luca Beso de Dante, the Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Luján de Cuyo and the Malbec from Uco Valley, so I use Mendoza instead of a specific appellation.”
Altitude is the key climatic element in Mendoza and the even higher, more northerly region of Salta (see Sommelier Journal’s Premiere Issue 2008). “You transition from California’s Central Valley to Burgundy in 45 minutes as you go up the mountain,” says Catena. “Salta is practically in the tropics, but at 7,000 feet, it is warmer than Mendoza and cold at night. Malbecs from Salta are liqueur-like. Geographically, south means colder and higher means colder, except all the way down south in Patagonia. For example, Neuquén is warmer than the cool-climate areas of Mendoza. You have to look at what the actual average temperature is.” According to the University of California-Davis Winkler classification, Catena’s Malbec vineyards in Mendoza are planted in Region I—“which is Pinot Noir climate,” says Catena, “but the combination of that and the sun intensity gives us the best Malbec.”
After two visits, extensive tastings, and conversations with dozens of producers, it has become evident to me that we have not even scratched the surface of what this vast country has to offer. One reason is that the local population, steeped in European culture—Spanish, Italian, and, more recently, French—consumes so much. In fact, Buenos Aires is the No. 1 market for the nation’s expanding sparkling-wine production, which is why the United States sees so little of it.
When Chile established its wine industry, it looked first to the export market, especially the United States, where varietals like Chardonnay and Cabernet were, and still are, extremely popular. Chilean producers sent boatloads of inexpensive wine to North America and hit pay dirt. Taking note of their success, Argentine vintners went with a different Bordeaux varietal for their signature red grape, Malbec, and the unique, tropical, and lively Torrontés instead of Chardonnay. Now, firmly entrenched in the “fighting varietal” category and surpassing Chile in value for the dollar, producers here are also positioning themselves in the premium and ultra-premium tiers with proprietary blends and other unique, distinctly Argentine offerings, including delicious Bonarda-Malbec and Bonarda-Syrah blends.
Cost is certainly not the only factor in selecting wines, but because the U.S. dollar is still strong in Argentina, while European products are trending higher and higher, restaurant wine directors should explore all possibilities from top to bottom—with the obvious exception of the big brands that have strong retail penetration.
Across the board, Argentina’s wines should easily win the hearts of both sommeliers and their guests, combining varietally designated, pure, ripe fruit with natural acids. In the premium and super-premium tiers, we find the Argentine trifecta—a mixture of fruit tannins, oak tannins, and bright acidity, providing the grip and balance that are lacking in so many wines these days.
Most Argentine producers have a European sensibility when it comes to oak use, meaning less is better. Even the more strongly oaked wines tend not to be blatant, except for a few producers who bow toward the altar of ratings. Tasting two premium releases from a well-established producer, I felt as if I were in Barossa or Napa. These high-scoring wines displayed notes of compote, fig, and prune, along with aggressive oak tannins and 15-15.5% alcohol.
Then there are the consultants, American or, more commonly, French. One American consultant’s wine tasted like late-harvest Zinfandel (a characteristic that I also find in his California bottlings); it’s scored and priced so ridiculously high that, of course, it sells out instantly. Michel Rolland has dozens of clients in Argentina—it seemed as if every other producer I visited found an excuse to mention his name within 60 seconds of my arrival. But Rolland will continue to move the industry forward, certainly by insisting on better farming and cleaner winemaking, just as his mentor, Émile Peynaud, did in Bordeaux. “The potential of Argentina in the wine industry is astonishing,” says Rolland; “the diversity of its future development, breathtaking. Perhaps this potential is better appreciated by those of us who are escaping the conservative production regimes of the traditional European wine countries. If there is one place on earth where all the optimum conditions for the development of a new and formidable wine industry—climate, soil, costs, human resources, and little bureaucratic regulation—exist together, that place, my friend, is Argentina.”
The following releases represent about the top one-fourth of the wines I tasted on my most recent trip. With 875 licensed wineries at last count and new brands coming into the United States daily, Argentina is definitely a region to watch.
Valentin Bianchi Extra Brut Traditional Method Sparkling Wine, Mendoza N.V. $30
Straw yellow with a fine mousse, this lovely sparkler has lemon, peach, ginger, whole-grain-bread, and yeasty notes, a medium body, and a long, very dry finish. Importer: Quintessential Wines, www.quintessentialwines.com .
