Some wine recommendations from my recent visit to Argentina.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers April 20, 2005
Much like a grapevine that produces its best fruit under “stressful” growing conditions, Argentine winemakers have weathered that country’s significant political and economic upheavals to produce world-class wines.
The country’s Mendoza region, where the Andes supply both water and protection from the Pacific winds, has a long history of winemaking. During the past several years, many of these wineries have invested in state-of-the-art equipment and refined their winemaking techniques to take advantage of a unique regional climate. Add to this the current favorable exchange rate and low production costs, and the result is high-quality wines at very good prices.
An example is Catena Zapata, owned by the charming (and cerebral) Nicolas Catena who designed his winery to look like a Mayan Temple. His methodical approach to winemaking includes a critical evaluation of the effects of the property’s altitude and microclimate on the grape’s characteristics. The Catena Alta Malbec 2004 is a blend of grapes grown at four different altitudes. Each component has distinct flavors and structure, and they are combined to produce a beautifully balanced, flavorful wine with soft tannins and blueberry, spice and plum flavors. A great value is the well-balanced, dark fruit scented Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 that has firm tannins with cherry/berry and mocha flavors. Catena also produces the very good Alamos Viognier 2004 that has balanced peach and pineapple flavors; the Rhone-like Alamos Bonarda 2004, made from 50-year-old vines with licorice, cherry and berry notes, and the barrel fermented Catena Chardonnay 2004 that has a pear/apple aromas, and lemon and hazelnut flavors.
Taking a different approach is Salentein, whose second ultra-modern winery, located at the base of the Andes, was just completed. Their style is focused on high fruit extraction, resulting in elevated alcohol levels due to the long hang time of the grapes. With dark fruit flavors and a spicy, floral aroma the Salentein Malbec 2004 is very enjoyable. Consider also the Salentein Merlot 2002 that has a nice cherry/berry fragrance and dark cherry, tea and blueberry flavors.
The exuberant Jose Alberto Zuccardi runs the Familia Zuccardi Winery, started more than 40 years ago by his civil-engineer-turned-winemaker father. A unique trellising system produces uniformly high-quality wines, and Zuccardi has established a “laboratorio” to evaluate new varietals on his property. The Santa Julia Torrontes 2004 with floral aromas and Santa Julia Malbec 2004 with dark fruit and slight bacon flavors are excellent values. Also recommended is the bacon and cherry scented Zuccardi Q Malbec 2002 with spicy dark fruit flavors and the Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2003, which has interesting sarsaparilla and leather aromas with dark cherry notes. Particularly good is the Zuccardi Q Merlot 2000 that has beautifully soft tannins and flavors of cola, berry and dark cherry.
Housing both a modern winery and a wine museum, Familia Rutini Winery releases a number of top-notch, reasonably priced wines. With dark fruit aromas and flavors, the Trumpeter Malbec-Syrah 2004 has a long, slightly spicy finish, while the Trumpeter Malbec 2004 has a slight cola note among the dark cherry, spice and blueberry flavors. The Felipe Rutini Chardonnay 2004 has tropical fruit and vanilla flavors with a nice crisp finish and the Felipe Rutini Malbec 2003 is delightful with a sweet berry fragrance and generous dark fruit flavors.
From the Escorihuela Winery, the Don Miquel Gascon Syrah 2003 has earthy blueberry and licorice flavors. Other values are the Don Miquel Malbec 2004 with spicy, coffee and blackberry notes, and the pear and tropical fruit flavored High Altitude Unoaked Chardonnay 2004.