Posts Tagged ‘argentina’

Cafayate’s Cabernet Sauvignon

February 3, 2011

Move on Malbec! just kidding. But hey, a jewish celebrity said two thousand years ago “not on bread alone”, and the wisdom of this phrase still holds today, especially when it comes to wine, where searching for new flavors, grapes, styles and appellations is the only way to learn and enjoy more. After the 2012´ish tsunami wave of Malbec sweeping all six continents (they drink it in the research stations in the Antarctic), one has to wonder what else may come from the land of the gaucho, cheap beef and omnipresent botox applications. Well, it turns out that the king of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon is doing really well there, and thanks to the long ripening season the phenolic ripeness many a time coincides with the sugar ripeness. The latter is the one that makes the fruit taste like a grape and not like mouthwash. It breaks down the acids and increases  the sugar content. Phenolic ripening is related to tannins, and when picking happens while the tannins are not mature enough this can have an unpleasant effect on the wine, giving it a “green” character. In grapes with heavy loads of tannin, like Cabernet Sauvignon, this problem can be a nightmare for the grower and the winemaker. In Argentina, however, due to the high elevation of the vineyards and lack of autumn rains, this is less of a concern, resulting in “sweet” tannins, also called “redondos” (round) and some other names that are reminiscent of the phemale anatomy and that I will discuss in another post dealing with the sexuality of wine.

Anyhow, and going back to the subject of interest, no better place for Cabernet Sauvignon than Cafayate, a colonial city in the province of Salta, far up north toward Bolivia. Cabernets from the area are intense, big, unfathomably fruity and have those beautiful sweet round tannins that tickle your buds long after you swallow. The province is famous for the Calchaquies Valleys, which boast truly high elevation vineyards, up to 2000 meters above sea level, dwarfening the “high vineyard” monicker that many wineries from Mendoza love to stamp on their back labels. Cabernet Sauvignon does so well there that in fact, wines from Cafayate have won national challenges in Argentina, leaving behind not only wines from famed Mendoza but those made with the legendary Malbec grape. Names to look for include Etchart, Colome, San Pedro, Nanni, among many more.


Sauvignon Blanc is In

July 6, 2010

When it comes to wine, nothing says summer like Sauvignon Blanc. Well, there is Pinot Grigio, Unoaked Chardonnay, Tocai, Moschofilero, and all those delicious whites. But talking about Sauvignon Blanc, what a wonderful grape it is. Regardless where the wine is made, it always welcomes your nose with a brushtroke, an aromatic draft of vegetable nature, be it freshly cut grass, rue, lemongrass, gooseberry or a myriad other herbs. Properly made it delivers on that promise, lightning up your palate with shiny acidity and more or less fruit, again, depending on the origin. Some make your eyes tear with citric, limey quality; others are apt at imparting fully ripened apples, pears and peaches, while others offer subtle -or blunt- tropical flavors like guava, banana, passion or even dragon fruit.

More minerally versions, where terroir is highlighted and fruit -though firm- is more subdued, come from the Loire Valley, in the heart of France. Sancerre -right guess- but not the only apellation in the area where you will get delicious Sauv Blanc.  Try Chateau de Sancerre, Pascal Jolivet, Levin. A little less mineral and also riding an deliciously acidic wave, Northern Italy can be home to lovely Sauvignon Blanc. One bottle of Bastianich B will send you looking for more good renditions from the top of the boot-shaped country.

There’s no need to say much about New Zealand’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, not much that haven’t been said already. Perhaps the most popular appellation for Sauvignon Blanc these days, the region’s wines are easy to drink, with a purity of fruit that is seldom found elsewhere. A Kiwi winemaker once told me that the high level of aseptique technique developed in the farm and dairy industries was behind this. Apparently, when New Zealand farmers lost some of their international markets due to competition, they redirected their skills at the wine industry. True or not, memorable whites come from the land of tongue-show-off warriors, unidentifiable national flag and bad soccer. Try the spark-studded  acidity of the Matua’s Paretai. Or the savory backdrop of the Wither Hills Rarangi. Or Jackson’s Stich. Not to mention the well known Kim Crawford, Scott or Villa Maria,plus all kind of  wines by names of critter and small mammals pissing on gooseberry bushes or monkeying around bays. Whoa, they sure  are taking after their Australian cousins when it comes to label originality.

