Sophie McLean tells us to look beyond the malbec and discover a wonderful world of Argentine wines
Argentina has achieved wonders in recent years, building a globally recognised ‘brand Malbec’. This category is now so strong in the UK that well-known retailer Majestic calls it the ‘go-to wine of choice’ for its many decisive customers, and what a wondrous grape it is. A recent trip out there, however, has shed light on a host of other Argentine-grown varieties that are guaranteed to seduce the senses in just as many, all be they different, ways. Here’s a round up of my current ‘other’ Argentine favourites.
Torrontés Reserva 2012, Tukma around £7
Argentina’s premier indigenous grape. This varietal is aromatic whilst still being crisp and lemon-zesty. Most Torrontés come from the province of Salta (arguably Argentina’s wine-making region of the moment), where the vines are planted at up to 2,000+ metres above sea level. This altitude means you’ll get a lick of fresh, saliva-inducing acidity, working against the aromatic (often only in aroma) sweetness. This Torrontes Reserva from Tukma is a quality example. Off-dry, it still fresh and crisp with juicy pear fruit. ‘Reserva’ makes it richer, so it’s a great food match, but still also the ideal chilled aperitif for a warm day. This winery owns a fabulous spa hotel just outside of Salta’s Cafayate – best enjoyed here, poolside, against a backdrop of the spectacular Andes Mountains.
Eggo Blanc de Cal 2013, Zorzal Wines around £27
Think you know Sauvignon Blanc? Think again. This white wine is made by dynamo winemaker Juan Pablo Michelini – one of two brothers who run Zorzal Wines in Mendoza. Juan makes this using concrete eggs – the latest gadget in quality wine design. These egg-shaped, modern equivalents to top-notch barrels remove the need for pumping over in the winemaking process and allows the juice to more freely mix, resulting in wines that are ultimately more complex. You’ll still find citrus as you’d expect from a Sauvignon Blanc and great acidity that adds to the overall feel of the wine in your mouth. But the eggs add more weight and another level of terroir-induced flavour. The Alfa Crux Sauvignon Blanc 2012 made similarly at O’Fournier’s impressive UCO Valley winery (like something out of James Bond) is also very good.
El Porvenir Laborum Chardonnay, 2013 around £25
This winery, owned by Lucia Romero Marquez is a boutique offering from Salta’s Cafayate. Here they only make 6,400 bottles a year. 1,300 of these are filled with the Laborum Chardonnay that comes from the Finca los Guises vineyard, set high up in jaw-dropping landscape. Toasty, creamy and showing great purity of fruit, this has a long, polished flinty finish, a result not unlikely to come from the clay soils that the vines are grown on. A class Chardonnay from a smaller producer whose name means ‘the coming’.
Luigi Bosca, La Consulta Grand Pinot Noir, Uco Valley, 2013 around £17
Pinot Noir had its original X-factor moment in Burgundy, and to this day this is still where some of the world’s best examples come from. Countries far-flung from Europe who try to emulate this ‘classic’ style are sometimes accused of producing brash, high alcohol fruit bombs. Argentina, however, has the UCO Valley, a cooler area just outside Mendoza that is now producing some sublime, very elegant Pinot Noir offerings. This one, a classy drop from the ‘monarchs of Mendoza’ Luigi Bosca is one of the newest wines to their portfolio. Light, slightly ethereal, and beautifully reserved, the fruit here doesn’t smack you in the face, rather, it lulls you into an elegance of ‘new old-world’ Argentine sophistication.
Cabernet Franc, Numina, 2012, Salentein around £25
Cabernet Franc is the newest kid on the block in terms of Argentine varietal excitement. Mostly known for its role in Bordeaux blends, this grape is now proving its worth as ‘the next big thing’. Cabernet Franc matures quickly and often has aromas and a flavour profile of green and black pepper. It works best in slightly cooler climates. This one from Salentein gives off bright green and roasted red peppers, with further fresh red fruit. It was fermented in stainless steel and then aged in 80% French and 20% American oak for 14 months, giving way to a wine that is light, fresh, full of flavour and has some pretty, sweet tannins to it too. From a bigger producer whose winery was designed by the same person as the O’Fournier – with just as much WOW factor. Find the Grand Piano located in the barrel room and play your echoey heart out to all the wines here still gracefully ageing. Brilliant.
Ruca Malen, Petit Verdot Reserva, 2012 around £11
This estate was founded in 1998. Petit Verdot is known for colour, concentration and tannins. It’s not a traditional ‘go-to’ grape and is only planted in small quantities so it’s generally is used for quality production. This one from Ruca Malen exhibits dry spice and elegance. Evidence of oak means it makes for a more robust red offering that with some age has now softened a little. It’s 20months of barrel ageing (80% French, 20% American) means there are wafts of both vanilla and a little coconut spice infused into the liquid. We had this over a beautiful Roast Beef lunch. You’d be wise to do the same.
Don David Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, El Esteco around £11
Cabernet Sauvignon is best known for providing colour and structure to wines. Stylish and sophisticated, it is a late ripener that is usually identified for its rich flavours of blackcurrant. This one is a steal at £11, flushed with cassis and classic cabernet brambly flavour. It’s been aged in oak for 12months to add in some beautiful structure and draw out further vanilla-spice flavour. Paprika also comes out of the glass upon swirling. “We work in the balance of the Cafayate terroir style” says winemaker Alejandro from Esteco. Great balance of elegant flavour and structure. An excellent value for money wine. Fill me up please.
Petit Manseng: El Yaima Single Vineyard, 2012, Terrazas around £37
This is a desert wine, golden, sticky, but not too sweet thanks to its lick of lovely acidity that cuts through any sugar. I tried this at Puratierra, a restaurant in Buenos Aires, where all the food is created around Argentina’s six geographical regions. After Locro (classic argentine stew), Umita (corn), and Yacaré (Caiman), we arrived with this single vineyard, late harvest Petit Manseng. Terrazas is owned by luxury brand LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey), and grew out of the Moet and Chandon Champagne House in France. Today they also have a joint venture with esteemed Bordeaux Chateau Cheval Blanc. This shows just as classy winemaking, and certainly something altogether very different. Pair it with pudding like we did to bring out the apricot and sweet spice. Oh Argentina, how you seduce me.
For more information on Argentine wines, visit winesofargentina.org