Notebook: Argentina

Highlights from recent tastings

Notebook: Argentina

Argentina is the rare winemaking country that breaks down its vineyard census in terms of red, white or pink grapes. They’re not referring to end use; the colour of the finished wine.

In this instance, pink grapes refers to criolla chica, the local name for the mission grape, which represents 22.4 percent of the vines planted in Mendoza. That’s more than the 15.4 percent of white varieties, led by chardonnay and torrontés riojano, which is considered the best of the three established clones of an aromatic variety that’s unique to Argentina. Not surprisingly red wine grapes, notably malbec, bonarda and cabernet sauvignon, dominate 62.2 percent of plantings.

When it comes to exporting wine, Argentina’s wineries lead with their strong suits. Malbec, cabernet sauvignon and torrontés are the varietally labelled wines you’re most likely to see. Widescale interest is increasing for chardonnay and white blends, while sommeliers and explorers clamour for cabernet franc, pinot noir and sémillon, each of which shows the potential of being the next little thing from Argentina.

After decades of shaping its identity solely on the letter M and the number 2 — malbec and Mendoza — Argentina’s wineries are sharing — and international consumers are embracing — the bigger picture of what’s happening across the width and breath of the country.

I've just tasted through a broad range of selections available to Ontario consumers via year-round listings at the LCBO and limited release selections coming through Vintages outlets in the coming weeks and months. My first impression? It must be said that there’s a strong assortment of red, white and rosé wines on offer, many of which offer incredible value for the price.

To my taste, the best value reds continue to be the cabernet sauvignons — not many places on earth offer classic cabernet character accented by judicious oak aging (typically in barrels, not more affordable oak alternatives such as staves or chips used in stainless steel vats) at this price. Cheap malbecs continue to be crowd-pleasing, but risk being interchangeable. In my view, it's better to invest a few dollars more and watch how the quality and distinctiveness soars.

Some other notes:
1) It was exciting to see the consistency across the range for the wineries that submitted different wines and labels for tasting. There was never a case of this producer is adept at this one variety or quality level but loses the plot when they move outside of that area of interest. Strong winemaking was the case across the board. Indeed, there wasn't  a single wine that doesn't merit consideration.

2) Outside of some of the affordable white and rosé selections, most bottles were sealed with natural corks. My corkscrew was never far from hand. The majority of producers in the mix use Diam closures, which are celebrated for their effectiveness for eliminating the issue of cork taint and promoting consistent aging in every bottle. It's nice to see that level of investment and meticulousness, especially for relatively inexpensive labels. For the record, none of the samples were corked.

3) Wines were supplied by Wines of Argentina, who hoped to draw attention to marketing campaigns taking place at Ontario liquor stores, including a spotlight release, Perfect Pairings for Argentine Asado at Vintages outlets August 8. Prices and CSPC numbers provided are for LCBO listings (as of the date of publishing, subject to change). Unless stated, products are available as of this post.

Red Wines
Alamos Malbec 2018 
Mendoza, Argentina
$14 (295139)
Full-bodied, fruity, smooth, soft, crowd-pleasing red with some spicy oak on the finish. Touch warm. 88/100

Alamos Selección Malbec 2016
Mendoza, Argentina
$17.95 (322800)
Rich and ripe style, juicy and full-bodied. Fragrant and blue fruit, really classic malbec character with obvious oak influence that adds to smoky character and long finish 89/100

Catena High Mountain Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Mendoza, Argentina
$19.95 (985002)
Big and bold, always reliable crowd-pleasing style. Freshness helps get the balance right. Serious concentration and smooth texture. Drink now to 2024. 89/100

Catena High Mountain Vines Malbec 2017
Mendoza, Argentina
$19.95 (478727)
Produced from 100-per-cent malbec grapes grown at three vineyards owned by the Catena family, this is a rich and ripe red wine that’s really marked by its aging in French oak. A mixture of chocolate and sweet oak-derived notes combine nicely with the concentrated black cherry flavours. The wine’s seamless, silky texture makes it easy to appreciate. Drink now to 2024. 90/100