Chile does a great job too. Their Sauvignon Blancs are second to none, except to Sancerre and Marlborough, and Pouilly Fume. And…just kidding.  Casas del Bosque is a gem of a finding at 17 dollars. Firm fruit, impeccable acidity (Impeccable. Im starting to sound like Bobby Parker) and 90 WE points make my point. Brilliant. Veramonte and Errazuriz make truly good stuff under 15 dollars. They will shine any night at any party.

Malbec comes next. Er, I meant to say, Argentina. Who would’ve thought they can make anything other than red? Well, think again. Mapema (the only thing going against this delicious wine is its name. And its price @ $21) is a big surprise. Ripe fruit weaved into the firm acidic frame, this Sauvingon Blanc is a sign of better whites to come from Mendoza. And from further north in the country. Paula is another solid Sauv Blanc, leaner on the fruit and with remarkable, kiwi-esque acidity. Trophee winner Pascual Toso, after delighting us with Cab Sauvs and Malbecs, makes a pretty decent SauvBlanc for 13 dollars. And a solid rose, although, that is another matter.

How to finish this without a mention of California? With a touch of oak, Grgich makes a simply beautiful Fumee Blanc. Beautiful, memorable, remarkable. The similarly lightly oaked Supery comes close. And for those with deeper pockets, don’t let the summer go by without trying the superb Spring Mountain Sauvignon Blanc. We’ll taste vicariously through you.


Playhouse Wine Festival 2010: Let’s the Games Begin

April 23, 2010

Wow! the new Vancouver Convention Center is really awesome. Great sweeping views of the North Shore mountains and the Burrard Inlet and spacious, huge hollow rooms that may feel cavernous if it was not by the skillful use of wood bricks covering the walls, giving it a warm maple syrup brown feel to this great indoors. Light years away from the warehouse feeling that the old Convention Center has. The first trade session was packed, with kilometric line ups to pick up tickets and to complete registration.

To the wines. I ignored the siren calls of Italian reds, elegant Champagnes, appealing Oregon whites. I went straight for the theme booths, Argentina and New Zealand. The latter country was very popular and many of its booths were beyond reach. Rant: C’mon Vancouverites. This city has been a wine city for over a decade now. When are you going to learn the most basic etiquette of wine tasting? Blocking spittoons, chatting endlessly with your pals blocking access to tables and wearing perfume are all no, no, no and no.

Ok, I got that out of my system. As a result, a limited tasting of New Zealand with two wines that stand out like two lonely stars in a dark southern sky. The Ostler 2008 Audrey’s Pinot Gris is a complete sensorial assault of pleasure. Starting with the nose. It was so intoxicatingly delicious that it made it hard to follow Jim Jerram, Ostler’s rep telling me about their terroir. Close to Otago but not as far inland, limestone soils and ocean breezes influence Ostler’s vineyards. The nose is intense, thick, a prelude to what is to come. Wow! I said after my first sip. It’s like a lady with curves. Chardonnayish. Jim agreed, with excitement. “Exactly, we make it like a Chardonnay, but on a diet.” A Chardonnay in a weight watchers program. A Chardonnay on a fast bike. There is a feeling of something that grows fatter and fatter on the palate but then whooosh! it’s gone and back to a leaner, trimmed up texture. “It’s the acidity, idiot.”  Brilliantly made, this Pinot Gris has a distinct spectrum of nose, flavors and texture and it may not be your accessible everyday wine at $38 but definitely one of those wine styles that set trends and change paradigms. Bravo for Ostler and thanks Jim and Gord for all the information.

The other white from Kiwi land that made my head turn was -not surprisingly- a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Matua Valley’s Paretai 2009 is as good as it gets for the grassy and minerally sassy style from South Island. At 29.99 this vibrant and fresh SB delivers all the goods one expects from the appellation.

Changing country, I expected a lot more whites from Argentina. The offer is still dominated by Torrontes. In my humble (not) opinion, there should have been a lot more quality Chardonnays. Anyway, less whining and more wining. I found one remarkable white by Bodega Lurton. The 2007 Gran Lurton Corte Friuliano, is a somewhat idyosincratic blend of Sauvignon Vert, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Torrontes, accomplished to notes of high delight. Aromatic on the nose, agile, playful and fruity on the palate, satisfying on the endless aftertaste. As in the case of the Ostler Pinot Gris, this Friuliano may have the limitation of price (29.99) to become popular. Nevertheless, an excellent effort by Lurton, which entry level $13.99 Pinot Gris is a promise of what this winery can do with the variety.