Reginato Sparkling Rosé of Malbec Celestina, Mendoza 2006 $20
The metodo tradicional is also used to make this rosé; the wine spends 14 months on the lees, resulting in a pleasant, fruity, and mellow bubbly with aromas of strawberry, cherry, plum, and cassis and a light, yeasty character. Importer: Vine Connections, www.vineconnections.com .
Don Cristóbal 1492 Verdelho, Mendoza 2008 $10
Light in body, this refreshing, fun wine offers grass, peach, and tropical notes and brisk acidity. It would be great as an aperitif or with light seafood dishes or crudo. Importer: Eagle Eye Imports,www.eagleeyeimports.com .
Altosur Sauvignon Blanc, Tupungato, Mendoza 2008 $11
This bold white has aromas of grass, asparagus, jasmine, lily, and orchid. Medium-bodied and vibrant, it displays punched-up herbaceous flavors with tropical notes in the background. A racy acidity lends balance, and the finish is long and lemony. Importer: Gaucho Imports,www.gauchoimports.com .
Bodegas O. Fournier Sauvignon Blanc Urban Uco, Uco Valley, Mendoza 2008 $7
This is one of the best Sauvignon Blanc deals in the world right now. Urban Uco is Fournier’s restaurant line, named after the Urban restaurant at the winery. It’s fresh and punchy, with notes of grass, canned peas, greengage, peach, pineapple, and key lime and a fresh, floral finish. Importer: Fine Estates from Spain, Dedham, Mass.
Bodegas O. Fournier Sauvignon Blanc B-Crux, Uco Valley, Mendoza 2008 $20
B-Crux is this producer’s second label, named after one of the stars in the Southern Cross. The B-Crux wines are aged in 50% new and 50% second-use oak for a year. This soft, elegant Sauvignon Blanc has herbal and floral notes, a vibrant gooseberry core, and a long, fresh finish. Importer: Fine Estates from Spain, Dedham, Mass.
Bodega del Desierto Sauvignon Blanc La Pampa 25/5, Alto Valle del Río Colorado, La Pampa 2006 $15
Despite the cumbersome name, this is a unique, must-have Sauvignon Blanc from Argentina’s high desert in the province of La Pampa, nestled between southern Mendoza and the province of Buenos Aires. The medium-bodied wine shows aromas of lemon, pear, vanilla, spearmint, and Pez candy and flavors of grapefruit, cherimoya, star fruit, and banana. Lively acidity cuts the intensity of fruit and the rich, creamy mouthfeel. Importer: Select Fine Wine,www.selectfinewine.com .
Familia Schroeder Sauvignon Blanc Saurus Patagonia Select, Patagonia 2007 $17
Fresh, inviting aromas of lemon, lime, violet, yellow rose, sage, and scrub are followed by a fresh, medium-bodied palate with honeysuckle and vanilla notes. The finish is long, clean, and slightly oaky, with a tangy sea-salt edge. Importer: S Selections, LLC, www.s-selections.com .
Zolo Sauvignon Blanc, Mendoza 2008 $12
Distinct aromas of pine needle, peach, pink rose, violet candy, and honey showcase the terroir and its influence on the varietal. The wine is round and creamy on the palate despite being unoaked, with peach, nectarine, and guava notes and zesty acidity. Importer: Epic Wines, www.epic-wines.com .
Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontés I.P., Salta 2008 $15
Check your local retailers before placing this wine on your list; if it’s not getting a lot of play, grab it. This is benchmark Torrontés, with aromas of peach, apricot, nectarine, banana, tangerine, candle wax, and brine. On the palate, it is silky, round, and unctuous, with clean, piercing key-lime, tangerine, sweet-sour-candy, and lilac flavors, pithy fruit tannins, and bright, refreshing natural acidity. It is also bone-dry. Importer: Vine Connections, www.vineconnections.com .
