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Is there more to Argentina than Malbec?

Written by JW. Posted in Argentina

Frankly who cares? I’m being glib but this country makes such tasty and delicious wine from this variety in so many guises from the crowd pleasing to the simply stunning,  I could easily toss aside its Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda and Tempranillo or whatever, even its interesting Syrah and Sangiovese, so vivacious is Argentina’s Malbec. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world. It makes you wonder what on earth the French have been doing in Cahors all these years. Are they sure it’s Malbec they’ve got planted down there? Can Argentina’s South American rendition be related in any way to its rustic and tough Francophone brother?

Susana Balbo: Argentina’s Queen of Malbec

If Malbec is the King of the land, it’s often said that winemaker Susana Balbo, Argentina’s pioneering first female oenology graduate, is its Queen. Susana was at the annual Wines of Argentina tasting held at Lords cricket ground this September. I’m not sure what she made of the amateur cricket match being played in the nursery ground outside [there was some astonishingly bad batting on display] but the vibrancy of her output [Dominio Del Plata], at least, was astonishingly good, especially given that the total production here runs to more than a couple of million bottles.  At the value end Anubis Malbec 2011 [£9.99] is a real treat, open and easy with lots of fruit and spice. The Susana Balbo Malbec 2009, with just over a year’s oak age, is a serious wine with great purity, depth and chew, and even at twice the price [£21.99], it’s worth laying your hands on. Without diminishing my point about Malbec’s uniqiue qualities Balbo’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 was one of the best I tasted. I enjoyed these two more than her pricier Cab/Malbec Brioso and her Benmarco Expressivo, a Malbec/Syrah blend, though these are good wines. Her white Zohar Torrontes 2011 was wonderfully fresh and zesty and shows just how enjoyable this variety can be.

Mendel is at the opposite end of things. This is a small boutique twenty hectare property makes serious, dense Malbecs and blends thereof, and drop of a round Semillon.  Mendel Unus 2008 [£29.99], most years two thirds Malbec, one third Cabernet Sauvignon, is a classical, brooding, deep wine. It feels like Mendoza’s answer to St Estephe’s Chateau Montrose [or Chateau Montelena if Napa’s your thing]. Vastly different blend of course, but stylistically there are similarites. There’s freshness and minerality here, a purity of fruit without exaggeration, that is the key. For Finca Remota visit the cash point and don your hard hat. This 100% Malbec from Altamira in Mendoza spends 20 months in oak and is deep, concentrated stuff [and £66]. It comes from a single vineyard parcel and production runs to a thousand bottles or so. Mendel’s UK importer is Yorkshire based Cachet Wine  Mendel is stocked by The Wine Society too.

At the cheaper, sexy end of things you wouldn’t want to miss out on Riglos Quinto Malbec 2010 from Mendoza’s Uco Valley [£16.49]. There are lots of ripe mulberry and floral tones here and this is vibrant and pretty Malbec at its best. Gouguenheim’s Reserva Malbec 2009 is also a lot of fun for the money [£13.99] a forward, open styled Malbec brimming with fruit and appeal. Also take a peek at Bodega Atamisque’s Serbal, Malbec 2010 from Tupangato in Mendoza [£12.49] a deep, spicy Malbec with lots of briary fruit and a plush palate. Atamisque’s top-of-the-range Malbec from La Consulta, Mendoza [£19.99] is deep and layered, pretty tight now but with good density and length. More serious definitely, it shows the range this variety can achieve given Mendoza’s different climates and terriors.

Bodegas Benegas also shows lots of ambition as you’d expect from a rejuvenated estate and which Michel Rolland now advises. It was actually one of the first properties to bring in vines from France in early 20th Century. Their Juan Benegas Malbec 2009 is very appealing and fresh and good value at £11.99. Some of the wines a bit on the jammy side but their Benegas Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 [£17.99] was impressive and pure, their Sangiovese 2008 [£21.49] interesting as well as their funky Syrah 2008 [£21.49]. All these producers, Riglos, Gougenheim, Atamisque and Benegas [and Susana Balbo’s output too], are brought into the UK by Argentine specialists Las Bodegas –

