Argentina – Land of Polo, Beautiful People, and Gorgeous Wine
Although all subjects are interesting in their own right, let’s focus on the last one for now. You may recall my last column focused on the “Economics of Wine” and the fact Argentina’s economy and wine-growing conditions gives it a decided lead on wine values today. I promised you list of excellent Argentine wines to grace your palate and this column fulfils that promise.
So, let’s go way down South – way South and taste some amazing wines at incredible values.
Tasting and Serving Hints
All of the reds recommended are ready to drink now, but are worthy of cellaring. You will likely begin tasting maturation of the wine after as little as six months. Decant the Cabernet Sauvigon and Malbec to enjoy the full texture and richness of these wines. Don’t have a decanter? Just use a clean vase or pitcher – any glass vessel that is larger at the bottom (giving the wine more surface air) than the top will do. For fun, try a bit just out of the bottle, then again after about 30 minutes of decanting – big difference.
Argentine Value Picks
2005 Alamos $10
The Catena family is like wine royalty in Mendoza. That is, if royalty were hard-working, tirelessly inventive, passionate, incredibly brilliant, and ceaselessly gracious. Headed by Dr Nicolas Catena (a PhD Economist) and his daughter Dr Laura Catena (emergency room physician with degrees from Harvard and Stanford), this brain trust has invested an incredible amount of money, talent and research into their winery. The results are world-class wines that belie their price tags. A perfect example of where this investment in quality has paid off is the Alamos range of wines. Alamos is Catena’s “house” wine with grapes sourced from younger vineyards. Like more expensive wines, the Alamos vineyards are at high altitudes and all fruit is hand-harvested. This Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon represents an amazing wine at a terrific value.
The first impression you will have about this wine is its very dark, inky ruby hue. If you are more familiar with California Cabernet Sauvignons, this rich color will throw you for a loop. Most young California Cabs simply can’t reach this depth of color. In the mouth this wine is full of very ripe blackberry with a touch of spice and oak. Decant the wine for a few hours and the textures and flavors intensify. Set the wine back for a few years and the textures and flavors will mature gracefully. Hard to believe this is a ten-dollar bottle of wine.
2003 Zuccardi Q - $20
Another family-run winery – becoming a rarity in the United States, but refreshingly de rigeur in Argentina. Zuccardi is an innovator in the market; from striving to perfect vinification techniques through their experimental winery to their unique parral growing system, which trains vines to create a canopy in the vineyards. The Zuccardi Q line of wines are made from the family’s top vineyards and matured in French and American Oak for 12-14 month and made only in exceptional years. The Tempranillo grape is more commonly found in Spain in the popular Rioja wines. I think it is a woefully overlooked grape with amazing potential. It is as elegant as a well rounded Bordeaux, has great ageing potential, gorgeous color and costs a fraction of Cabernet Sauvignons equal in its quality. This one has lusty but round tannins, vanilla and spice, and intense red berry. Surprise yourself on this one.
2004 Felipe Rutini - $14
Argentina has elevated the Malbec grape to a varietal that is as closely associated with Argentina as Shiraz is to Australia. Once a blending grape in French Bordeaux, the vines all but disappeared in France during the phyloxera epidemic over a century ago. Lucky for Argentina, a few forward thinking French immigrants brought some vines over to Argentina and began planting them in Mendoza. Years of careful grooming and harvesting of this grape has resulted in Malbec wine that has finesse, character, and structure. Four generations of the Rutini have been perfecting Malbec since 1885 – and this solid wine encompasses that wine-making expertise. Taste cacao, spice, dark cherry, and a hint of tobacco in this robust wine.
2006 Santa Julia - $8
Familia Zuccardi Vineyards
Zucccardi’s Santa Julia family of wines is their “house” wine, a well-made quality wine with a very pleasing price tag. This Torrontes is a very fragrant wine – take a deep whiff of its nose. It has lovely floral notes, the taste is rich in pear and honeysuckle. Grab this one before you reach for a boring Pinot Grigio. You’ll be glad you did.
2005 Catena - $18
I appreciate this Chardonnay because it is not over-laden with Oak and has a surprisingly fresh minerality to it. Typical Chardonnay notes of vanilla and pear are complemented by a touch of fig. The finish knocked me out – it was so long and elegant I lingered in satisfied enjoyment before raising my glass for a second sip. This wine really needs some food to stand up to its complexity.
Next feature we’ll cross the Andes into Chile and enjoy some fabulous bargains in that country.
| Photo- Dr Nicolas Catena and daughter Dr Laura Catena|
| Photo-The Catena Vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina|
| On Horseback in the Zuccardi Vineyards – |
The Vino Vixen is Mari Stull - Founder of Club BV*, former Vice President of Virtual Wine Selector, and member of the Society of Wine Educators. Have a wine question or comment for Mari? She can be reached at VinoVixen@vinovixen.org.