At the Drink Local Wine Conference recently held in Denver, there was discussion of whether the young Colorado wine industry would eventually develop a “signature grape” the way Argentina has with malbec for red and torrontés for white.
There was no consensus at the conference but it is a worthwhile conversation. The popularity of wine from Argentina with American consumers has been growing for a good decade now, largely due to its success with these two varieties of European origin that have adapted so well to Argentina’s terroir.
Malbec, a minor blending grape in Bordeaux (though important in Cahors) experiences some sort of alchemy in these high desert South American soils. Mendoza in the northern part of the country is the primary source, though other regions have gotten into the act successfully. Warm days and cool nights drape the alluvial soils of the high altitude vineyards in the shadows of the Andes Mountains, making an ideal home for the grape.
The synergy of these elements typically yields wine’s that are approachable, juicy and fruit-driven. With this profile and prices for most at $20 or less, Argentinean Malbec has captivated American consumers. Some even have reached levels on a par with top Bordeaux and Napa Valley wines but the action for most of us is in this value range. Below are several new releases (only one will set you back serious money) listed in order of preference but all are recommended.
Nicolas Catena arguably is the best-known and most highly regarded producer in Argentina. His family produces a number of topnotch wines under the name Bodega Catena Zapata. But the “Catena” estate series provides the most accessible wines and best values. The 2008 Catena ($22) is plush, with copious cherry and black fruit and spice notes. Immensely enjoyable now it will drink well for at least 5 years.
As Argentina’s potential become apparent, producers from major growing regions began to take notice, starting wineries and entering into joint ventures with local producers. One such collaboration took place in 1998 when Nicolas Catena and Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) created Bodegas Caro to produce a single wine, a blend of malbec and cabernet sauvignon. [The featured image for this post shows Caro's vineyards.] The wine has been acclaimed ever since its first vintage in 2000. The 2007 Caro ($50) is intense and complex, firm with good depth. With 60% Malbec and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, it offers mixed berries, brown spices and toasty notes in a firm yet refined texture.
Susana Balbo is widely considered one of Argentina’s best winemakers. Wine reviewers regularly declare her wines “best values.” The 2008 Suzanna Balbo “Signature” ($25) continues the streak. It begins with toasty oak and brown spices, then offers black cherry and raspberry, with excellent depth and a solid grip.
La Posta is a brand resulting from another collaboration with Argentinean growers and (in this case) an American partner, the importer Vine Connections. It focuses mostly on single vineyard wines from select growers. The 2009 “Pizzella Family Vineyard” ($17) is a fine value with earthy, forest-like notes complementing ripe black cherry fruit and mild tannins.
Terrazas de los Andes is a project of French luxury goods company Moet Hennessy. After renovating a 100 year-old winery, they released their first wine in 1995. The 2009 Reserva ($18) shows a lot of juicy fruit, with good depth and a touch of mineral and fairly strong tannins.
The 2009 La Posta “Angel Paulucci Vineyard” ($17) delivers interesting earthy and herbal aromas and tangy dark berry fruit with a touch of cola and a smooth texture.
The 2010 Aruma ($16) is a new, lower-priced wine from Bodegas Caro. All malbec, it has smoky, meaty and herbal aromas followed by sweet fruit and soft tannins.
Rutini Wines dates to 1885 when the Rutini family began growing grapes in Argentina. It is now owned partially by Nicolas Catena. The Trumpeter series is the winery’s value line. The 2010 Trumpeter ($11) shows straightforward plum and berries with a slight herbal note.