Show me the Malbec…Argentina parte uno

Salentein vineyard view 1.jpgJust flew in from Buenos Aires and boy is my palate tired.
The 14 day tour took us to Buenos Aires, Iguazu and Mendoza. I tried to poo-poo Iguazu as just another tourist trap but I was WRONG. Here is a youtube vid with a Moby track that in a very small way captures the majesty of this must-visit site for those of you traveling to Argentina. I loved Buenos Aires and the falls but this is a wine blog so let me tell you about the wine country. That means Mendoza.
Mendoza is the the name of the city and province (e.g., Los Angeles city and county). For a city of 1.400,000 the place is pretty dang relaxed. The large province is geographically diverse which is very good for the wine. The weather in the city is ideal (end of summer this time of year in the 70s). There are purportedly 1,200 wineries in the estado. A winery that produces half a million cases like Salentein in Uco Valley is not unusual.Salentein bodega.jpg A winery that produces 500 cs such as La Azul also in the Valle de Uco (pictured below) is also not unusual although it is apparent the larger wineries get the greatest exposure…for now.
The three wine principal growing areas surrounding Mendoza proper that get the greatest exposure are Lujan de Cuyo, Maipu and Valle de Uco. La Azul bodega Uco.jpgThere are numerous micro areas within each. Think of Lujan de Cuyo as Sonoma, Maipu as Napa and Valle de Uco as…the Rockies with vinifera. Wine is also grown north of Mendoza in San Juan (out of the province) and south in San Rafael (warmer and in Mendoza province).
There are also a couple other important growing regions, Salta to the very north with its CafayateValley and Rio Negro in Patagonia to the very south. We will discuss these regions in subsequent reports. Especially since the most impressive winery in my view comes from Salta.
I will be writing several reports. They will focus on wine quality, regional style and value. This entry reports the wines I tasted at the Vines. Forthcoming reports include bodega touring including the incredible Uco Valley, availability of wines I liked in LA, and other wines tasted including many more Malbecs.
First an observation. Wineries in the region are well represented on the Internet. In fact, web-presence is somewhat formulaic featuring Flash with music and “visionary” dialogue. In town and on the ground, thankfully, things are not so cookie cutter.
We booked lodging at the Posada de Rosas over the web and crossed our fingers. This turned out to be very fortunate as our hosts were two very charming Americans (Ellen and Riccardo) in the travel business who provided endless touts on dining, shopping and touring. Their Posada is ideally located and quite comfortable.
[ed. Ellen and Riccardo share the very strong expectation that Mendoza wine touring is about to boom. The signs are everywhere.]
The Vines of Mendoza is emblematic of the Mendoza wine boom. This outfit is (1) a tasting room with nearly 200 local wines, (2) a wine store that ships to the USA (through their wine club Acequia), (3) the original and now former wine touring service, (4) a real estate business that sells 10 acre vineyard plots for wannbe vignerons, and (5) a vineyard management service for the buyers of their vineyards. Take a breath.
I am happy to say that the folks at Vines were extremely knowledgable and helpful; in particular Carolina Escudero, Pedro Cubillos and Mariana Onofri. Just to make my point about opportunities in the Mendoza wine scene, Ms. Onofri is a certified sommelier who left La Bourgogne to join the Vines staff. La Bourgogne is the highly regarded restaurant at the Carlos Pulenta bodega (take the bodega tour, skip the lunch at LB). Pulenta is one of the major players in Argentine wine. You would think a gig like that is worth hanging onto and certainly would trump working in a wine store. Except in Mendoza where being in the right place at the right time can make a career. And The Vines appears to be the right place right now.
I tasted nine wines at the Vines. You will see they ran a gamut in price, varietal and region which is exactly what I wanted for my get-to-know-you tasting. I paid $50 which some folks might think is kind of pricey for spitting wine, and in Mendoza it might be. I cannot make a comparison since tasting wine in Mendoza is not like California where tasting rooms are open to the public all day long. Of course, that is excluding Napa’s tonier wineries where $40 is de riguer and you do not get to keep the logo glass. [ed. tBoW reviewed Napa in this Nov 07 column] Wine touring and tasting is by appointment in Mendoza. Even though there are other tasting rooms in Mendoza (e.g., Marcelino Wine Shop, see Ellen at Posada de Rosas) I only tasted at the Vines. Otherwise, tasting took place at dinner (only Argentine wines were ordered) or wineries. I will say dining in Mendoza was outstanding.