For me perhaps the most stunning reds at the event came from Achaval-Ferrer, a producer established only in 1998 by a group of friends from Argentina and Italy, including winemaker Roberto Cipresso. Oh how I wish I had such friends. The focus here is top-notch Malbec from vineyards between 700-1100 metres in Mendoza. The results are extremely impressive. Clearly Achaval-Ferrer is a class act. Their entry level Mendoza Malbec 2010 [£13.99] from contract vineyards in different Mendoza districts is creamy and ripe with spicy, briary fruit characters. Quite delicious.  Their Quimera 2008, a Malbec [40%], Merlot [22%], Cabernet Sauvignon [20%] and Cabernet Franc [14%] blend from Tupangato is wonderfully deep and dense with ripe notes, roses with real vibrancy and excellent grip. Their single vineyard Finca Bella Vista is knockout. It’s certainly the best wine I’ve had from Argentina. Made from 100% old vine Malbec grown at 1000metres in the Lujan de Cuyo distict the yields are tiny, an extreme 14 hectolitres per hectare. The wine is incredibly concentrated but not at all jammy or turbocharged. The purity and depth here are amazing. The nose, lush and perfumed, and the palate layered. There’s plenty of grip and real length on the finish too. Stunning and worth the £50+ price tag. Corney & Barrow import Achaval-Ferrer into the UK –

No tasting of top Argentine wines would be complete without a run through the range of Bodegas Catena Zapata. Think Argentina, think Catena surely? The wines here remain the best introduction to the finesse and quality that Argentina produces. Catena still leads Argentina today in quality, quantity and global reach, despite the increasingly large and impressive Argentine winemaking field. For me the Chardonnay here is nearly as stunning as reds. Do try their ‘basic’ entry level Chardonnay [yes, surprisingly a word about something other than Malbec]. It is one of the most reliable and pure on the market, and fabulous value when discounted under a tenner as it sometimes is. The high altitude Catena Alta Chardonnay is wonderfully elegant and has great length. It gives some white Burgundies at twice the price a good run for their money, albeit in a different style.  But back to Malbec again. Catena’s ‘house’ version here is benchmark, year in year out. The latest vintage on display, 2009, is pretty, floral and lifted on the nose with a nice easy, open and perfumed palate. The Catena Alta Malbec 2008, from their high altitude vineyards in Mendoza, is inky and dense with integrated oak influence which doesn’t feel overdone. The palate is excellent, ripe, but not overblown in the slightest, and there is lots of depth too. Bodegas Catena Zapata wines are imported into the UK by Bibendum – – and are widely available.

Time and time again the Wines of Argentina tasting reminded me above anything else of the fantastic quality of its Malbec. It’s always tempting too, to look for and praise the ‘next big thing’, find a new story or angle. But for me Malbec, and blends thereof, remain Argentina’s most compelling story. Of course they are doing great things with other varieties but in business, there’s a school of thought that questions, with good reason, the need to strive to conquer all things. Figure out what you do best and do it magnificently. Now you can’t base one industry on a single varietal but it is its Malbec is genuinely magnificent. Not just world class. For me it leads the world.

Achaval  Ferrer, Malbec Mendoza 2010, Lujan de Cuyo, Uco Valley, Medrano [100% Malbec, 14% alc, oak aged 9 months £14]

Deep and red; ripe and easy, fruit driven; spicy and briary tones; creamy and ripe and very attractive. Ripe fruit on the palate; some oak; very good and attractive. 90+/100

Achaval  Ferrer, Ferrer Quimera 2008, Tupungato, Lujan de Cuyo, Medrano [40% Malbec, 22% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc] 14% alc, oak aged 12 months. £24

Deep and dense looking; ripe; roses, red fruits with some riper black notes; oak and mocha; big, ripe palate with nice purity; tight and dense yet still vibrant. Good drip and nice tannin 91-93+/100

Achaval  Ferrer, Finca Bella Vista [Single Vineyard] 2009, Perdriel Lujan de Cuyo, [100% Malbec, 13.5%, 15 months oak £52]

Very deep and arterial; lush fruit on the nose and very deep with perfume; fruit compote; deep and intense and extremely pure with lots of layers; similarly deep palate; ripe and round; some tightness here but real depth with a wonderful velvet quality to the palate; grippy at end. Utterly brilliant wine. 94-96+/100

Achaval  Ferrer, Finca Bella Vista [Single Vineyard] 2007 [100% Malbec]

Deep and arterial; ripe fruit with good purity again; minerality and wet rock notes too; more open on the palate than the above wine and some reductive notes – needs some aeration; silky palate with some Tuscan notes. Still pretty serious stuff if not as fab as the 2009. Dry finish. 90-91/100

Achaval  Ferrer, Finca Mirador 2008

Deep and vibrant looking; some earth and animal along with the fruit. Nice balance but on this showing less interesting to me than the others. 89/100

Dominio Del Plata Zohar Torrontes 2011, Calchaqui Valley, Salta [100% Torrontes, 13.5% alc un-oaked £10.99]

Pale grey/silvery gold; grapefruit, citrus zest and some honey; spice; ripe and round palate with candy and spice tones. Zip at the end. Excellent, refreshing white. 90/100

