Saturday, October 23, 2010

CELEBRATE ARGENTINA 2010 WRAPUP


Celebrate Argentina

The wines of Argentina are not my strong suit of knowledge.  Happily, I was able to add to my personal database with Celebrate Argentina 2010, another great Learn About Wine tasting event, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on October 21st.

Surprises

There were some things which surprised me about Argentine wine.  

The predominance of unoaked or “underoaked” red wines took me by surprise.  Red wines - even Cabernet Sauvignon - that are not aged in oak barrels are somewhat a rarity in California and France.  In Argentina, “Hold the oak!” is not an uncommon call to hear.

Kent Smith, Western Regional Manager for wine importers Vino Del Sol, speculated that one reason for the lack of oak might be, “oak barrels are expensive.”  Waving his hand around the room, Smith explained, “A lot of these wineries are small, family operations.  Buying new oak barrels every year simply isn’t an option for them."

Smith offered another potential explanation for Argentina’s fondness of unoaked reds - good fruit.  “Many of the Argentine vineyards are hand-picked.  That means they can go through a vineyard multiple times to select the grape clusters when they are at the exact best ripeness for picking.  With all that great fruit, you don’t need oak’s enhancements.  You’ve got it all in the grapes.”

Maybe that's pride talking, maybe he’s right.  All I know is that the quality of the wines at Celebrate Argentina 2010 was quite high.  Cabs seemed to be the grape variety that most often got the no-oak treatment, and it really gave the fruit a chance to shine in ways I don’t normally get to experience in California wine.  

I was told there are only a couple dozen wineries in Argentina which are organic.  Winemaker Gustavo Caligiore gave me that tidbit while pouring his organic wines.  When I complemented him on his youthful appearance, he replied, "Maybe it's the organic wine."  He's obviously a winemaker and a pitchman.

I noticed great acidity levels in all the wines I tasted - there wasn’t a flabby one in the bunch.  The high elevation of the vineyards along the Andes Mountains is credited by some for the nice acid found in many Argentine wines.

The Pinot Noirs were all very strange to my palate.  They were mostly very dark in aroma and flavor with high acidity and big tannins.  It’s good juice, just not the delicate touch I'm used to in a Pinot Noir

A producer from Patagonia poured Malbecs which all smelled like Band-Aids or plastic, even though his other wines were not similarly affected.  The Pinot Noir he poured seemed absolutely rugged.  I was told there is a lot of mineral in the soil of Patagonia and it changes the flavor profile.  A young, tattooed fellow explained that Patagonian Pinot Noir was usually very good, if quite different from California Pinots.  He said at one tasting event he attended, the representatives from New Zealand tasted the Patagonian Pinot and swore it must have been something else.  During the construction of the Patagonian winery, a 75-million-year-old dinosaur was unearthed.  Now that's terroir.

I had seen an interview with an Argentine wine producer just days before the event, and she pointed out that Argentina never needed to export wine because in-country demand was so high.  At the event, one rep told me wine sales are dropping now in Argentina, largely because younger people are leaving wine and drinking more beer and cocktails.


Tasting NotesTasting Notes From Celebrate Argentina 2010

Cabernet Sauvignon

Interesting Cabs from Orfila, including an unoaked '08 with floral elements on the nose and an herbal touch on the palate.  Their '08 Roble Cabernet Sauvignon shows minerals and smoke on the nose with plums on the palate and good grip.  The '08 Solar De Orfila Cab has ten months in American oak and shows plenty of earthy, dark fruit.

Familia Zuccardi brought a Cab which, according to my pourer, was named a Wine Enthusiast Best Value Wine Of The Year.  The '08 Santa Julia Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon has a lilting nose and an earthy berry palate for $12.

Las Moras brought the '08 Alma Mora Cab.  San Juan fruit and no oak at all make a great tasting red.  This stainless steel Cab has a subtle nose and cherry notes on the palate.  I might have mistaken it for a Pinot Noir.

Santa Ana '09 Eco Cabernet Sauvignon only does six months time in oak, but turns in an earthy performance.  It's very dry, but not too grippy.

Malbec
Atamisque '08 Cantalpa Malbec is 40% oaked in French wood for twelve months and is bright and earthy.  Their '07 Atamisque Malbec is from 90-year-old vines in Vista Flores, Mendoza.  It sees wood for fourteen months and is smooth and complex.

