Don’t cry for me Argentina!
The truth is, your wine is AMAZING! I have been drinking this or that from Argentina for several years, since it’s a great value, but I must admit, I didn’t love it. That is, until the good folks at Benson Marketing and VineConnections put together a blogger tasting to introduce us to their selections from the Mendoza and surrounding areas. yum!
First, a bit about Argentina in general. Argentina is the world’s 5th largest wine producing country. When you compare that to France, Italy, Australia, and the U.S., considering the size of the country, that’s a lot of juice! There are many varieties that are produced, but the most well known is probably Malbec. The primary growing region of Mendoza has four sub-appellations: Lujan du Cuyo; Maipu; Uco Valley; and Eastern Mendoza. While there is very little natural rainfall, most of the vineyards are between 2000 and 4700′ in elevation, and there is natural drainage from the snows off the Andes above. I was excited to taste some Argentinian wine that I wasn’t guessing blind at, since most of my prior experiences had been mediocre mass market options form Cost Plus and Costco.
The first wine we tasted was the Celestina Rose of Malbec, a sparkler that was a surprising treat. I have tasting Sparkling Shiraz before, and was happily surprised at the interesting flavors, but the Malbec was amazing. This was 100% Malbec, and the low 12.8% ABV was a nice reminder that not all wine needs to be over the top and punchy. Since Argentinians in general drink a lot of bubbles, something like 35 liters per person per year. This wine was a blood rose color, with a yeasty nose and flavors of hibiscus, pink grapefruit and wild strawberry. It is bottle fermented and aged for 14 months in the bottle, and retails for a low low price of $20. Buy
Next, we moved on to the Crios Torrontes. I found jasmine, honeysuckle, honey and wildflowers in this white which reminded me of Muscat. It was interesting as it was the only wine that wasn’t from Mendoza, but I loved it. It had a ton of tropical fruit, musk melon, and a lovely perfumey nose. At $15, it’s a great white for any occasion,especially seafood and salads. I would love to have this with a nice fruit salad, or even a green salad with a citrus dressing. Strong Buy
From the whites, we moved in to the red wines of Mendoza. Malbec is Argentina’s signature red wine grape and one of the Bordeaux grape varieties. Malbec was brought to Argentina by the French in the mid 186s, where it found a new home in Mendoza and thrived in the long growing seasons. Since Mendoza gets over 300 sunshine days a year, the grape took off. An interesting point about Argentinian Malbec is that there are now 22 distinct clones, which they plant on their own rootstock. Most wine in Argentina was produced for domestic consumption but as the 90 liter per capita consumption decreased, exports increased. Now, it’s trendy to have your second or third houses in Argentina. The passion for winemaking has continued to grtow with teh native winemakers, and these wines are terriffic examnples. In Argentina, large hailstones destroy up to 13% of the grape harvest every year. Because of this, and small plots of land, grower designated wines are newly developed here. It is a risky adventure with such hailstorms, since 15% of your crop could be wiped out. That said, high risk, high reward. There are now more and more grower labeled wines (we would call them vineyard designate) appearing.
The 2007 Cocina Blend is literally “The Kitchen Blend”, almost everything but the kitchen sink in theory. This was my favorite of the reds, and with 60% malbec, 20$ Bondara, and 20% Syrah, there was a little bit for everyone. Bonarda what Argentina calls Charbano, and it add a nice dark back bone. Run out and buy this wine right now! It was dark and inky, with lots of pepper and spice, with a fig and plum finish touched with smoke. There were lots of blackberries, vanilla, and a chewy structure. It had a kiss of oak and vanilla, after being aged in 20% new Oak (70% French, 30% American) for 10 months. This wine also retails for $15, or less. Seriously, run out and buy it right now! This is a steal.
Next up we have the Pizzella Family Malbec. This is from the same winery as the Cocina Blend, is was also a favorite. I found smoked meat and pepper, with cherrires and bittersweet chocolate followed by blueberry. It was a juicy 100% Malbec, aged for 10 months in 100% French Oak (20% new, 80% old). The Pizzella family Vineyard is located at 3050 feet, and is closer to the mountains where it is generally cooler. This wine retails at $18, and is also a buy.
The last of my favorites of this tasting was the Mendel Unus. This is a premier belnd of 70% Malbec and 30% Cab Sav. This blend had dark cherry, plums, blackberry and dark blue fruit with a slightly vegetal note showing through. I tasted rich earth, chocolate, bright berry, and vanilla in this sikly blend. at $50 it was not an everyday treat like the others, but it was worth splurging on.
All in all, I will definitely be exploring Argentina more. There are plenty of affordable and delicious options out there. If you are seeking out these wines in the Bay Area, look for them at the Jug Shop, K&L, and the Wine Club. Try to find wines that are not mass produced. The cost of producing these gems in Argentina is much less than in the States, or even France, so don’t be afraid to experiment. At $15 average, you can try many different wines. Find a producer you like and go have fun! Another tip that the Vine Connections people taught me is know your importers. If you find an importer you like and trust, the odds are that you can purchase another wine from them and be reasonable happy.
Go forth adn wine-ducate!