Bodega Colomé Torrontés, Salta 2008 $13
Vineyards here are among the highest in the world, ranging from 7,218 to 9,892 feet, and the estate is farmed biodynamically. Colomé’s 30-to-60-year-old Torrontés vines yield expressive aromas of lemon meringue, tangerine, pineapple, strawberry, violet candy, rose water, and white-linen perfume. This viscous, mouthfilling wine is lifted by underlying bright acidity and pithy fruit tannins, which are especially prominent on the long finish. It is unoaked and dry. Importer: The Hess Collection Import Co., www.hesscollection.com .
Finca El Orígen Torrontés Reserva, Valle de Cafayate, Salta 2007 $11
This intense wine offers notes of fresh hay, lemon, fresh pineapple, pineapple juice, and cotton candy. Dry and full-bodied, it has enough pithy fruit tannins and bright acidity to balance its exuberant character. Importer: Carolina Wine Brands USA, www.carolinawinebrandsusa.com .
Santa Julia Torrontés Orgánica, Mendoza 2008 $10
Classic, clean, tropical Torrontés with aromas of peach, lemon, lime, guava, pineapple, hay, and straw. This medium-bodied wine displays bright tropical fruit, juicy acidity, and a hint (2.2 grams per liter) of crowd-pleasing residual sugar on the finish. Importer: Winesellers, Ltd.,www.winesellersltd.com .
Pascual Toso Torrontés Maipú Vineyards, Mendoza 2007 $12
Clean, fresh, and tropical, with notes of guava, pineapple, star fruit, tangerine, lemon, lime, and pink rose, this is a modern, dry, round, creamy, and lively Torrontés. Importer: TGIC Importers, Inc., www.tgicimporters.com .
Bodega del Desierto Chardonnay La Pampa 25/5, Alto Valle del Río Colorado, La Pampa 2006 $15
I never thought I’d see the day when I’d recommend an Argentine Chardonnay, but this wine is such a brilliant expression of varietal and terroir, I couldn’t pass it up. With notes of lemon-cream pie, butter, pear, apple, pineapple, wax, and lanolin and a silky texture, there is no mistaking the varietal, but the fresh, racy acids belie its desert origin. A slight oak grip persists on the finish, but the acidity is so refreshing that the mouth waters instantly. Importer: Select Fine Wine,www.selectfinewine.com .
Altosur Malbec Rosé, Tupungato, Mendoza 2008 $11
This hot-pink beauty has fresh-berry, black-cherry, green-tea, anise, and ginger notes. It is light-bodied, dry, and elegant. Importer: Gaucho Imports, www.gauchoimports.com .
Melipal Malbec Rosé, Mendoza 2008 $10
Made with the free run of the winery’s Malbec Reserve, this vivid rosé sends up aromas of strawberry, watermelon, sour-apple candy, violet, dried leaves, and underbrush. Round and creamy, with lifting acidity, it adds a soft hint of fruit tannin for textural complexity. The finish is long and bone-dry. Importer: Epic Wines, www.epic-wines.com .
Doña Paula Malbec Rosé Los Cardos, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza 2007 $9
A vibrant, intense, pristine rosé with sweet-sour notes of pink grapefruit, lemon drop, strawberry, and spearmint, this medium-bodied wine shows clean, invigorating acidity and a long, grapey finish. Excellent for by-the-glass programs (deeply discounted retail programs aside); bartenders will love the screwcap closure. Importer: Vineyard Brands,www.vineyardbrands.com .
Don Cristóbal 1492 Red, Mendoza 2008 $6
This delicious, light, fruity blend of Merlot, Bonarda, and Sangiovese has notes of cherry, dark plum, earth, and tar and a long, zesty finish. Importer: Eagle Eye Imports, www.eagleeyeimports.com. www.eagleeyeimports.com .
Bodega Luigi Bosca Pinot Noir, Mendoza 2006 $18
This winery was founded by the Arizu family more than a century ago and is still in family hands. Bosca’s well-priced Pinot Noir offers notes of cherry, strawberry jam, cranberry, earth, and pine needle, with vanilla notes emerging on the palate. Medium-bodied and silky, it has a moderately long finish. Importer: Gaucho Imports, www.gauchoimports.com. www.gauchoimports.com .
Finca El Portillo Pinot Noir, Uco Valley, Mendoza 2007 $12
This zesty, bright Pinot Noir features a pretty perfume of strawberry, peach, lemon, and pink rose; in fact, it smells like a rosé. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, with tart cherry and peach notes and a touch of vanilla. The finish is long, and the price is outstanding, although it is definitely a wine that needs food. Importer: Palm Bay International, www.palmbayimports.com .
