Achaval-Ferrer – wines of distinction from Argentina

When you think of a classic wine from Argentina, you probably think of Malbec.  But would you also think of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and yes – even Merlot?  What exactly is Cabernet’s role in Argentina anyway?

Enter the upstart minds of Achaval-Ferrer.  In 1995, the first twinkle in the eyes of the winery partners appeared, with their minds set to the gestalt of creating the best wines possible.  In 1998, the first property was purchased, Diamonte Vineyard and the winery was founded.

So, last month on #winestudio, we explored the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, from Malbec to Cab Franc, and what a journey it was!  Wine Studio is an ongoing educational project that seeks to bring writers, wineries, and consumers together on Tuesday evenings on Twitter. For the month of April, we explored the wines of Achaval-Ferrer.  My favorites of this series are outlined below.

One Tuesday in April, which happened to be #worldmalbecday, we tasted two wines blind.  Naturally we knew that they were 100%, or at least, significantly, malbec based, but what no one anticipated was that we were actually tasting two vintages of the same wine, with very different results.

These wines were the 2012 & 2013 Quimera, named for the top of the line blend that is made, lke all good wine, in the vineyard.  More than simply the sum of it’s parts, the blend varies ever so slightly every year but is always predominately Malbec.  To showcase the other varietals that Achaval-Ferrer focuses on, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon is blended in.

2012 Quimera

Earthy forest floor erupting n eucalyptus and menthol.  Tobacco and dark chocolate mingling with blueberry and blackberry, with old fashioned black licorice on the finish. Astute and developed but can be cellared for years to come.   $30

 

2013 Quimera (pre-release)

Bursting with fruit, classic Malbec.  Fresh plums, baking spice, hint of dried lavender and herbs de Provence.

What we didn’t know at the time of tasting s that this was the same wine, same blend, but with vintage variation.  According to the winemakers, 2013 was actually a clear year at the site, however, the fruit was showing more, undoubtedly due to it youth.

So what is the point?  The point is that wine is a living thing; wine changes in the bottle, but it changes in the vineyard.  The same wine can be impacted by climate, localized weather, harvest conditions and so much more.

Also, there is more to Argentina than fruit bomb Malbecs.  While they are fun, and great for a party, there is more and more of a Bordeaux influence creeping in; this is natural given the origins of Malbec in Cahors (just south of Bordeaux) and it’s use in many Bordeaux blends.  Stylistically, Malbec from France is quite different, but as time goes on and Argentinian wine grows up, you can see the development of these restrained and austere styles.

So go out and taste some Argentinian blends!  They are relatively inexpensive, and while not cheap (compared to many mass marketed Malbecs) and can offer an eye opening look at what Argentina can produce

Achaval-Ferrer also makes a stunning Cabernet Franc which we also tasted and I highly reccomend!

 

 

Location, Location, Location

Winemaker Dave Phinney has a 20 year history in the wine industry, when he was first inspired by a semester abroad in Italy.  Introduced to wine culture on this trip, he started working for Robert Mondavi in 1997.  Being an industrious young wine enthusiast, he began making his own wine n 1998, with a few tons of California’s heritage grape:  Zinfandel.

Over the next 10 years, Phinney continued to make his own wine, as well as developing several wine brands.  Today, his international travels and wine knowledge led him to create Locations Wine, which represents his in creating wines that best represent the regions, while making wine less complicated, and aren’t restricted by local appellation rules and regulatio.  This allows freedom of expression that can sometimes be stymied by the local laws.

Locations Wines come from Spain, France, Argentina, Portugal and Italy, as well as a diverse American portfolio that are all unique.  Free to completely express the wines of these regions, Phinney’s wines break all the rules but yield delicious results that are simple, yet complex, and fun.

 locafrFirst up, Locations Wine F4 – France .  With an $18 price point, this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Bordeaux varietals is soft and supple with leather notes, tobacco leave and Herbs de Provence while ending with a savory herbal finish.

 

 

 

 

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Next, E4 – Spanish Red Wine is a blend of Grenache/Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Carignan/Cariñena.  This grippy Spanish beast evokes the classic tables wines of Spain, with dried figs, cracked pepper and espresso.  Dark and silky, the dark purple fruit surrounds you like a warm blanket.