Dominio Del Plata Anubis Malbec 2011, Mendoza [95% Malbec, 5% Bonarda 14% alc four months oak £9.99] Vibrant purple, similarly vibrant nose; open and easy with black cherries and summer compote notes; spicy and easy palate with plenty of lush fruit – almost too much of a good thing! 90/100

Dominio Del Plata Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Mendoza [90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec 14% alc oak aged 13 months £21.99]

Deep and thick looking; attractive nose, black fruits and real complexity; plush and very attractive palate, terrific. Very good depth and concentration with real layers. One of the best Cabs I’ve tasted from Argentina 91-93/100

Dominio Del Plata Susana Balbo Malbec 2009 Mendoza [95% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alc, 13 months oak age £21.99]

Deep colour; juicy nose with real depth of fruit; wonderfully attractive; ripe palate with great purity. Dense and chewy finish. All you could possibly want in a great glass of seductive Malbec. 93+/100

Susana Balbo Brioso 2006 Mendoza [75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 5% Merlot 5% Petit Verdot 14.5% alc, 14 months oak £31.99]

Mid depth, open looking with some maturity;  more jam here, spice and ripeness; silky palate but for me not as enjoyable, fresh or interesting as the previous too. 89/100

Benmarco Expresivo 2008 Mendoza [50% Malbec, 20% Syrah, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Tannat 5% Petit Verdot 14% alc, 14 months oak age £29.99].

Deep and dense looking; earthy animal note; quite gamey; ripe almost Grenache like tones. Silky. Prefer the Malbec predominant blends. 90/100

Bodega Benegas, Juan Benegas Malbec 2009 Maipu, Mendoza [100% Malbec, 14.5% alc, 6 months oak £11.99]

Mid depth; vibrant; some briary notes; spice and perfume lift; easy, juicy palate with lots of sweet violet fruit. Good. 88+/100

Benegas Malbec 2008 Maipu and Tupangato, Mendoza [100% Malbec, 14% alc, 12 months in oak £17.99]

Deep and dense looking; strong mineral tones; brooding; palate ripe with satiny feel; fraction short at end. 87/100

Bodega Benegas, Juan Benegas Malbec 2009 Maipu, Mendoza [100% Malbec, 14.5% alc, 6 months oak £11.99]

Mid depth; vibrant; some briary notes; spice and perfume lift; easy, juicy palate with lots of sweet violet fruit. Good. 88+/100

Bodega Benegas Benegas Sangiovese 2008, Maipu, Mendoza [1005 sangiovese, 14.5% alc, oak aged for 12 months £21.49]

Mid red, translucent centre; earth and undergrowth with some cherry; good and typical Sangiovese characters like a very good Chianti; chew and depth on the palate. Very good/interesting effort this. 90/100

Bodega Benegas Benegas Syrah 2008 Maipu, Mendoza [100% Syrah, 14% alc , oak aged 12 months £21.49]

Mid depth; some game and animal with some salty and savoury characters; pure palate with structure and good poise. Nicely done. 90/00

Riglos Quinto Malbec 2010, Uco Valley, Mendoza [100% Malbec, 14.5% alc, un-oaked £16.49]

Deep and concentrated looking; ripe mulberry notes, very floral and attractive; pretty palate; violets and floral tones again. Lots of juicy fruit and bright fun here! 90/100

Riglos Gran Corte 2008, Uco Valley, Mendoza [50% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon 15% alc, oak aged 22 months £32.99]

Deep and .dense, layered and attractive nose; this one works, despite the alcohol it feels balanced and harmonious; real; density and depth and nicely contoured palate. Good length, though bit warm [obviously] on the finish. 92+/100

Bodega Atamisque Serbal, Malbec 2010, Tupangato, Mendoza [100% Malbec, 14% un-oaked £12.49]

Deep and dense colour; open easy style on the nose; spicy, briary fruit; quite plush palate. Good effort. 88+/100

Bodega Atamisque Atamisque Malbec 2008, La Consulta, Mendoza [100% Malbec, 14.5% alc, oak aged 14 months £19.99]

Deep and dense; layered nose; quite tight; good depth to the palate; dense and chewy. Impressive effort. 90-91/100

Atamisque Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Vista Flores, Mendoza [100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alc, oak aged 14 months £19.99]

Deep and dense; some mint and herbs; almost Heitz Napa Cab feel here; herbal , spicy and minty palate; chewy and dense too. Very nice herbal, spicy Cab 90/100

Atamisque Assemblage 2007 La Consulta/Vista Flores/Tupungato, Mendoza [50% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot 14.5% alc, oak aged 14 months £26.99]

Deep and dense, some mineral, earth and graphite alongside mint and leaf; big tannic palate; big and tannic. Serious stuff. 90/100

Gougueheim Winery, Reserva Malbec, Tupangato, Mendoza 2009 [100% Malbec, 14% alc, oak aged 6 months £13.99].