Red wines to follow on next post.

A Perfect Sushi Wine

April 17, 2010

Wine to pair with Sushi? Well, that is the 100 million dollar question. When I first tasted Torrontes I thought the varietal was a serious candidate. Of course, Sushi is such a wide umbrella term that is rather simplistic to say “this wine pairs with Sushi.” But some wines get closer to the job than others. Torrontes, with its ripe apricot palate and floral and spice aromas, definitely qualifies for the job. But its bubbly incarnation, the Deseado Torrontes, is really the wine that stands up to the challenge. Sweetness matched by incisive acidity, fruity and muscaty, Deseado meets the diversity of flavors accompanying a set of rolls, nigiri and oily tempura snacks. Available in Vancouver for 22-26 dollars, this is the ultimate Sushi wine. Gochiso Sama!

ps. while you eat your sustainably fished albacore tuna, the bluefin tuna species, perhaps the most majestic animal in the oceans is being caught to extinction by greedy northamerican and japanese fishmongers. let’s put a  stop to it! write a letter to your MP and demand Canada supports a total ban on bluefin tuna fishing

Argentina Wine Regions: San Juan

April 17, 2010

The forbidding landscape of San Juan, to the North and East of Mendoza, is home to wines of ever improving quality. Its valleys have names that seem to echo the towering Andes mountains in which they are nested. Tulum, Zonda, Calingasta, Pedernal, are locations that are becoming synonymous with excellent wine. This is high mountain country: Altitudes go from 650 meters at Tulum all the way to 1,400 meters in the Calingasta Valley. Fierce winds can sometimes cause trouble in the vineyards, preventing fruit set.   Syrah is the black grape that seems to benefit the most from the region’s scorching heat, high altitude solar radiation and mercilessly infertile soils. San Juan Syrah presents a dark robe, an aggressive, aromatic –floral- nose and fleshy, robust body. Malbec, Bonarda, Tannat and Chardonnay also thrive in these conditions, rendering delicious wines of distinctive character.

With its cool nights, wide thermal amplitude and pristine irrigation waters from ice capped peaks, San Juan is poised to become Argentina’s next wine darling.

In Vancouver, the offer of wines from San Juan is still very narrow. The few we have, more than satisfy.

Las Moras. I have reviewed this impressive line of products in a previous post. Terrific quality for the money. $16-25

Xumek. Both the Malbec Syrah ($40) blend and the straight Syrah ($26) are both available in Vancouver and are both solid, powerful wines. The Xumek Malbec ($21.99) is available at LDB Liquor Stores. Check out the previous post “how to find your wines in BC”

Don Domenico. This award winning winery offers excellent Syrah (16-22), Bonarda ($32), Cabernet Franc ($22) and Tempranillo ($32). These products come from sustainably managed vineyards.

ps. Photo: Wines of Argentina

Jump to Argentina Wines Regions I

Argentina Wine Regions: Uco Valley

March 27, 2010

Photo: Sol de Uco Winery

We saw in a previous posting how Argentina’s wine regions are climatically continental, and how this condition, with all the benefits that may have, can also be very detrimental, particularly when it refers to excessive heat or untimely precipitation. This latter case –namely hail- is a serious problem in southern Mendoza, as we will see later. Fortunately for most of Argentina’s wine country, it is located high in the Andes, helping alleviate the excess heat problem.

Such is the case of the Uco Valley, which vineyards, ranging from 900 to 1,500 meters of elevation, provide the coolest conditions in the whole of Mendoza. Until not long ago this area –between Tupungato and Pareditas- was considered too high and too cold for vine growing. The new wave of winemakers didn’t fail to recognize its potential and set up shop, taking advantage of the long ripening season, the well drained, rocky soils and the thermal amplitude, which reaches a whopping 14 degrees.

The Uco Valley has been a blessing for black grapes like Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. such varieties benefit from solar radiation, which provides light for photosynthesis and heat to achieve ripe, rotund flavors. Those flavors, however, need be supported by right levels of acidity; without them the wine becomes flat, as so many Chardonnays from promising hot areas have shown again and again, to the disappointment of winemakers and wine lovers. The cool nights of the Uco Valley help the expert in the vineyard to juggle those factors to achieve a perfect balance between both.  This achievement is even more noticeable for white varieties, in which the lack of proper acidity can be the difference between the great, the good and the utterly forgettable.