Orfila, unrepresented in the U.S., had several Malbecs to pour.  The '08 is unoaked with a soft cherry nose and bright, red fruit with good acidity.  Their '08 Roble Malbec offers big red fruit on the nose and palate, the '08 Solar De Orfila Malbec is a dry wine with a dark nose and a hint of rocks, and dark fruit on the palate.

Caligiore, from Lujan de Cuyo, poured an organic '09 Malbec, 20% of which is in oak for twelve months.  The fruit comes from 80-year-old vines, and the wine is bright and extremely dry.

Carelli uses Ugo Valley fruit for their '06 Malbec.  This wine has to earn its $78 price tag with a light-as-a-feather nose showing rose petals and cinnamon.  Black plums and clove dance on the palate while the finish brings a flash of vanilla.

Cielo Y Tierra is owned by composer Gustavo Santaolalla, a two-time Oscar winner for the scores of Brokeback Mountain and Babel.  His wine certainly hits the right notes.  2005 was his first vintage as owner, and the '05 Don Juan Hahuel Reserva Malbec must have made him quite pleased.  It's a multi-vineyard effort that's oaked for 24 months and carries 14% alcohol.  It shows a plummy and earthy palate, very dry with great grip.

The Familia Zuccardi '08 Malbec is very dry, with raspberry in a smoky setting.

Las Moras '08 Alma Mora Malbec shows a very cheery cherry palate and considerable earthy notes.  The wine spent only three months in oak.

De Los Clop poured their '09 Malbec made in Steel.  The nose is full of rich, bright red fruit while the palate shows a freshness and earthiness at once.

Pascual Toso '08 Reserve Malbec is a very dark and intense wine.  The raspberry notes on the palate are broodingly dry.

Santa Ana '09 Eco Malbec - from the winery's new organic line - spends six months in oak and rames red fruit in some dark and earthy notes.  Very dry.

Zorzal broke out the '08 Climax Malbec, which recieved a 91-point score from a famous wine critic.  The 20 months in oak impart a smoky, earthy framework for all that dark fruit.

Blends

Atamisque '07 Assemblage blends Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 15 months in new French oak makes this an unusual effort for Argentina, and it spent two years in the bottle. It's got rich flavor and is extremely dry with great grip.

Familia Schroeder's blend of Pinot Noir and Malbec was an experience.  I thought I'd love it, but I didn't.  My pourer suggested that maybe the "Burgundians and the Bordeaux don't get along so well," but the other Malbecs from this producer hit me the wrong way, too.  A rather pungent smell and taste of plastic, or band aids, was present in all their Malbecs I tried.

Caligiore poured their '10 Staccato blend of 60% Malbec and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine sees no oak.  Its nose is like fresh cherries with a taste that's bright and dry.

Clos de los Siete poured two fantastic blends.  The '08 namesake wine is a combination of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot.  It has a great nose. and a luscious mouthfeel.  The '07 Diamandes is a 70/30 blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  80-year-old vines produce an extremely dark and extremely dry wine that definitely muscles up.  Tons of minerals in this one really deliver the complexity.

Sophenia's '07 Synthesis Blend has 40% Malbec, 35% Cab and 25% Merlot.  A rich smoky nose leads to minerals and earth on the palate.  It spends 14 months in French oak.

The '08 Henry Lagarde Guarda Blend mixes Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Syrah in a spicy and fruity treat that sells for $50 or so.

Urraca brought some '07 Familia Langley Reserva, a blend of 50% Malbec, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Dark fruit and a beefy aroma fill up the nose, while the palate is dark and mouth-puckering.

Zorzal's '09 Cabernet-Malbec Reserve is 60% Malbec.  Twelve months in oak, but I would not have guessed it.  The nose is so fresh and ripe and red.  Big minerals on the palate and a dry finish.

White Wines

I've had the Alamos Malbec a number of times in Los Angeles restaurants and I like it.  I tried their Chardonnay and Torrontes this time.  The '09 Chardonnay shows a nose that strikes me as fairly oaky for a wine that only had six months in French and American barrels.  The palate, surprisingly, doesn't show much oak.  Minerals and fruit play evenly.  The Alamos '09 Torrontes smells of honeysuckle and grapefruit with a sweetness right up front on the palate and nice acidity.