El Enemigo Bonarda 2016
Mendoza, Argentina
$24.95 (15120)
Somewhat rustic, somewhat slick, this is ripe and robust red with plenty of oak derived character and some agreeable berry compete and roasted red pepper notes. Creamy texture and fine-grained tannins. 88/100

El Esteco 1947 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina
$24.95 (015082)
Nicely aromatic and structured cabernet, from old pergola-trained vineyard. Concrete fermentation and aging. Fresh nose suggesting spice, herbs and dark fruit (cassis, black currant). Balanced and complex with nice smooth texture. Age-worthy. Drink now to 2027. 93/100

El Esteco Malbec 2017 
Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina
$21.95 (113191)
This full-bodied red wine shows the concentration and character that comes from malbec grapes grown at high altitudes. Three years since harvest and this is still really fresh and youthful, with a core of dark fruit and smoky/earthy notes. Drink now to 2026. 91/100

Finca Sophenia Altosur Malbec Estate Bottled Gualtallary 2018
Mendoza, Argentina
$17 (13113)
Plush, soft and smooth texture, ripe core and fine-grained. Spicy and meaty complexity with generous dark fruit. Drink now to 2023. 88/100

Kaiken Selección Especial Malbec 2018
Mendoza, Argentina
$15.95 (58339)
Kirsh and dried fruit, smooth and rich, full-bodied red, ripe but lacking 87/100

Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2018
Mendoza, Argentina
$19.95 (50849)
Dec. 12 release | Bigger, bolder style, full-bodied and cocoa accented concentrated fruit, mix of blue and black fruit, with nice silky texture, freshness keeps things streamlined. 12 months French oak. 89/100

La Celia Malbec Cabernet Franc Reserva 2017
Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina 
$14.95 (618280)
The addition of cabernet franc makes this more medium bodied and streamlined, nice fragrant and purity of juicy fruit, simple but honest and enjoyable, with bright acidity and refreshing finish 88/100

La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Mendoza, Argentina
$16 (292110)
Appealing ripe and enjoyable cabernet, with plummy, berry and herbal aromas with cedar and spice from oak barrel aging and chalky tannins on the finish. Drink now to 2026. 90/100

La Mascota Malbec 2018 
Mendoza, Argentina
$16.95 (555805)
Single vineyard bottling, Cruz de Piedra, Maipu. Ripe and supple, berries and cherries, sweet spicy oak, fine tannins, refreshing finish. Complete Drink now to 2024 90/100

La Posta Armando Bonarda 2018
Mendoza, Argentina
$15.95 (261586)
Rich and flavourful red, with bold oak derived character. Similar house style to the La Posta Malbec, juicy and concentrated core behind all that smoke. 87/100

La Posta Pizzella Malbec 2018
Mendoza, Argentina
$16.95 (166298)
Juicy, ripe fruit, crowd-pleasing oak notes, drink now  88/100

Luigi Bosca Malbec Terroir Los Miradores 2017
Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
$34.95 (568899)
Impressive single vineyard malbec from Tunuyán in the Uco Valley, 3,773 feet above sea level, 14.7% abv that is balanced and cloaked. Bright and concentrated, with dark fruit, herbal and earthy accents, youthful tannins, smooth, polished texture, refreshing finish, youthful with potential to age to 2030 92/100

Masi Tupungato Organic Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2018
Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
$15 (620880)
Interesting, stewed fruit and grape notes, floral and herbal accents, touch bitter on finish, complex and long, but not for everyone 87/100

Salentein Reserve Malbec 2017
Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina 
$17.95 (640854)
August 22 release | Nice weight and style here, structure and decent intensity, more roasted and toasted in nature, less exuberant and intense than others, dry red with tobacco, dark (dried) fruit, graphite. Complex and serious. 89/100

Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2018
Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
$14.05 (429761)
More purple fruit, plummy, blueberry, dark chocolate and spice, some earthy elements and creamy texture, with balancing acidity. 88/100

Trapiche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Mendoza, Argentina
$12.95 (614669)
Serious and seriously enjoyable. Classic cabernet character here, juicy dark fruit and spice, with smooth texture and a refreshing finish. 88/100

Trapiche Gran Medalla Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Mendoza, Argentina
$26.95 (013608)
Ripe and rich style, with generous black and blue fruit, cedar and savoury notes. Smooth and persistent. Drink now to 2024. 90/100

Zaha El Corte Toko Vineyard 2016
Paraje Altamira, Mendoza, Argentina
$24.95 (629972)
August 22 release | Ripe and concentrated red, single-vineyard co-fermented blend of 70% Malbec and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Smooth, rich and full-bodied, with dark fruit, herbal and floral notes. Drink now to 2026. 91/100

White and Rosés
Argento Selección Pinot Grigio 2019
$11.50 (620492)
Dry. Honey, flowers and peach, melon and pear, simple, fruity, enjoyable. Drink now. 87/100

Doña Paula Los Cardos Sauvignon Blanc 2019
Mendoza, Argentina
$11.95 (11943)
Attractive tropical fruit, some pepper and sage notes. Fresh and zesty, simple. Drink now. 87/100

El Enemigo Chardonnay 2017 
Mendoza, Argentina
$23.95 (482984)
July 11 release | This rich and flavourful chardonnay from Gualtallary in Mendoza’s Uco Valley was inspired by the fresh and character-filled white wines of France’s Jura region. It was aged in larger French oak barrels until a layer of flor yeast, which floats on top and protects the wine from exposure to oxygen. As a result, the finished wine has a tangy and savoury edge to its ripe fruit flavours that makes it something unique and really tasty. Drink now to 2024. 92/100

Fuzion Organic Chardonnay/Torrontés 2018
Mendoza, Argentina
$13 (553818)
Effective blend that shows the distinctive torrontés intensity, with a pleasantly creamy palate. Nice flavourful sipping wine. Drink now to 2020. 88/100

Graffigna Pinot Grigio 2019
$12.95 (164756)
Crisp and stonefruit (peach/apricot) and citrus. Some melon, dry, refreshing. Drink now. 87/100

La Mascota Rosé 2019
Mendoza, Argentina
$16.95 (15182)
Refreshing, focused. Dry rosé with vibrant and balanced fruity character. Thirst-quenching. Drink now. 89/100

La Mascota Chardonnay 2018
Mendoza, Argentina
$16.95 (126870)
August 22 release | Mix of cereal, tropical (pineapple, melon) and citrus notes, oak and creamy texture help to round this out. Solid, Drink now – 2022 88/100

Luigi Bosca a Rosé is a Rosé is a Rosé 2019
$18.95 (553032)
August 22 release | A fruity and tasty blend of pinot noir and pinot gris. Really attractive mix of juicy and refreshing fruit. Drink now to 2021. 89/100

Susana Balbo Signature Rosé 2019
Mendoza, Argentina
$22.95 (493130)
A drop of sauvignon blanc really stands out on the nose of this pinot noir-based rosé. Vibrant, zesty, earthy and herbal notes. Drink now. 89/100

Susana Balbo Signature White Blend 2018
Mendoza, Argentina
$21.95 (558734)
Provocative and compelling white blend of semillon, sauvignon blanc and torrontés, from Paraje Altamira in the Uco Valley. Barrel fermented and bright, complex and mouthwatering. Stunning. Drink now to 2023. 93/100 

Zaphy Organic Chardonnay 2019 
Mendoza, Argentina
$11.95 (11935)
Vibrant fruit (mango and tropical notes) with a creamy, smooth palate. Different. Drink now. 87/100