Familia Schroeder Pinot Noir Saurus Patagonia Select, Patagonia 2007 $15
Pretty raspberry, wild-strawberry, and earth notes are inviting. The wine is light, clean, and straightforward, with a lively, bright finish. Importer: S Selections, LLC, www.s-selections.com .
Bodegas O. Fournier Tempranillo Urban Uco, Uco Valley, Mendoza 2007 $10
Tempranillo is Argentina’s fifth-most planted varietal by acre. Made from 10-to-30-year-old vines, this lively, medium-bodied red has aromas of earth, cherry, stewed tomato, and osso buco. Sweet, ripe cherry flavors come out on the dry, soft, elegant palate, and the wine has a long, cherry-cola finish. Importer: Fine Estates from Spain, Dedham, Mass.
Quara Tannat, Cafayate Valley 2007 $8
With aromas of cherry cola, mocha, dark berries, compote, cedar, and violet, this wine offers immediate appeal. On the palate, it is light-bodied, soft, and round, with satisfying dark-berry, earth, and rhubarb notes. Bright acidity and gamey notes emerge on the finish, but the wine softens and gains complexity with aeration. While Tannat may not be a fast mover, this would be an excellent by-the-glass option, outstanding with house-made salumi. Importer: A.V. Brands, Inc., www.avimports.com .
Zolo Bonarda, Mendoza 2005 $12
Many Bonardas start out untamed, wild, and rustic, especially at the higher-quality levels, but with age and aeration, they mellow into beautifully distinctive and food-friendly reds. This one has aromas of mulberry, blueberry, plum, potting soil, fennel, and smoke. Full, rich, and intense, it presents dark-berry fruit, chewy fruit tannins, and a gently drying finish. It’s a lot of wine for the price. Importer: Epic Wines, www.epic-wines.com .
Crios de Susana Balbo 50% Syrah 50% Bonarda, Mendoza 2006 $15
Aromas of plum, blackberry, fig, raisin, earth, and smoke are followed by an intensely fruity palate that starts off soft and billowy, but quickly gets grippy as the combination of fruit and oak tannins and brisk acidity kicks in. Think charcuterie, salumi, artisanal cheese, or rich game dishes. Importer: Vine Connections, www.vineconnections.com .
Clos de los Siete, Mendoza 2007 $18
Named for its seven partners, Clos de los Siete is a joint venture that includes Michel Rolland. This unfined, unfiltered blend of 48% Malbec, 28% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 12% Syrah offers notes of cherry, tar, earth, licorice, and woodsmoke. It’s medium-bodied and supple, with a long, juicy, dark-fruit finish. Importer: Vins et Vignobles Dourthe, www.dourthe.com .
Bodega Filus Malbec Tierra Brisa, Uco Valley, Mendoza 2007 $5
Light and fresh with bright berry, refreshing mint, and very subtle oak notes, slightly gripping fruit tannins, and lively acidity, this is a great entry-level Malbec for a great price, especially considering that the youngest vines here are 15 years old. Importer: Classic Wines of California, Ceres, Calif.
Bodega Del Fin del Mundo Malbec Ventus, Patagonia 2007 $13
One of the half-dozen wineries currently operating in this huge region, the Bodega Del Fin del Mundo (“at the end of the earth”), in the province of Neuquén, also consults with Michel Rolland. This lovely, expressive Malbec has notes of strawberry, blackcurrant, bramble, jam, baking spice, and smoke. The palate is jazzy and lively, with bright fruit, gripping tannins, and acids, and the wine has a long finish. Importer: Leucadia Cellars & Estates, San Francisco.
Ikella Malbec, Mendoza 2006 $15
Notes of Orange Pekoe tea, plum, strawberry, lemon zest, braised meat, and pancetta are layered into this full-bodied, luscious red, made from 84-year-old vines. Rich fruit, soft oak, and gentle fruit tannins are balanced by refreshing natural acidity. Importer: Epic Wines, www.epic-wines.com .
