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!




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!



Getting in to the Spirit

Espiritu de Argentina
was launched in 2008, as a partnership with Monte Real Winery and Espiritu de Chile.  During the week that the Wines of Argentina tour hit San Francisco, we were invited to taste these new wines at Destino, a modern South American restaurant here in town.

Each course was made to pair with these wines, and while there weren’t always the best match in my opinion, they were certainly inspired dishes and I can’t wait to go back to Destino to try more of Chef James Schenk’s talented cooking.

After a starter of Chandon Sparkling Pinot Noir, we moved in to the restaurant for some Rose of Malbec.  this little baby snuck it’s way on the place, and wasn’t on our official tasting list but i found honey, tangerines, and slightly sweetened strawberry soda.  This malbec is picked early in the morning in April – remember, they are on an opposite schedule int he southern hemisphere – and has about 2 hours of skin contact.  It is then tank fermented.  It was an interesting start to the evening, but I admit, not my favorite.

The 2008 Classic Torrontés is from the Los Campamentos district of Mendoza, which has a temperate climate.  Torrontés is a truly Argentinian grape, and it’s widely thought to be a descendant of Muscat of Alexandria.  Additional research has shown that it is related to the Malvasian grape, which is used to make Maderia.  It arrived with Day Boat scallops, with jasmine oil and a little kick at the end.  Torrontés is one of my favorite “other” white wines.  This had a nose of lemons, spice, orange zest and nutmeg.  On the palate, I found lychee, tropical fruit and melons with creamy pineapple and banana, with a spicy finish.  It was quite aromatic and just lovely.  As I’ve said before for a few great values, RUN OUT AND BUY THIS WINE as soon as you can find it!  Don’t wait, do it NOW!   This wine is actually harvested twice, once in February, and again in March.  this allows the floral flavors to combine with the tropical notes, resulting in this flavor extravaganza.

The 2008 Classic Chardnonay from the Tupungato and Medrano regions of Mendoza, was served with a Roasted Apple Quinoa salad.  It smelled like spiced pears and apple pie, adn tasted of mince meat and vanilla custard.  I thought it was a bit flabby, and I didn’t like it.  I’d give it an AVOID but if you’re interested in trying a different wine, for $10, it’s a good experiment.

Next, we had a 2007 Classic Shiraz with a spicy Chicken Chorizo.  Why Shiraz you say?  Mostly because it’s a southern hemisphere naming convention, but yes this is a syrah.  This smelled of smoked meat and black pepper, and had cherries, figs, and plums on the palate.  Shiraz is best produced in the dry desert regions of Argentina, where there is less than 120mm of rain a year.  The geography in these regions is unique, since it’s a high desert surrounded by mountains where the snow and meltwater is trapped in the basins.  The soil is poor and sandy, and the yield is low, which is perfect for Shiraz.  With the ch0rizo, the fruit and spice really came out to play, and I loved this wine.  this is a winner in a value Shiraz, and beats some of those down under critter brands to DEATH for $10.  STRONG BUY

With the bacon pork belly that came out following the sausage, we had a 2007 Classic Bonarda.  What the heck is Bonarda?  Well I’m glad you asked.  I learned this at the Vine Connections tasting I had attended earlier thsi year.  in this case, Bonarda is the same as Charbono, which is sometimes but rarely grown in California.  It may or may not be french but who really knows.  This wine was smokey, gamey, and had a lot of blackberry fruit.  It was a dense wine and was delicious with the pork belly, as was the shiraz.  BUY

At this point, I was stuffed but we moved on to the Ox-Tail Empanada with the 2007 Classic Malbec from Mendoza.  a quintessentially Argentinian grape.  It’s one of the classic six Bordeaux varietals, but the Argentines have been doing single varietal bottlings for years.  I’ve often thought that I just didn’t like Malbec, until I stopped drinking the overoaked, cheap plonk that you can often find.  This malbec was delightful with smoky fruit, meat, figs and frunes flavors.  It was aged for a year in French oak, and it has just enough of the oak so as to be not overpowering but well balanced and delicious.

Finally, we had the 2006 Reserva Malbec with Grilled Swordfish.  Now I can tell you I liked this wine, but I can’t remember why.  I just know it was good.  I also know that when the container finally gets here, I will be buying some more so I can taste it again!

All of the Classic designate wines are $10, and the Reserva is $15.  I am very excited for these wines to be released, and they are a great value for your cellar.  They are intended to be drunk, and not stored, and will make even the most miserly wallet open up to enjoy a bottle!

Thanks to everyone for making this evening fun, full of food, and full bodied.  The values of Espiritu de Argentina are extreme and the quality is equal to some much more expensive wines.  I look forward to trying the Chilean wines in the future, and more value offerings from this fantastic partnership.

Wines and dinner provided by Espiritu de Argentina, Cecchetti Rake, and Balzac Communications.  Any trips to Argentina were purely wine induced and not real.