The Uco Valley is such a recent development -when compared with the long history of winemaking- that we should expect higher quality products in the years ahead. You don’t need to wait though. Wines from this “appellation” to look for in Vancouver, among others, include:

Finca El Origen Malbec Reserve 2008 $16-19. As in the case of the entry level Cabernet Sauvignon, El Origen delivers the goods on this price range.

La Posta Pizzella Malbec 2008 $22-26. 90 pts by some famous wine critics. I give it gold.

Luca Malbec 2007. $45. You cannot miss Laura Catena‘s fantastic Malbec.

Lurton Pinot Gris 2009 $12-15. Great value and the promise of what this grape may produce in Argentina.

Andeluna Malbec Limited Reserve 2004 $60-65. One of the best Malbecs you will taste in Vancouver.

Andeluna Pasionado Blend 2004 $60. Another big hit.

Andeluna Torrontes 2008 $20-22. My apologies to Susana Balbo’s Los Crios but this is the arguably the best varietal in town.

Barrandica Blend 2006 $28-32. Lovely blend.

Other wineries to look for: Antucura, Clos de los Siete.

Bonarda, the other Red Wine from Argentina

March 26, 2010

With the ever increasing popularity of the wines of Argentina in Vancouver, Malbec seems to be on everybody’s mind, not to say everybody’s palate. The grape’s name is as recognizably Argentinian as the Tango itself. Torrontes, Argentina’s white signature grape is slowly carving a space for itself on the city’s wine store shelves. Vancouverites are also becoming more familiar with other grapes –both black and white- coming alongside Malbec: Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier. But there is another new arrival, a black grape that is received with curiosity. That is Bonarda, an Italian variety that is planted extensively in Argentina. In fact, until not long ago, it was the most planted vine variety.

As such, Bonarda has always been blended to make the table reds that the southamerican nation demanded to quench their thirst for wine. Never considered a “noble” blend, Bonarda was limited to the passenger seat due to its character as a wine and its wild vigor in the vineyard. Bonarda grows and produces fruit like it is nobody’s business. That was precisely the reason for its ubiquitous presence in Argentina’s vineyards: lots of grapes were needed to make lots of wine. Let’s not forget that until the 70’s consumption in Argentina reached a mind –guzzle- boggling 90 liters per head per year.

With the arrival of the nineties, the innovative approach of familias like Catena, technology and investment, winemakers quickly realized that Bonarda would not satisfy the demand for quality export wine. Malbec took that honor. The rest is history. For Malbec, that is. The curious Vancouver wine drinker may have noticed Bonarda on the back labels of their favorite Malbec, with which is blended to add  perfume, inky purple red color, moderate acidity and to lighten up the tannic load.  They get along so well that it is considered a signature Argentinian corte (blend). Some say that they tango with each other. Bonarda is also blended with Sangiovese to make agreeable table reds for early consumption and it also has an interesting synergy with Syrah.

In conversations with different Argentinian winemakers it seems that there are two bands: one claims that Bonarda will become the next Malbec phenomenon; the other –idea I share- think that the grape will have a less exalted role, given that keeping yields low will always be a viticultural challenge. A little bit like what we see today with vigorous grapes like Carignan in Languedoc. In blends it does really well; alone it makes a few good wines. The rest of the varietals are just….Carignan.

To sum up, Bonarda on its own is intense in color, frequently rich, inky. The nose is perfumed, with easily identifiable aromas like red fruit and mulberry. Spice in the background is not unusual, and when oaked it can exhibit pleasant tones of vanilla and tobacco. In the mouth it shows vinous intensity, ripe, sweet fruit and velvety tannins. It can also show –testament to its ferocious vegetal vigor- a “green” background, a bit like biting into a fresh arrugula leaf.

 There are several bottlings that are available in Vancouver. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Colonia Las Liebres $12.99

Maipe $14-16

Dante Robino $19-22

Don Domenico El Escondido $28-32

All of the above are quite nice sips. Without doubt the best of the lot is the Finca El Escondido (San Juan region), by Don Domenico, perhaps reflecting the increasing viticultural costs of keeping the vine’s growth in check. Dante Robino is also very competent although it lacks the ripe, sweet fruit of the former.

