Argentina wines in LA (not!! yet…)

You know how it is. You spend a couple weeks in Argentina including a week just in Mendoza staring at the Andes [ed. the view from Vistalba] and tasting wines and you find stuff you really like. You have to decide “do I haul some back or have some shipped?” If you want to ship a case from Argentina via DHL it will set you back $240/case. So add $20/bottle to your U20 winners. Or you can join The Vines of Medoza wine club Acequia. The Vines has much of what you like on their impressive list and they ship for a lot less ( I mean a LOT LESS) than DHL.
[ed. alert: The Wall Street Journal published an article March 29 2008 on The Vines vineyard business.]
Why not join the club? I have no problem accepting wines selected by people in which I have complete confidence, especially if they are Vines staff Mariana Onofri or Pedro Cubillos. Wait a minute. I live in LA. I can find most of these wines, especially my favorites, in Los Angeles. LA baby. Bigger than New Yawk. Anything you want.
WRONG. I returned with must-buy wines from Colom√©, La Azul and Walter Bressia. Of these three I have found only the Colom√© at Hi Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa! Fortunately, my tBoW tasting team supervisor who lives in Orange County had knee surgery recently so I was able to stop by and pick up more of what was certainly the most fascinating wine tBoW tasted in Argentina; that would be Colom√©. I know every serious wine store in SoCal and most in the Bay Area but, except for Hi Time, when it comes to a premium selection of Argentine wines you can fuggedaboudid. [ed. this opinion since softened by actually locating desirable Argentina wines in a few accessible stores…as reported below].
By the way, I had not been to the legendary OC wine store – Hi Time Wine Cellars – in at least 15 years. The selection is outstanding, comprehensive and DEEP. The buyers are doing a super job.
So I do the best I can and buy what I can find in LA. Here is my story.
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2007 Zolo Torrontes
$8.50: So here is the good news. In the few weeks I have been working the 5/405 corridor for evidence of decent Argentine wine I found this delightful Torrontes; first at $11 in Long Beach (Wine Country in Long Beach, nice store) then the Missus found it in Gelsons for even less. This is everything I want in Argentine wine. Floral nose, pears and peaches on the palate with firm acids to give it more than just a sappy flabby flavor. From grapes grown at 3,000 feet in La Rioja. Torrontes is the all-purpose all-star grape. Purr-fect. At 13.5 % it is a bit stout. Spectator gave it an 86. Every time I see a Spectator rating I actually snicker. Oh, not quite up to an 87 you say? How about 8.5 as in dollars and cents.
Elsa_Torrontes_2007_Label_main.JPG2007 Elsa Bianchi Torrontes $8: Purchased at K&L Hollywood. From San Rafael which is in the southern part of Mendoza province, about 1,000 ft above sea level. Lively fruit, floral nose. Summer wine. Very nice. Has some Riesling character. Held up well over next 3 days. A great buy for an outdoor June wedding. 12.5%
orfila toro.gif2006 Orfila Torrontes $10: It means something when a 30 million case winery can produce a wine this nice. Here is what it means. Torrontes from Salta’s Cafayate valley is the mark of excellence. This wine has the mineral and acid backbone we love in summer wines along with the Torrontes Rielsing-like character. Fab. Of course, good luck finding it. I found it in the Hollywood Carniceria Argentina. Next to the soap. 13.3%
torino_torr_dd_06.jpg2006 Don David Reserve Torrontes $16: Michel Torino Estate from Cafayate vineyards above Salta at 5600 ft. Right away the alcohol (13.9%) is evident. Gives it spine. More intense fruit on the nose and in the mouth. Showing stronger character and impresses us over the Elsa. Overnight it turns into Limoncello with the alcohol overtaking the fruit. I prefer the Elsa!
corte-b-vistalba-2003.jpg2003 / 2004 Vistalba Corte B $25: I tasted the 2004 in Mendoza. I found the 2003 at my local vendor, Woodland Hills Wine Co. We tasted it in Mendoza at the Carlos Pulenta bodega. There is also a Corte A and Corte C. Corte is the term commonly used to signifiy a blended wine. In the 2003 vintage (14.2%) the blend is Malbec (42%), Cabernet (32%), Bonnarda and Merlot. The 2004 blend (14.5%) tasted in Mendoza blended Malbec (57%), Cabernet (30%) and there is no Merlot. The 2004 was $31 on the La Bourgogne wine list. The wine shows luscious blueberries. Judged it excellent and resolved to buy it in LA. The 2003 has one quarter less Malbec. The Cabernet is more prominent and there is no Merlot. The Cabernet dominates the flavors…for the worse. A fruity keeper, dense, if you like Cab. If you like what Merlot does with Malbec…and I definitely do…look for the 2004.
2005 Vistalba Corte C $11: Found it at Hi Time in Costa Mesa. Not bad, not great. 85% Malbec and the rest Merlot. The blend I prefer but this is ripe, high acid fruit. Not balanced. Open over three days. Should have opened. The Merlot proportion could and should contribute more if it were closer to 30%. Alcohol at 14%.
Salentein 2004 Malbec.gif
2004 Salentein Malbec
$19: Estate bottling from one of the premier Valle de Uco wineries. Bought this in the Argentinan Carniceria in North Hollywood. I was on the hunt! I did not taste many Salentein wines in Argentina but those I did taste I liked. None were Malbec. Finding the 2004 vintage is cool as the current release is 2006. Vineyards are just below 4,000 ft. Tannins have softened. Dotoré says lay it down and I think I will. High valley mineral fruit. Hint of citrus.
benvenuto.jpg2005 Benvenuto de la Serna $15: This Uco Valley winery produces single grape wines from Malbec, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauv and Merlot. Thank goodness they also produce this 60/40 Malbec/Merlot wine. Fruity and forward to be sure. Also tasty and balanced. Ended up the popular bottle on this evening. Purchased at K&L. 13.5%
2006 Bundini Malbec $7: A screwtop cap (good!). A fruity blend that goes down easy. This is your go-to-BBQ blend. Purchased at K&L. I would guess Lujan fruit. Ripe, soft. So much comes out of there it is only a matter of time before there are custom crushes galore.
2003 Salentein Pinot Noir $19: Another wine reminiscent of something we tasted in Mendoza. We had the 2005 at the Bodegas Salentein. It was 15.5% alcohol and fruity. This is not. Flavors at coffee and caramel. Could be storage as I bought this at a carniceria in Hollywood. Another example of what is on the shelves in the darnedest places. Because, there is an Argentine community who will buy these wines and nobody knows any different. Until now.
mendel malbec.jpg2005 Mendel Malbec $24: Old vines (70 years plus). Rich, coffee and caramel flavors. Another bottle readily available throughout SoCal. Does not make my tongue twitch.
2005 La Posta Cocina $16: 60% Malbec, 20% Bonnarda and 20% Syrah. Nice to see Syrah is grown in Mendoza. Rich flavors, bright fruit. Italian style. The Bonnarda changes everything. A better blend than with Cab but not my fave.
kaiken.jpg2005 Kaiken Malbec Reserva $12: This is one of the Argentine wines that made my hot list in Mendoza. Bought at Wine Country in Signal Hill (ask for Nancy).This wine is nicely structured which means it holds together, presenting a consistent palate of ripe dark fruit backed by moderate tannins and balanced overall. Long finish that is wholly pleasing. Has 7% Cabernet Sauvignon which works well in this amount giving the wine some added character. Blows away the Corte C. 14.6%
To summarize, the good news is that Torrontes can be found. I think I would buy any Torrontes just to see what it was like. It is that steady. The bad news is not one of the Argentine wines purchased in and around LA that are reviewed here were tasted in Argentina. I did find earlier vintages of the same label and varietal which was better than nada. And I did discover wines from regions I recognized and favored which was good. However, I remain on the hunt for the wines that stuck a hook in my brain as I stared at the Andes.
Availability Update: I contacted the importer for Andeluna wines and was provided a list of 13 SoCal shops that carry Andeluna wines. I did a web search for half and found one Andeluna wine in stock; Andeluna’s lowest end product. The importer, San Francisco Wine Exchange, says they just received their container with the reserves so I should look for these in fine wine shops served by California distributor Henry Wine Group. I did find their 2005 Malbec Winemakers Selection at The Wine House in West LA for $11. Not exactly what I was looking for but certainly worth a try. Hey – I bought those plastic tasting glasses for under $2 apiece. Nice value. Hope they are neutral.
Bottom line, last word, final say…while there are many nice Argentina wines to be found in LA, we are not getting the really great wines. And these wines we are not getting do not cost more than $20 (well maybe the Bressia). Conclusion? An industry still in development. Looks like I gotta go back!
[ed. This is the third post on Argentina wines. While we are trying to mix things up with other reviews and stories tBoW is not close to being finished with Argentina wines. There are two posts in the queue and a summer of asados on the horizon].