Kaiken Malbec Ultra, Mendoza 2006 $18
Featuring aromas of plum, blackberry, black tea, vanilla, and potting soil, the Kaiken opens with a full, round, soft texture, followed by a double whammy of oak tannins and fresh acidity to liven things up. The finish is zesty and long, with dark-fruit notes. Importer: TGIC Importers, Inc.,www.tgicimporters.com .
La Posta Malbec Angel Paulucci Vineyard, Ugarteche, Mendoza 2007 $18
This youthful, taut wine displays aromas of black tea, plum, cassis, white pepper, and barnyard. Medium-bodied, it has blueberry, blackberry, and black-peppercorn notes; slightly gripping tannins; and a long, juicy, blackberry-infused finish. Importer: Vine Connections,www.vineconnections.com .
Molto! Malbec, Mendoza 2007 $12
Watch for retail placements with the splashy name and packaging, but otherwise, grab multiple cases of this screwcap-finished sultry red for your wine program. Made from mature vines averaging 40 years of age, it starts with an inviting perfume of dark cherry, mulberry, plum, chocolate mint, red licorice, lilies, violets, and Fernet-Branca, then entices the palate with rich fruit and ripe tannins. Gentle acidity on the finish adds a tart, mouth-puckering sensation. Importer: Select Fine Wine, www.selectfinewine.com .
Bodega Norton Malbec Reserva, Mendoza 2006 $15
Thirty-year-old vines give depth to this bright, juicy, medium-bodied wine. Notes of dark cherry, plum, fig, raisin, black and Orange Pekoe tea leaf, mint, and vanilla are well integrated with oak tannins and bright acidity. The finish is long, fruity, and mouthwatering. Importer: TGIC Importers, Inc., www.tgicimporters.com .
Quara Malbec, Cafayate Valley 2007 $8
Complex for the price, this lively, deeply flavored wine offers classic notes of blueberry, Orange Pekoe tea leaf, straw, tarragon, turned earth, mulch, and mushroom. Another great by-the-glass option. Importer: A.V. Brands, Inc., www.avimports.com .
Bodega Séptima Malbec, Mendoza 2007 $10
With aromas of cherry, plum, sun-dried tomato, tar, chocolate, and vanilla, this wine conjures up visions of Italy. Medium-bodied, with flavors of sweet cherry, strawberry, cherry cola, tomato, orange zest, and vanilla bean, it has a long, darkly fruity, zesty finish. Importer: A.V. Brands, Inc.,www.avimports.com .
Tamarí Malbec Reserva, Uco Valley, Mendoza 2006 $14
This blend of 95% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Bonarda, from a winery named after the indigenous Huarpes’ phrase for doing everything with passion, has notes of blueberry, earth, and tar. It’s round and fruity, with a long, refreshing finish. Importer: Terlato Wines International, www.terlatowines.com .
Bodega Chacra Pinot Noir Barda, Río Negro, Patagonia 2007 $40
Through his Tuscan connections, Piero Incisa della Rocchetta tasted the Pinot Noir of a colleague’s Río Negro winery, Noemia de Patagonia, and was hooked. Eventually, he found and restored the Barda vineyard, doing much of the farming biodynamically, as evidenced by this unique expression of Pinot Noir. At once Burgundian and New World, it offers notes of cranberry, cherry, red licorice, lanolin, mushroom, and smoke that mingle and linger. Importer: Kobrand Corporation, www.kobrandwineandspirits.com .
Luca Syrah Laborde Double Select, Uco Valley, Mendoza 2006 $25
Named after Laura Catena’s son, Luca, and in honor of grower Luis Laborde’s double massale Syrah selection from the Rhône Valley, this concentrated red shows aromas of blueberry, cherry, raspberry, vanilla, and earth. It’s soft and creamy on the palate, with bright-berry, earth, and tar notes and slightly gripping oak tannins. Importer: Vine Connections, www.vineconnections.com .
Alma Negra, Mendoza 2005 $25
Looking at the heavy, expensive black bottle and dramatic black label, I expected an ultramodern, sleek, fruit-forward, oaky wine. Instead, I found an understated, dry, well-balanced blend with aromas of cherry, currant, yellow rose, vanilla, mint, and maple. The palate is round and well-structured, with dark fruit and cedar notes, and the finish is long. This wine is inexpensive partly because it is 60% Bonarda, with the rest Malbec. Importer: Billington Wines,www.billingtonwines.com .