Atamisque's '09 Cantalpa Chardonnay is unoaked, has a light nose and a rich taste with really great acidity.

Familia Zuccardi has a Torrontes - '09 Serie A Salta - which smells and tastes very much like Champagne!

Sophenia is located in Tupungato, 4,000 feet up in the Andes Mountains.  Their '09 Synthesis Sauvignon Blanc has a grassy, herbal nose and a big grapefruit taste.

De Los Clop's '10 Chardonnay is all steel, all Chardonnay with malolactic fermentation.  There's a hefty load of minerals with good acidity in this austere wine.

Luigi Bosca's '09 Finca La Linda Torrontes shows a floral nose with a layer of sweetness, like honey.  I taste grapefruit notes with tropical and floral elements.

Santa Ana '09 Eco Torrontes, made with organic grapes, is 100% Torrontes.  It's quite floral with good acidity and honeysuckle and tropical flavor profile.

Tapiz poured a Torrontes that's very fruity and has a huge honeysuckle element on the nose and palate.

Trapiche is Argentina's biggest producer, and I'm well versed on their Torrontes, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon because they are served at a restaurant I frequent.  This my first opportunity to try the Trapiche Extra Brut, and interesting sparkler which is 60% Chardonnay, 30% Semillon and 10% Malbec!  There's a slight funk on the nose - just right - and a toasty twist of citrus on the palate.

Urraca poured the Chardonnay I had tasted at a Los Angeles wine store tasting a few weeks earlier.  Still smells and tastes like Champagne without the bubbles.  Amazing Chardonnay.

Other Varieties

Caligiore's winemaker, Gustavo Caligiore, told me that the Bonarda grape is the second most planted grape in Argentina.  Only 20% of his '09 Caligiore Bonarda sees oak and the fruit is from 40-year-old vines on his family's estate.  It's very fruity with lip-smacking acidity.

Familia Schroeder poured two Pinot Noirs.  The '07 Saurus has a lovely rose petal nose - which reminded me of a white wine - and bright strawberries on the palate.  The '07 Saurus Patagonia Select also has a lovely nose with cherry and strawberry on the palate and a nice acidity.

Luigi Bosca '08 Reserva Pinot Noir has rose petal on the nose with raspberry and beef on the palate.  It's very earthy with a good finish and nice acidity.  Eight months in oak.

Zolo Bonarda is dark and earthy on the nose with more of same on the palate.  Dry and a bit grippy.  Recommended with barbecue.

Rosé

Atamisque poured an '09 Malbec rose that shows a rich color and a beautiful cherry and strawberry taste.  It is quite dry and has good acidity.

Caligiore has an organic Malbec rose, the '09 Pianissimo.  It lives up to its name with a lovely and delicate texture.  The color is rich and the taste is laden with strawberry and melon.

Familia Schroeder, of Patagonia, brought a rose sparkling wine.  The Rosa de los Vientos is 100% Pinot Noir and is as delightfully full of minerals as it is of bubbles.

De Los Clop's rosé is 100% Malbec with a gigantic strawberry nose and cherry and strawberry fruit to taste.  Beautiful.


Seeking Representation

A number of wineries at the show were looking for U.S. representation, among them:

Orfila (Martin Tamburelli at info@orfila.com.ar)
Cielo Y Tierra (Ignacio Velasco at cieloytierrasa@yahoo.com.ar)
Don Cristobal (Cristobal Lapania at exportaciones@doncristobal.com.ar)
Don Manuel Villafane (Luis Suriana at ls@dmvwines.com)
Eclipse (Jose Saravia-Brun at jsaravia@bodegaeclipse.com)
Finca Quara (Ricardo Puebla at rpuebla@lavaque.com)
De Los Clop (Sebastian Sicilia at info@bodegadelosclop.com)
Los Toneles (Cristian Williams at cristian@bodegalostoneles.com)
Poesia (Adriana Montenegro at poesia@uolsinectis.com.ar)
Quattrocchi (Debora Franco Quattrocchi at info@bodegaquattrocchi.com.ar)
Tierras Altas (Juan Pablo Rodriguez Reta at juanpablo@vargasarizu.com)