Posts Tagged ‘mendoza’

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.


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.

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.

Argentina’s Las Moras: Great Quality Under 20 Dollars

March 11, 2010

With the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival looming in the distance, it is time to pay some attention to the land of Che Guevara, Evita and Maradona. That Argentina is producing wines of great value is news to nobody. We all are familiar with all those under 10, 10-15 and under 20 dollars Malbec bottlings that embellish our tables and bring joy to our parties. In this category, there is a winery that really is scoring goal after great tasting goal.

I am referring to Finca Las Moras, or “mulberry estate” as it would be in Spanish, which is the language spoken in the southamerican country. I make this point clear because, had you the chance to meet an Argentinian you may think he comes from somewhere in Europe. Argentinians gesture like Italians, have the self confidence of Spaniards and the pomp of Englishmen but they are just Argentinos. Never mind. Us, fellow southamericans love to make fun of them; we call them che’s (like in “Che” Guevara), but we all know well they are true masters at three things:
fútbol, football (soccer, as the unbelievers call it )
sound and fury
vino, mucho vino
They also have the best meat in the world, but I don’t intend to offend vegetarians, vegans and those practicing abstinence here…
Las Moras, unlike most che wineries known here in Vancouver, is not located in sunny, dry, hot, beautiful Mendoza but a little further North, in sunnier, drier, hotter, beautiful San Juan. Soils and climate there suit non-wimpy grapes, as in the case of Syrah. San Juan’s best wines today are produced in the Tulum Valley, which is where Las Moras has its viticultural headquarters. The winery’s vineyards lie at 630 metres above sea level and conditions are such that there is very little -or none- need for the use of pesticides, making the wines virtually organic.
In Vancouver you can find some of their varietals and blends. Best marks go to their exquisite Malbec, Tannat, Shiraz, Cabernet/Shiraz and Chardonnay, all priced between 15 an 17 dollars. In the higher price bracket, the Gran Shiraz 3 Valleys is one yummy sip at 25 Cnd. All these products are excellent value and have in common an onslaught of ripe, full-flavoured fruit coming off and out of the glass.
The first four products are really worth every penny you pay. Particularly impressive is the Malbec, juicy and plump, hard to beat in this price category. The Tannat, which is a more recent entry in the City of Glass, is surprising in its mouthfilling fruit but particularly in its tannins, abundant but very fine grained, smooth as no French Tannat will be. (Many Madiran Tannats are blended with Merlot to soften the otherwise excruciatingly raspy tannins). The Shiraz is also very competent at the price, mellow and with sweet tannins and the right dose of spice. The Chardonnay, the only white from this house to be found in YVR, is  lovely, balancing good appley acidity with popcorn butter, although those not fond of oak may not enjoy the latter characteristic. I don’t really care for such niceties. I drink wines all across the board; from the anorexically lean to the Boteroesquely curvaceous. As long as they offer quality, I love them. The same approach goes for my mating preferences. This Zen of Drinking requires time, patience, self-discipline and $$$. Reasons for which I am growing older, hermit-like and broke.
To finish this entry, all in all, top marks for Las Moras. Even the packaging is attractive, with front and back labels offering good information without offending the eye with bright shiny coloring or cartoon-like illustrations. On the down side, they should seriously give a second thought to their website efforts. Wine geeks and lovers and drinkers look wineries up in the net. Nothing is more aggravating than broken links or pages that appear etternally “under construction”. The currently working website, provides very little information on either the winery, the wines or anything. Plus, aesthetically speaking, is a bit tacky. Come on guys, the quality of your wines deserves better. Communications are important too, you know.
A note to the importer, Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits. Great job, guys, but when are we getting the Las Moras Late Harvest Viognier here? After the Olympics (not to mention the bill hanging over their heads), Vancouverites only deserve gold. 
ps. Apologies for the formatting. Used a new clipboard and showed up in color green and other font. Will try and fix soon.

Los Crios Torrontes

June 10, 2009

Torrontes, love it or hate it? With its spectrum of floral, spice, tropical fruit, nut and apricot aromas, this torrontesgrape has the potential to become a true white wine phenomenon. Every version I have tried tastes so different from the next that sometimes it is hard to believe it is the same grape. Argentina’s flagship white variety can be subtle and elegant or really aggressive in its manifold aromas and flavors. Whatever the case, Los Crios wine series by Argentina’s premier female winemaker Susana Balbo, offers a pleasing rendition of the varietal. Lying between dry and off dry, full-bodied and ambiguous, this Torrontes is packed with flavor and refreshing acidity. Gewurtztraminer lovers will find it adorable; those who are thrilled by whites of less fruit and aromatics will definitely avoid it. Food friendly? Undoubtedly, and it may be the ultimate match for Sushi.

Product: Los Crios

Variety: Torrontes

Vintage: 2007

Winery: Dominio del Plata Winery

Origin: Mendoza, Argentina

Alcohol: 13.0%

Price: 18.99 (Everything Wine)

Andeluna Malbec, Winemaker’s Selection

May 19, 2009

I knew about this wine from friends in South America and have been waiting long for its arrival. Winemaker SilvioAndlna_06_malbec_WS_bottle Alberto in collaboration with world famous Michel Rolland have crafted this formidable Malbec in the Tupungato area of Mendoza. Not for the faint of heart, this deep purple broth has a rich nose of ripe plum, fresh lavender, earth and a touch of vanilla. Eight months in French and American oak show through toast, smokey notes that accompany the prune and plum flavors exhibited by this medium plus body wine. Tannins are soft and the finish is long and persistent, saturated with ripe dark fruit and fig. Complex and intense, this exuberant Malbec is a must for British Columbia lovers of Argentinean wines.

Variety: Malbec

Vintage: 2006

Origin: Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina

Winery: Andeluna

Alcohol: 14.2%

Price: 19.99 (Everything Wine)