Tikal Patrioto, Mendoza 2006 $25
A flashy blend of 60% Bonarda and 40% Malbec, from a label named after Ernesto Catena’s son, it offers aromas of blueberry, rhubarb, Orange Pekoe tea leaf, strawberry leaf, and strawberry jam. The wine is round and opulent, with sweet, ripe berry fruit; supple oak tannins; and a long, ripe fruit finish. Importer: Vine Connections, www.vineconnections.com .
Achával-Ferrer Malbec, Mendoza 2007 $24
With bold notes of blackberry, boysenberry, rose petal, anise, fennel, spearmint, and earth and a round, luscious texture well supported by fresh, zesty acidity, this is classic, unadorned Argentine Malbec. Importer: TGIC Importers, Inc., www.tgicimporters.com .
Susana Balbo Malbec, Mendoza 2006 $27
Blended with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, this complex red presents aromas of strawberry and raspberry jam, flower shop, osso buco, pancetta, and baked ham. The bright, high-toned berry fruit is reined in by fruit and oak tannins and juicy acidity. The finish is long and grippy with slightly drying tannins. Importer: Vine Connections, www.vineconnections.com .
Bodega Colomé Malbec Estate, Salta 2006 $25
This blend of 85% Malbec, 8% Tannat, and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon has a deep perfume of blackcurrant, mulberry, boysenberry, black cherry, black soil, wet forest, and tar. On the palate, Colomé’s lovely red starts off sweet and soft, with dark-fruit, earth, and spicy oak notes; then, the Argentine trifecta of oak tannins, fruit tannins, and brilliant natural acidity race to the finish line, winning with grip and balance. Importer: The Hess Collection Import Co.,www.hesscollection.com .
Finca Decero Malbec Remolinos Vineyard, Agrelo, Mendoza 2006 $20
Intense aromas of cherry liqueur, cassis, raspberry, tree bark, Orange Pekoe tea, and black licorice demonstrate the touch of consultant Paul Hobbs and give a sense of the vineyard, as does the sweet, ripe, creamy palate, with flavors of sour-cherry preserves, bark, and black tea in the background. Fine natural acidity and beautifully integrated oak tannins provide balance. Importer: VINTUS, www.vintuswines.com .
Melipal Malbec Reserve, Mendoza 2006 $45
This rich red offers aromas of tar, black earth, violets, cherry, rhubarb, black tea leaves, and vanilla. Smooth, round, and soft, it is balanced by gentle, tea-like oak tannins that persist on a long, expressive finish. Importer: Epic Wines, www.epic-wines.com .
Terrazas de los Andes Malbec Afincado Las Compuertas Vistalba Vineyard, Mendoza 2005 $40
Notes of earth and bark, along with cherry, cassis, and black licorice, entice the nose and reflect a European sensibility. On the palate, the wine is smooth and elegant initially, with floral, blueberry, and cedar notes; firm tannins and lively acidity kick in to add grip. Decant before serving. Importer: Moët Hennessy USA, www.mhusa.com .
Zolo Malbec Reserve, Mendoza 2005 $22
Aromas of dark earth, cassis, mulberry, cumin, clove, and hickory-smoked bacon get the juices flowing. In the mouth, this full-bodied, viscous wine is concentrated yet elegant, with gentle oak and fruit tannins balanced by fine acidity. Importer: Epic Wines, www.epic-wines.com .
Bodega Chacra Pinot Noir Cincuenta y Cinco, Río Negro, Patagonia 2006 $160
Subtle and delicate, with notes of cumin, turmeric, chalk, cranberry, red rose, pomegranate, lemon, and violet, this complex, distinctive Pinot Noir displays the beautiful silk and perfume of Burgundy after some coaxing. Once it opens up, it shows more berry fruit and gentle, spicy oak flavors and tannins. Named for the year in which the vines were planted (’55), this Pinot is fermented exclusively in the egg-shaped cement vats that are popping up all over the place. Incisa della Rochetta is raising a few eyebrows with his pricing—this is the most expensive wine I have seen from Argentina. Importer: Kobrand Corporation, www.kobrandwineandspirits.com .