Mid depth; pretty, sexy up front Malbec; floral style and very attractive; juicy easy but flavour packed palate. Soft and easy but depth too. 90/100

RJ Vinedos, Joffre E Hijas Premium Malbec 2007, Uco Valley, Mendoza [100% Malbec, 14.5% alc, oak aged 14 months £23.99]

Deep and dark; more focus here; layered and tight; palate quite satiny in feel with violet notes and lots of plummy fruit. Very good effort. 90/100

RJ Vinedos, RJ Malbec 2005, Uco Valley, Mendoza [100% Malbec, 14.5% alc, oak aged 18 moths £39.99]

Deep and dense; thick and dense nose; spices, briary fruit; holds up well [6 years age]; some mature chocolate notes alongside black fruits, spices and herbs. Very good and stylish. 91+/100

Mendel Malbec 2009, Mayor Drummond, Lujan de Cuyo [100% Malbec, 14.4% alc, oak aged 12 months £18.49] Deep colour; legs; briary fruits, roses, deep and fresh; layered palate and a nice bright, clean style. Lively and fresh. 90/100

Mendel Unus 2008, Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley, Mendoza [70% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon 14.5 alc and oak aged for 16 months £29.99]

Deep and saturated colour; rich, pure nose with dark fruits; nicely handled palate with finesse; dense with minerality and good acid and grip. Very fine wine. 92+/100

Mendel Finca Remota 2008, Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza [100% Malbec, 14.5% alc and oak aged for 20 months £66.49]

Deep and saturated in colour; thicker and riper feel than Unus; some fig and molasses and very concentrated; this need some age as the palate is quite tight at present. Impressive density and concentration though. You may prefer Unus, which has more vibrancy and life. I think I do, but this is serious stuff and bigger in scale nevertheless. 90+/100

Catena Chardonnay 2010 Mendoza [100% Chardonnay, 13.9% alc, oak aged 9 months]

Pale green; gentle oak influence; floral quality to the nose along with melon and guava; attractive on the nose and palate. Modern, easy but with goodish length. 88+/100

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Mendoza [100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% alc, oak aged for 16 months]

Mid red; legs; vibrant nose; some rose alongside red fruits; chew and density on the palate; blackcurrant on the palate. Grip. Pretty good 88+/100

Catena Malbec 2009, Mendoza [100% Malbec, 14% alc, oak aged 14 months]

Mid red, pretty and lifted nose; floral tones attractive; red fruits on the palate; quite easy with some grip but lots of fuit and perfume. 88+/100

Catena Appellation Chardonnay 2010, Tupangato, Mendoza [100% Chardonnay, 13.5% alc, oak aged 6-12 months]

Pale green/silver; citrus, some floral notes; lifted and elegant Chard; nice; fresh modern palate with nice citrus zest and concentration. Very impressive. 90+/100

Catena Appellation Cabernet Franc  2009, El Cepilio, Mendoza [100% Cabernet Franc, 13.5% alc, oak aged, 1200m elevation]

Deep, dark and earthy; cassis, round; nice palate rightish but with some earthy mineralityand depth 89/100

Catena Appellation Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Agreio, Mendoza [100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5% oak aged] Deep, purple edge; thicker, juicer and more cassis here; some jam but good; polished palate with plushness. Density here too with grip. Very good and benchmark. 90/100

Catena Appellation Malbec 2009, Vista Flores, Mendoza [100% Malbec, 13.5%v alc, oak aged]

Deep and saturated in colour; tight to the edge; perfume and purity here; coffee and mocha notes too; good palate, concentrated. 90/100

Catena Alta Chardonnay 2009, Mendoza [100% Chardonnay, 14% alc, oak aged 12-16 months]

Silver green, limes and citrus fruit on the nose; very elegant and well done here; taut palkate but will open out; some oil and wax too. Great length. Extremely fine Chard. 92+/100

Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mendoza [100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% alc, oak aged 18 months]

Deep and saturated, vibrant looking; blackcurrants, coffee and mocha; oaked but nicely done; pretty palate, perfume, violets alongside blackcurrants. Elegance and complexity. 91+/100

Catena Alta Malbec 2008 Mendoza [100% Malbec, 14.5% alc, oak aged 18 months]

Deep and inky; vibrant again; fruit and attractive nose; layers; some coffee and oak; dense ripe palate; thick but not over blown. Some minerality here. Very dense and very good. Tannic bite at the end. Super. 91-93/100

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