Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tasting Argentine Wine


Tasting Argentina - Game of Grapes - was another great presentation from Learn About Wine.  Ian Blackburn’s group puts on the premier wine events in Southern California, and this one, on October 25, 2012, brought wines from South America to the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

There are a number of aspects about the wine industry in Argentina which I find fascinating.  The speed at which the country turned the quality of their wine around 180 degrees was phenomenal.  Their branding of Malbec and Torrontes as "national grapes" has expanded to a global stage.  The limited use of oak in many of their wines would be cutting-edge if it weren't often due simply to the high cost of barrels.

There's a lot about Argentine wine to capture any wine lover's fancy.  Here are a few questions I found myself wondering about after Tasting Argentina.  Prices listed are suggested retail.

What's Up With Argentine Chardonnay?

Chardonnay produced in Argentina can taste wildly different from Californian or French styles, sometimes taking on a characteristic that leaves me wondering if it was, in fact, Chardonnay at all.

Urraca Chardonnay 2009 Mendoza - Organic and aged only 6 months in oak.  It’s unusual for an Argentine white to have any oak at all.  Dark and earthy, this wine has smoke to burn.  I tasted the 2008 vintage a couple of years ago, and it carried a nose like Champagne.  The '09 is so dark and smokey it might fool a lot of tasters into thinking it's something other than Chardonnay.  Extremely intriguing.

Secreto Patagónico Chardonnay 2011 Patagonia - The smokey, mineral-driven palate surprises, since the wine is unoaked.

Telteca Robles Chardonnay 2011 Maipú Mendoza - Beautiful fruit and just a hint of oak. $13

Telteca Anta Chardonnay/Viognier 2011 Maipú Mendoza - A half and half blend of the two grapes, and half of the Chardonay is barrel aged for six months.  Aromatic nose, great oak effect. $18

Why Doesn't Argentina Just Do Away With Oak Altogether?

Many Argentine red wines are treated with minimal - sometimes a complete lack of - oak.  I have been told many small family wineries can't afford barrels for all their varieties, so they save the wood for aging their Malbec.  But even larger production facilities in Argentina will go a little easier on the oak that we might expect in California.  I love this tendency, as the fruit can taste so much brighter and fresher with minimal or no oak effect.  That isn't always the case, though, with unoaked reds in Argentina.

Costaflores MTB Malbec/Petit Verdot Mendoza - Organic, unoaked, single vineyard, earthy minerals, dark fruit. $22  (Check out winemaker Mike Barrow’s underwater wine tasting.)


Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Barrancas, Maipú District, Mendoza - Only 8 months in oak, earthy notes rule.  $13

Michel Torino Don David Finca La Maravilla #6 Malbec 2010 Salta - A single plot in a single vineyard.  Unoaked, but dark and mineral-driven.  $20

Secreto Patagónico Pinot Noir 2011 Patagonia - Unoaked, showing earthy minerals and a raspberry candy note.

Secreto Patagónico Malbec 2011 Patagonia - No oak and bright red fruit.  Earthy, fresh and lively.

Secreto Patagónico Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Patagonia - Unoaked, with big bright fruit.  Secreto is seeking an importer, by the way.

Argentine Malbec

When Argentine wines are poured, Malbec is the star of the show.  The Bordeaux castoff has found a comfy home in Argentina, like many other human wine transplants from Europe.  Malbec is the pride of the Argentine wine world, and its leading exported variety.

Achavel Ferrer Malbec Mendoza 2011  Luján de Cuyo, Uco Valley - Lean and earthy, aged in oak nine months.  $25

Uma Coleccion Malbec 2011 Maipú Mendoza - Very smooth, with beautiful fruit and minerals.  Only three months in oak.  $10

Telteca Roble Malbec 2009 Maipú Mendoza - Minerals galore, only six months in oak.  $13

Pascual Toso Malbec Estate 2011 Mendoza - Dark fruit and a very earthy undercurrent.  $13

Dante Robino Gran Dante Malbec 2009 Mendoza - Smokey, earthy, spicy, great grip.  $39

Muñoz De Toro Valle Perdido Patagonia Malbec 2010 Neuquén Patagonia - Extremely dark, huge smoke and earth.  Nine months oak.  $12

Solsticio Malbec Rosé 2011 Uco Valley - The winemaker was throwing away the juice from the bleed off of Malbec production when somebody said, "Hold on a minute! Lets do a rosé!"  Great acidity.

Why isn't Bonarda The National Grape of Argentina?

Not to knock Malbec, but Argentina has another red wine grape that, for my money, is more flavorful and more interesting.  Bonarda is spicy, complex and loaded with character.  The examples on display at this event offered candy-coated complexity and fresh, fruity palates.

Algodon Bonarda 2010 San Rafael, Mendoza - Gorgeous red fruit with minerals, smoke and spice.  Organic.  $21

Dante Robino Bonarda 2010 Mendoza - Spicy raspberry, fresh and bright.  $13

Muñoz De Toro Terra Sacra Reserve Bonarda 2009 La Rioja, Andes Argentina - Beautiful spice and candy notes.  14 months oak.

Ricardo Santos Tercos Bonarda 2009 Mendoza - Beautiful, lean, red fruit.  $13

Don't Forget Torrontés

I was told that Torrontés from the northern part of Argentina had the best aromatics, but that was from someone who was pouring Torrontés from the northern part of Argentina.  I noticed plenty of aromatics in wines from the south as well.

Pascual Toso Torrontés 2010 Barrancas, Maipú District - Beautiful honeysuckle nose, fruity palate and an abundance of minerals.  $13

Uma Coleccion Torrontés 2011 Maipú Mendoza - Huge floral and fruit on the nose and palate.  $10

Familia Schroeder Deseado 2012 Patagonia - Torrontés, sweet with great acidity.  Pair with blue cheese.  $15

Michel Torino Don David Torrontés 2012 Salta - All about the minerals.  High elevation vineyards, three months oak.  $17

Muñoz De Toro 100 x 100 Argentina Vineyard Selection Torrontés 2012 La Rioja - Floral with a green element.  Nice citrus.  Strong finish

Recuerdo Torrontés 2011 Valle de Famatina, La Rioja - High elevation, sandy clay soil.  Sweet floral nose, mineral driven palate.  Only their second vintage.

Ricardo Santos Tercos Torrontés 2011 Salta - Honeysuckle and grapefruit bouquet, with flavors of flowers, nuts and citrus.  $13

Solsticio Torrontés 2011 La Rioja - Honeysuckle nose, mineral-driven, citrus palate.

Other notables

There are many other types of wine in Argentina, of course.  Italian varieties get some vineyard space, and the Patagonia region in southernmost part of the country is coming out with some intense Pinot Noir, although the region's overall quality is still rather varied.

Saurus Barrel Fermented Pinot Noir 2009 Patagonia - Candy and earth.  $25

Familia Schroeder Pinot Noir / Malbec 2007 Patagonia - Earthy, yet bright.  $60

Graffigna Centenario Reserve Pinot Grigio 2011 San Juan - Minerals and peaches.  $13

Michel Torino Cuma Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Salta - Really smokey, campfire aromas.  Six months in oak.

Muñoz De Toro Pampas Estate Barbera/Merlot 2011 Pampas Buenos Aires - Smokey and supple, with a cherry explosion.  50%Barbera, 50% Merlot.  Hard to believe only 3 months in oak.

Ricardo Santos Dry Semillon 2011 Mendoza - Honey and grapefruit.  $16


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