Andeluna Pasionado Grand Reserve, Mendoza 2003 $45
This Bordeaux blend shows aromas of stewed fruits, cherry, blueberry, sun-dried tomato, vanilla, and coffee bean and flavors of currant and cherry cola, with green undercurrents on the palate. It’s full-bodied, with well-integrated tannins and a soft, luscious texture. Importer: San Francisco Wine Exchange, www.sfwe.com. www.sfwe.com .
Finca Decero Amano Remolinos Vineyard, Agrelo, Mendoza 2006 $50
Blended with the assistance of American winemaker Paul Hobbs, this rich blend of 65% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot has aromas of rhubarb, green tea, cassis, strawberry, and mint chocolate. On the palate, it is full-bodied and complex, with plum, fig, raisin, dark-cherry, red-licorice, mint, and cedar notes. Gentle oak tannins and soft acidity lend balance. Decant before serving. Importer: VINTUS, www.vintuswines.com .
Nicolás Catena Zapata, Mendoza 2005 $120
This impressive, concentrated blend of the best lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec from the Catena Zapata vineyards offers aromas of cherry, plum, cassis, vanilla, and cedar. On the palate, it shows dark-berry, earth, mushroom, mocha, and smoky-oak notes, followed by gripping tannins and bright acidity on the long finish. Often presented blind to the trade, it has performed favorably alongside Château Latour, Château Haut-Brion, Solaia, and Caymus. Decanting recommended. Importer: Billington Wines, www.billingtonwines.com .
Cheval des Andes, Mendoza 2005 $70
A joint venture of Terrazas de los Andes and Château Cheval Blanc of St. Émilion, both owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, Cheval des Andes has, since its initial release, been one of my top high-end picks from Argentina, along with the top labels of O. Fournier and Catena. For starters, it’s a classy, elegant wine reminiscent of the understated, intriguing, and perhaps old-fashioned style of St. Émilion. With soft, subtle aromas of underbrush, tobacco, cassis, cedar, and smoke, it could indeed be mistaken, at this young age, for a good Bordeaux. On the palate, it is medium-bodied and supple, with fine tannins, a silky core, and flashes of exuberant cherry and cassis alongside the juicy acidity of its terroir. The oak tannins are slightly drying on the long finish. Decant before serving. This is a limited-production wine—another reason for sommeliers to seek it out. Importer: Moët Hennessy USA, www.mhusa.com .
Bodegas O. Fournier Alfa Crux Blend, Uco Valley, Mendoza 2004 $47
Alfa Crux is this winery’s premier line, named after another star of the Southern Cross. The Alfa Crux wines are made from selected barrels, aged in new oak for 18 months and in bottle for an additional 12 months before release. This blend of 50% Tempranillo, 30% Malbec, and 20% Merlot displays notes of mocha, cherry, cassis, rose petal, and smoke. Rich, complex, and understated, it has beautiful balance and a long finish. The 2005 is also on the market, but is still young and closed. O. Fournier is a benchmark producer, and though less well known in this market than Catena, a must-have for your wine list. Importer: Fine Estates from Spain, Dedham, Mass.
Finca Sophenia Synthesis The Blend, Tupungato, Mendoza 2006 $56
This elegant, complex blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot shows notes of black cherry, blackcurrant, plum, white flowers, cedar, and vanilla. The oak tannins are well-integrated, and lively acids add balance. Michel Rolland is a consultant here. Importer: Gaucho Imports,www.gauchoimports.com .
Catena Zapata Malbec Adrianna Vineyard, Gualtallary, Mendoza 2005 $130
Only eight barrels were made, but this wine will be worth the search. Striking aromas of blueberry, cherry, graphite, and toasted oak are followed by intense blueberry fruit and lavish, spicy, well-integrated oak flavors and tannins. Even at this young age, the wine is ripe, rich, and round—the Ferrari of Malbecs. Importer: Billington Wines, www.billingtonwines.com .
Santa Julia Torrontés Tardio, Mendoza (500 ml) 2008 $14
At 9.5% alcohol and 120 grams per liter of residual sugar, this is a beautifully balanced, light, elegant dessert wine. It has notes of fresh and dried pineapple, marzipan, Nilla wafer, candle wax, incense, and violet candy and a long, bright, juicy, and not-too-sweet finish. Importer: Winesellers, Ltd., www.winesellersltd.com .