  1. Wavatar
    Thomas Sweat says:

    Iwish to purchase a couple of cases of Torrontes–Zolo ’07,’08,’09’10 ;Tapiz’09,Manos Negras’09;Camina del Inca;Lamadrid. Also Tapiz Chardonnay’09;Verum’07. These are wines imported from Argentina by VinodelSol. Epic in CA is the distributer. Do you know where I can buy these and have them shipped to Mississippi ?? Our choice here is very limited.

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      Bacchus says:

      Dear Tom – TGIC Importers is located in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Take a look at their website – They are one of the earliest among importers off premium Argentina wines. Quite a few others have entered the market since. I am not sure who represents the wines I covered in my various posts on Argentina wines. You would have to research each one. I also know noting about the wine scene in Mississippi. However, if you like Torrontes – the Argentine white wine – I suggest buying anything you see. It seems impossible to make a bad bottle of Torrontes. On the other hand you can always contact my local LA wine stores Woodland Hills Wine Co or K&L and ask if they will ship to you. At WHWC ask for Chad or Kyle. At K&L in Hollywood you can ask for Greg Smart. One other option would be to call HI Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa and ask for Patty Quick. She is the Argentine wine buyer. Try them first. Of course, this all presupposes that Mississippi is not one of those states that prohibits shipping wine to Mississippi from other states. Good luck. If you strike out entirely you can always try the 2009 Beaujolais! One last thought…somebody today pointed me to a wine webstie that also sells and ships. She is also from LA and may be able to help the wine deprived in the Deep South. Whatever you do be sure to leave an update here on tBoW.

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