Prices are in US$. Exchange is 3 pesos to 1 dollar.
perpetuumespumante.jpg2005 Gimenez Riili Perpetuum $10: Sparkling Blanc de Blanc (Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir) wine from Maipu grapes. The winemaker/owner is a partner in the Vines. No alcohol or vintage. Toasty with oak notes. Walnut and green apple flavors. Really nice. I saved some for the end and lemon had emerged. 12.6%. Can we get this over here soon?
lurton torrontes.jpg2007 Lurton flor de Torrontes $8.50: I am in love with Torrontes. I started drinking it the first chance I had when I ordered an Alta Vista Torrontes for dinner at Tomo 1 in BA. This is Valle de Uco juice. It is herbaceous with no oak. Feline character and viognier flavors. 12.5%. Not my style but I bet the Missus would have loved it.
lorca-viognier.jpg2007 Lorca Viognier $13.50: Soon as I mentioned viognier, Pedro Cubillos, my server, brought one out. Salty nose. Very floral in the mouth. Also Valle de Uco fruit. 14%.
Time out. The photo at top is from Valle de Uco which is a region 100km south of the city. It is higher elevation, closer to the Andes and tends to produce higher tone fruit with more acid and more alcohol. Much of the big international $$ is going into Uco valley.

2007 Jose L Mounier Torrontes $5
: The Vines staff love this wine. So do many other folks [ed. see Oct 07 SFgate article] so I am bucking the trend. Mounier is the winemaking veteran of Cafayate Torrontes which is the cradle of great Torrontes. His is a good story. After producing great Torrontes wines for others in the region he has opened his own small bodega (winery), small production (8,000 cs) with 25 year old vines. Except it is not my style. Full bodied, subdued nose, viscous wine. Floral nose but just too heavy for me. 13%.
Time out #2. Torrontes was described to me as a cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat and/or Criolla. In fact, it is a cross between Muscat and Criolla Chico which is the Mission grape. It is not related to the Spanish Torrontes grape and aren’t you glad we got that straight. It has weight (viscosity) which comes from Criolla. It has an herbaceous and/or floral nose which comes from the Muscat. However, I also tasted and smelled that distinctive Riesling petroleum component along with bright acids when made in a certain style. It comes on like a cross between a Ligurian white and a Saarburger Riesling (think Zilliken). In the least is a great summer wine. At best I think it can make a great white wine.
sophenia.jpg2007 Altosur Sophenia Sauvignon Blanc $12.50: Pedro strikes again. Mention Sauvignon Blanc and here it comes from the high altitude Finca Sophenia vineyard. Grassiness, grapefruit in the nose. What I would expect from SB. However, sexier bottom fruit. “What do you mean?” inquires Pedro. OK. the wine is weightier than I would expect. It has substance and elegance. This is from a 4,000 foot vineyard named Altosur in the Uco valley so it also has higher alcohol and acid. That’s sexy isn’t it? I would buy this.
cpattimalbec.jpg2002 Carmelo Patti Cabernet Sauvignon $20: Pedro poured this with pride. Carmelo Patti is a beloved long-standing local winemaker from Sicily who remains independent and true to his family style winemaking methods. Production is 50,000 cs. of which 14,000 are Cabernet Sauvignon. With 6 years on it maturity was expected. The nose is exotic with black pepper and black olive. The aroma is not heavy or dominant like we often find in Napa cabs. Color is dark red brick showing some age. Flavor is acidic but balanced. Weight is light to medium. It is like a southern Italian wine, even Sicilian. Style is old world. 13.5%. Too bad I rarely drink Cabs. But you might.
zuccardi_q.jpg, $45: This is the big ticket big rep wine of which there are many. The Familia Zuccardi label is the premium label for one of Argentina’s largest (1.25 million cases) enterprises. Call it your Argentina trophy wine. Beautiful King’s robe, regal red. Strong middle palate. Otherwise pretty boring…and over-priced (although “good value” for a trophy wine). 14.5%
monteagrelo.jpg2005 Bressia Monteagrelo $26: Finally a Malbec and a really good one. I think it is remarkable and indicative of the diversity among Argentine wines (and the knowledge of Mr. Pedro Cubillos) that I tasted 6 wines at the Vines before getting to a Malbec. And this was the one to taste first. Bressia is a bit of a mystery. The website is under construction and I am not sure where is the winery and I did not visit there (even though Ellen offered it just did not work out). However, there is no mystery about his wines which are roundly admired and recommended. This is his Malbec from the Monteagrelo vineyard. The nose was aromatic with berry notes. Distinct chocolate and cherry flavors. Good acid. Medium weight. Seductive. We need this wine here. 13.5%.
laazulreserva.jpg2003 La Azul Reserve $20: A blend of Malbec, Cab Sauv and Merlot from Flavia Monterolla in the Uco Valley. She is the rare woman winemaker and bodega owner. Production is 500 cs.