Maipe and Las Liebres are also pleasing varietals; the second one is great value. Anecdotically, I once tasted the Las Liebres aerated through a Vinturi. The gizmo really enhanced the texture and flavor of this baby, suggesting that other Bonarda may benefit from aeration. 


Among the blends to be found in Vancouver we have:

Los Crios Syrah Bonarda (50%-50%), Vina Antigua Sangiovese Bonarda and Benmarco Malbec (blended with 10% Bonarda). This latter one speaks for itself, with its plump texture and sweet tannins.  Vina Antigua is a simple pleasing table red like the ones Argentinians put on the table any week night; follow suit and wash down your daily dinner with a sip or two.

Pour Bonarda to accompany grilled meats and vegetables; roast beef, pasta and hard cheese.



Chimichurri Sauce, No Better Sauce for Grilled Meats

March 25, 2010

The name is long and seemingly hard to pronounce. Which is not: shee-mee-shoo-reeh. Try it out. The recipe, on the contrary, is deceitfully simple. Few ingredients, nothing to cook, nothing to reduce, no time frame, no measuring cup. It is a little like ceviche: anyone can crank out a decent one following a recipe, but only the masters can make the really memorable ones. And they never follow a recipe. Anyway, I think I am digressing. Chimichurri is a super tasty cold sauce, which origin the beef eating nations of the Cono Sur (and this has nothing to do with the wine brand), i.e., Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay ardently dispute. Not to mention Bolivia, home of some of the best tasting beef you may ever find, to the dismay of the abovementioned peoples, particularly the denizens of Rio de la Plata (that would be Buenos Aires and Montevideo, for the geographically challenged). By the way, there is a good discussion on the subject of Chimichurri in the blog Asado Argentina.

Just like ceviche, Chimichurri’s versions are as copious as the promises of a politician in full campaign.  And just like ceviche, everyone argue that theirs is the best. In the case of ceviche, no doubt the Peruvian version trumps them all (there goes the chauvinist) but when it comes to Chimichurri….ay x 3 = carajo!* I favor the one from around Buenos Aires, with modifications, of course. So, for ease of narrative we’ll say here that Chimichurri is the archetypical Argentine beef asado (BBQ) sauce.

But before going to the recipe let’s say that within Argentina itself there is ample room for discussion –if not dissidence- as for when and how to make and use the sauce. Some Che’s will swear that you should never eat Chimichurri on anything else than on a ChoriPan, (Chorizo sausage in a bun “pan”) a juicy BBQ’d sausage in a bun. Others love it on their asado beef. Others slather it on the beef before grilling, which is anathema to most. Some never eat it with asado, as the beef flavors themselves suffice to render one’s palate entirely pleased. I must say that me, when in the Pampas (plains) of Argentina, never allow anything on my beef other than coarse salt. Again, for the ease of reading, let’s say that you want the Buenos Aires version on asado beef after it is done.

Having said this, I learned to eat Chimichurri as a kid, from my dad. He spent a good chunk of his young years in La Plata, studying medicine and came back to Peru full of Argentinisms. Among them, Chimichurri. But, to add fuel to the fire, I should add that I never ever enjoyed a good Chimichurri sauce better than on grilled squid, octopus or pan fried white fish. Ok, now, to the recipe.


1 bunch of Italian parsley. The plant with flat leaves, I mean. Who cares about that curly green stuff that is only good for buffet decorations. Chop it really fine. That is, the leaves only. Lay in bowl with coarse salt (start with a little and adjust to taste after sauce is complete), a teaspoon of chili flakes (or more if you like it hot), 2 or 3 large cloves of garlic crushed into tiny bits, a tablespoon of red wine vinegar (you may add two but don’t exaggerate with the vinegar), two heaping tablespoons of dry oregano leaves. I would say fresh, but here in Vancouver, oregano has very little umpf, really. If you have Sicilian or Greek oregano, use that instead. If you have Peruvian (from Moquegua region) oregano, you are laughing. No other oregano has that irresistible fragrance that only the sun drowned west slopes of the Andes can produce. Lemony and pungent, it will hold its perfume for months after you open the bag. Mix well with olive oil. When it comes to oil, there is a myriad interpretations: ¼ cup, 2 cups, blah blah. I say just start with a little, stir, then keep adding/stirring until the whole mix is glistening, then stop. Thin up with boiled and cooled water, until it is slightly runny. You can add a bit more, if you like it thinner like that. Moi, I like it thick, voluptuous, almost sinful. That is why, my friend, I was expelled from priest school, but that is another story. Stir well, pack in Mason jar or something and put in fridge. Scoop over bbq’d meats, chicken, fish or even over pan fried fish. Accompany with white rice in this last case. Don’t forget to Chimichurri your sausage in a bun sandwich.

