Most of the time in this space we talk about wines from Mendoza, but some of the most exciting wines in Argentina are being grown in other areas.
Alfa Crux Malbec(4 / 5)
Alfa Crux Blend(4 / 5)
Beta Crux Blend
Alfa Crux was one of the first wines I fell love with in restaurants visiting Buenos Aires. An unapologetically big, bold, New World red, it was always located near the top of wine lists, and once we tasted it we were hooked.
An even bigger treat was visiting the winery, O. Fournier, on my first trip to Mendoza. It is a stunning, futuristic, gravity-driven winery that has you half thinking the Martians have landed alongside the Andes. It is as beautiful and iconic as the wine itself.
Located inside the winery is the restaurant Urban, helmed by Ortega Gil-Fournier’s wife Nadia. Hoping to eat there on this trip, because I loved her other restaurant, Nadia O.F., when it was located in Chacras de Coria.
Last week I had old friends over to my loft, and as usual, had been extolling the virtues of high-end Argentine wine. I thought of the perfect bottle to pull out.
An old friend, for old friends.
Alfa Crux is available in a 100% Malbec and a red blend. Both are stunning. In fact, in a side-by-side tasting at Nadia O.F., I was hard pressed to pick a favorite.
Further down the price chain is their second tier red blend, Beta Crux, which is also delicious for its price point. Expect to pay just over $40 for Alfa Crux in the States, and keep an eye out for Beta Crux in stores like Costco for under $20 from time to time.
(4 / 5)
Catena Malbec 2012
I mean, regular Catena. Not Catena Alta or Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino or Angelica Zapata or Nicolas Catena Zapata or the other more exotic wines I tend to wax poetically about.
Good old Catena Malbec. The one that is probably on your supermarket shelf for $22. (Unless you’re at Whole Foods Market where it will be a silly $26). The same Catena that you can get for $17 at Costco if you remember to pick some up.
The story has already been far better told by others of how Nicolas Catena transformed Argentine winemaking, so I won’t repeat that here.
I feel like my job on this blog is to make you look beyond the obvious choices. But seriously, if you find this for under $20, Catena Malbec IS the obvious choice. I just opened a bottle, at the proper temperature, used an aerator, and holy crap, this stuff is good. Not just acceptable, but delicious.
I’ve read columns from Luis Gutierrez and other wine experts who say Catena continues to make their whole line better and better. And tonight’s bottle reminds me this is true.
Yes, they have an empire. Yes, they even collaborate with Gallo on a high-distribution wine now. Yes, they have alliances with Rothschild and others. But you have to give credit to a company that despite growth, hasn’t taken their eye off the ball.
To me, Houston’s (maybe Hillstone in your city) is the most reliable, high-quality restaurant chain you can walk into. Everything is going to be good, every time, whether you’re in Atlanta, New York, Boston, or Santa Monica. You just know it’s going to be delicious. And that confidence, adds value. Well, Catena just might be the Houston’s of wine makers. And that is a compliment in my book.
Many thanks to Vino del Sol (one of our favorite US importers) for hosting a “Surprise Argentina Tasting” tonight at the Western Market in Birmingham, AL – one of the best places to buy wines in that city.
They featured some of the excellent low-priced single vineyard wines from Bodegas Lamadrid ($14-17 ), as well as Altocedro Reserva ($38). But for us the sweet spot of the evening was the wine you see here.
Puramun Reserva ($25) comes from the Uco Valley and is the personal project from Pepe Galante, who was the chief winemaker at Catena Zapata from 1976 to 2010. So you can definitely say he has some experience with premium Argentine reds. The 100% malbec is aged for 12 months in 50% new oak and 50% second-use French oak.
Puramun means “harvest” in Mapuche, and Galante chose to have a maze (redrawn in a different shape every year) on each label, to symbolize that getting the best out of each year’s vintage is a constant challenge.
How does it taste? It’s a big, New World red, to be sure. Let’s just say it wouldn’t be Neal Martin’s cup of tea. Wine Enthusiast’s Michael Schachner gave this wine a lowly 87… he found it not as expansive as he would have liked, but I disagree – I think that score is too low – I quite enjoyed it and would drink it again. Wine Spectator gave this bottle a 90 – and I think that’s more in the ball park. That review shows a price of $39, but it was $25 at tonight’s tasting as well as online.
At that price, it’s a good bottle to take home with your next ribeye.
The Uco Valley is the new frontier of Argentine winemaking, where some of the most exciting experiments are taking place. There has been much investment by domestic and foreign winemakers, and those bets are paying off. And Tiny La Consulta, which sits in the shadow of Volcano San Jose, is one of the most heralded wine growing regions in the Uco Valley right now.
So when we came across this $16.99 bottle at the Western Market in Mountain Brook, AL, one of the better wine sellers in the region, we had to check it out.