 

 

 

Locations_AR.PR_-2My favorite of these three was by far the Locations Wine AR5 – Argentinian Red Wine.  This supple belnd of the classic Argentine Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is deeply concentrated.  Hailing from the Uco Valley, southwest of Mendoza, the 3,000 foot elevation adds a gritty yet pleasing mineralality and complexity to this wine.  The now commonplace blending grape of Cab, adds dimension and complexity to the sometimes overpowering boldness of the Malbec.  Inky and unctuous, boysenberries and chocolate leap out  the glass and make me smile.

All Locations Wines are priced ~$18, making them an easy sell for Tuesday night, as well as a backyard barbeque.  With the freedom to experiment, Phinney takes his Orin Swift baseline and explodes on the scene with these new and inventive wines.

Stay tuned for more from Locations Wine, including wines from CA, OR and WA.

Special thanks to Balzac Communications for introducing me to these interesting wines!

 

 

 

Trick…or…Treat!

It isn’t often that I come across a winery that creates wines that are a screaming value, but also delicious, and also actually cares about farming practices and winery employees.  For that reason, this Halloween treat is one that you should investigate yourselves!

I’m happy to say, at a recent dinner, I was able to explore the wines, and values of one such winery in Mendoza, Argentina – Santa Julia.  Santa Julia is one label a party of the much larger Familia Zuccardi operation, one of the largest family owned operations in Argentina.  For over over 40 years, the family has produced wines here.  The Santa Julia wines are handcrafted from estate fruit, and the quality shows.

This time, I was able to taste a wide variety of the Santa Julia line, from Chardonnay (someone what unexpected) to Malbec, the traditionally Argentinian signature wine.  Several of the wines were Santa Julia [+] wines, a new label that seeks to spotlight the family’s quest for environmentally sustainable wines, as well as a value wine of distinction.  The four pillars of sustainability for Stan Julia are based on people, the vineyards, wise energy use, and respect for teh environment.

The commitment to sustainability stands out to me, as I know the challenges winery owners in this state face, trying to employee vineyard workers, and still make a profit.  Satna Juila and the Zuccardi family has resolved this issue but adding agriculture to their line of business, which allow them to employ workers year round; not to mention produce olive oil and peaches to boot!  They also offer housing, eduction, health care and training, ensureing that employees are taken care of, and committed to the family company.

And now tot he wines!  The first thing that struck me was the value.  No wine was priced over $13, but you would not know it by the quality.  Santa Julia wines are made to be fresh, and young, and offer refreshingly and easy drinking wines.

Starting with the Brut Rose, made of 100% pinot noir, this refreshing sparkling wine is a fantastically affordable alternative to domestic and other sparkling wines.  It is fresh, with a hint of strawberries and melon that dance on your tongue.  MUST BUY

The 2011 Chardonnay Organica (remember they are on the opposite harvest schedule so this was made from grapes harvested this spring) is fresh and lively.  With no oak, it screams Meyer lemon and citrus and was beautifully tropical without being overly done.  This is a great summer sipping wine, and for someone like me, that rarely enjoys chard unless it’s called white burgundy, this was a MUST BUY.

Ahh Torrontes!  I adore Torrontes.  The flagship white wine of Argentina, it is a great alternative to Chard or Sav Blanc and offers some nice body.  The 2011 Santa Julia [+] Torrontes has fresh honeysuckle and floral notes, a with stone fruit and citrus  flavors.  A great white!  For $10, you have no excuse for not seeking this out.

My favorite red of the evening was the [+] Malbec.  I love a good malbec!  It’s tricky to make this dense and chewy red wine right, but the 2101 hit the spot with my beef rib.  A blend of grapes from several vineyard sources, it had rich ripe black berry and cherry, covered in a dusting of cracked peppercorn and bittersweet chocolate.  A hint of coffee was lingering on the finish.  This full bodied but not big wine is perfect for a hamburger or steak.  Again, at $10, go out and find this!

Finishing up with an Argentinian Neopolitan – dulce de leche between layers of puff pastry (which, had I not been stuffed, I would have asked for thirds of) we had a late harvest Torrontes that was turely amazing.  85% Torrontes and 15% Viognier, it is not a syrupy thick dessert wine, but rather a fresh and light wine with intenser stone fruit flavors and richness.  This is the perfect Thanksgiving Dessert wine, and you can’t go wrong at $13.

All in all, Santa Julia is a great value, with great values.  They are nationally distributed and can be found in your favorite local wine shop (or search online).  You can’t beat the price, and I hope you’ll find out for yourself!

Hapy sipping!