No matter where it was invented, Argentina, Uruguay, Southern Brazil or Paraguay, Chimichurri is simply amazing.

Bon Apetit

*carajo! (kah-raw-hoe) is perhaps the most rich sounding, expressive expletive in the Spanish language. Gabriel Garcia Marquez inmortalized it in his novel A Hundred Years of Solitude: “Carajo! vociferated Jose Arcadio Buendia. Macondo is surrounded by water!”

Hot Wines from Argentina, IVSA March 2010

March 23, 2010

Pulenta Estate Winery, Mendoza

Thanks to warm weather the IVSA show was not as packed as the last two episodes. Packed is good; one feels the vibrancy of wine lovers pushing to get a taste of the stuff they love. But hey, its nice to get some room too, and probably this is the last IVSA of the year to get just that. As I promised before, most postings these days will be devoted to Argenwines, that is, Argentina wines. Let’s start by one of the very best. Vistalba Corte C Blend. I have been wondering for years why we don’t get Carlos Pulenta wines here in BC. That is Argentina at its best. Small production runs? I don’t know. Thank god, Patagonia Imports brings the Vistalba Corte “C” (corte is Spanish for blend) to Vancouver. Cortes A and B are really spectacular and hopefully, we’ll have them here soon. Lucila Planas of Patagonia Imports treated me to their Xumek Reserve Blend 2006. All adjectives fall short for this soft,  crème-bruleey  textured 14% alcohol blend. Lovely under 30 bucks. Another offering by this importer, the Acequias Oak Malbec , which I tasted in its native Mendoza a couple of years ago, still satisfies with its chocolatey tobacco notes, its concentrated flavors and its excellent price. Not very many Malbecs deliver this quality at 20 bucks.

The surprise of the night was Enoteca Bacco with Natino Bellantoni. I always loved to taste his particular –unique- picks from the land of Garibaldi, Pasta Faggiole and Pizza Napolitana. Verve Negroamaro, Belisario Verdicchio and Nero di Troia are usual staples at this booth. But tonight, Natino poured an unbelievably good Malbec, with all you expect from a good Argentinian varietal plus an Italian touch in the tannin and acidity. The Altavista Malbec Grande Reserve, at 35 dollars, will turn many heads. If that were not enough, Natino challenged me to estimate the price of the 2007 Altavista Atemporal Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah-Petit Verdot blend. It was delicious and I overshot way higher than the humble 22 dollar price tag. This is a wine you don’t want to miss.

Renaissance Wine Merchants had but one Argentinian wine, and they hit right on the nose with their Tapiz Malbec 2008. There is a muddle of inexpensive Malbecs and most of them as are good as you would like them to be. Fruit forward, plummy, aromatic, soft-tannin, they all share the goods. Tapiz is a bit like Maradona; lots of players are really good. Only a few make that special move that nobody else does. At 19 dollars, this a serious contender for best Malbec under 20. With the Playhouse looming ever closer with the Argentinian theme, Red Dog keeps up with their Calafate wines. These wines hail all the way from Patagonia and they want to be noticed. The Calafate Pinot Noir Grande Reserva is probably the first Argentinian Pinot Noir to really challenge the undisputed reigning champions of this segment, the Chilean Pinots. With sweet fruit and confident tannin, this Pinot will make its mark in the Vancouver wine market. The other offering by Cafalate is the Reserva Malbec 2009, a lovely smoothy of chocolate, plum, cigar, double cream cheese and sweet tannin for 18 dollars.

