Posts Tagged ‘San Juan’

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

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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. 

Blends

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.

Salud

 

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, www.fincalasmoras.co.uk 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.
 

Bonarda, the other red grape from Argentina

May 27, 2009

Although not well known in British Columbia, Bonarda is one of the most widely planted red grapes in the land bonarda don domenicoof Che Guevara. Traditionally used for blending, today some wineries are producing very interesting varietal wines. Don Domenico’s rendition, grown and vinified in northerly San Juan, has a pretty ruby red color, with purple tones. Aromas of dark fruit, almost like prune juice, herbaceous, earth minerality precede a medium body with red fruit and slightly angular tannins. The finish has good length, with red fruit, peppery spice and a vegetal streak.

Product: Bonarda

Variety: Bonarda

Vintage: 2005

Winery: Don Domenico

Origin: San Juan, Argentina

Alcohol: 14.4%

Price: 26.99 (