For those who don’t know yet Winecouver is also a wine scout in Argentina and Uruguay. The first successful effort by yours truly is the impressive Mapema line of wines. Lone Tree Cellars’ Susan Doyle poured Mapema’s first arrivals in Vancouver. The Sauvignon Blanc, at 18 dollars, departs from the classic grassy nose and instead delivers a self-confident blitzkrieg of lime and melon. Wonderful. The Tempranillo-Malbec blend is the perfect sip for those who look beyond the classic Malbec offering. Lighter, less plummy and more strawberriesh, this is a wonderful drink for a lazy mid-afternoon, with or without snacks. But Mapema really shines with the Malbec varietal. From the elegant label and packaging, it delivers all the plummy soft tannin goods you expect from a good Malbec. Plus an unflagging acidity and Bordeaux reminiscent elegance that sets this wine apart in the 20-25 dollar category. Winecouver was not wrong when he approached Pepe Galante, one of the most knowledgeable Argentinian winemakers.

Time to snooze.

More Argentinian wine in the next one.



In Focus: Argentina’s Wine Regions

March 15, 2010

Glancing at a map of Argentina’s wine regions the first thing that comes to mind is how far those regions are from any large body of water. Separated from the Pacific Ocean by the massive wall of granite of the south Andes Mountains, Argentina is perhaps the only important wine region in the world to enjoy continental climate exclusively. This fact, which might have been a problem in other areas, is rather a blessing in the case of the south american country. In continental climates, summers are hot; hot summers are scorching; many times cooking the berries while still on the vine. It happens, however, that Argentina’s wine regions are not only inland but also are located at high elevations. In fact, some vineyards, like in Northern Salta, thrive at altitudes of over 2,000 meters above the sea level. This results in cooler conditions and a counterbalance to the parameters dictated by a continental climate. 

Anyone who has been to the Andes will remember the tremendous amount of solar radiation, bright, white light that sweeps the land. During most of the ripening season the skies are an endless blanket of spotless, immaculate blue. This, together with the latitude, work into a long ripening season. If that were not enough for a viticulture paradise, rainfall is quite low, averaging 150 mm per year. That is very dry. This landscape would be a harsh desert was not for the snow capped mountains to the east, separating it from neighboring Chile. Hundreds of years ago the Andean peoples mastered irrigation technology, to a level unparalleled anywhere in the world at that time. If you visit Mendoza, Argentina’s viticultural core, you won’t fail to notice the canals crisscrossing the city. Fresh, unpolluted glacier water reaches the vineyards, making the whole area into a veritable oasis. To complete the picture, add poor soils and you have some of the best terroirs in the world. 

The Regions


The sheer size of Argentina’s wine country is staggering. From the northernmost vineyards, in Salta, to southern Rio Negro in Patagonia, they cover 1,600 kilometres, with several different microclimates determined by a diverse combination of latitude and elevation. The core of this vast wine expansion lies in Mendoza, some 1000 kilometres northeast of Buenos Aires. This area alone has close to 140,000 hectares of vineyards. By comparison, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley wine country amounts to some 2,000.   

Mendoza is divided in what could be called sub-appellations, five in total. North Mendoza is a plain of sandy loam soils, planted mostly with Bonarda, Sangiovese, Chenin Blanc and Pedro Ximenez. Most wine produced there is for early drinking.

The Upper Mendoza district is perhaps Argentina’s current top terroir. The sub-area of Lujan de Cuyo (loo-han deh coo-yoe) has a recognized DO status or Denominacion de Origen. It is also an area of great scenic beauty, with the lush greenery of the vineyards and tree hedges set against the backdrop of the snow tipped Andes.  Malbec reigns supreme here and some of the premier Argentinian wineries are located in this area. Stony soils, excellent thermal amplitude* and minimum rainfall result in wines of depth, flavor and concentration. Besides Malbec, quality wines are made of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Among the white grapes, Chardonnay and Semillon stand out. Many bodegas located there have their wines available in Vancouver: Altos Las Hormigas, Terrazas de los Andes, Ruca Malen, Renacer, Norton, Nieto Senetiner, Foster, Dominio del Plata, Chakana and Catena Zapata. 

In a next posting we will visit the Uco Valley, an exciting new development in Upper Mendoza district.


Ivan Alfonso

*Thermal amplitude. Refers to the difference between day and night temperatures. Ideal conditions allow for a hot day and a cool night –a wide amplitude- so that acidity can be sustained in until full grape maturation.  

ps. Photos. Dominio del Plata winery. Lujan Fall landscape from Flickr by Nino Calogero.