I’ve been fascinated by Argentine red blends lately. They add complexity to an already wonderful Malbec grape, and this one adds to the argument to try a blend. And a wine from this well-regarded region seemed like it would have promise.
Altocedro La Consulta Select is a blend of 42% Malbec, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Tempranillo and 9% Syrah, with restrained fruit and really nice complexity for the price.
Try it; you’ll like it.
2010 Flechas de Los Andes Gran Malbec(3.5 / 5)
Anyone who’s enjoyed a few bottles of Argentine wine with me knows that one of my all time favorites is the Flechas de Los Andes (Arrow of the Andes) Gran Corte 2006, with a Robert Parker rating of 94. Upon opening wine is strikingly full-bodied and somewhat tannic, but after a few minutes of air it bursts with complex aromas and flavors. I liked it so much, I bought up the entire US supply!
Flechas is part of Clos de Los Siete, a group of seven winemaking partners who all share family and business ties to superstar French consulting winemaker Michel Rolland. Five different vineyards at the foot of the Andes produce distinct brands at different price levels. Together, they have been described by WineAccess as “the most ambitious (and possibly most expensive) wine making operation on the planet.”
So I naturally got curious when I saw another bottle from the same winemaker in my local Costco at the crazy low price of $11.99.
This is the Flechas de Los Andes Gran Malbec. Unlike the Gran Corte, which is a Malbec/Syrah/Merlot blend aged for 17 months in new French oak, the Gran Malbec is 100% Malbec grape and it’s aged for 14 months. So, a less complex wine, but it shares a lot of the same grapes and lineage.
The release price was $22. For some reason, people weren’t willing to go there. (Maybe it’s because the wine has a slightly musty scent upon first opening.) So while the Gran Malbec had an impressive Robert Parker rating of 92, it didn’t take the market by storm.
Enter Costco, the largest purchaser of fine wine in the U.S.: “How much for all those bottles you’ve got there, taking up space?” Apparently the folks at Cos de Los Siete were ready to deal. So I brought a bottle home.
It’s not as magic as the Gran Corte, to be sure. But five minutes after pouring, it’s pretty darn tasty. If you’re drinking Alamos, Cupcake, The Show, or other cheap South American reds, buy a bottle of this instead. I think you’ll like it.
(4.5 / 5)
ZaHa Malbec 2010
Oh boy, is this stuff good. One of my new Twitter friends, @Pampallugas, was drinking ZaHa this afternoon and suggested I give it a try. It was $39 at our local Hop City (which has an epic assortment of South American wines – you’ll see that post shortly.)
This is a malbec-dominant blend. 90% Malbec, 8% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Verdot. (Can you really taste 2% of anything???)
It’s grown in a region of Mendoza I’m not familiar with called San Carlos.
The winemakers who created ZaHa are Jeff Mausbach and Alejandro Sejanovich, two longtime employees of Catena Zapata who broke away and started their own venture. They have an even higher-end wine called TeHo (around $70.) Strange names, and I must admit I bypassed them on the wine aisle a couple of times.
Big mistake. This wine is absolutely delicious. I am hard-pressed to name a more elegant and substantial wine for $39.
Jay Miller of Wine Advocate gave it a 92, and I think it might be even better than that number suggests. It may lack the complexity of a true $100 trophy wine from Argentina, but it has great weight, a nice finish and it just plain tastes wonderful.
Honestly, with Catena Alta starting to elevate from the $39 range to more like $43, this is a truly delicious option when you want to stay under $40. And if you want to really stock up, Bedford Wine Merchants carries this for $35.99. At that price… it’s a steal.
I am officially on the ZaHa train, next destination: TeHo.
(4.5 / 5)
It’s the wine most of us never get to drink. At least until we inherit a bigass fortune or win the Lottery.
I’m talking about Cobos Malbec, the icon wine from Paul Hobbs’ legendary Vina Cobos in Mendoza’s Luján de Cuyo region. Hobbs has consulted with numerous wineries in Argentina, but this is the vineyard he owns, so obviously it’s the one he’s put his most masterful touch on.
I flew to Mendoza and visited the winery myself. But after 5000 miles and thousands of miles in of travel, would they give me just a wee taste? Nope. Not unless you bought the stuff. And at the time that just seemed highway robbery.
Should a malbec cost $200? Hell no. But this one does.
This seems a good moment to back up and describe the entire line of Vina Cobos’ wines. All of these are available in a Malbec and Cabernet version, but as usual I am focusing on the Malbec.
Felino is readily available in the States for about $19. It aspires to take the sweet spot from Catena Malbec in this category. It’s not a bad wine, but with some shopping around I think you can do better for the price. (3 / 5)
Bramare is where Hobbs starts to get serious about wine. This bottle can be found around $43, again coincidentally about the same price as Catena Alta. (3.5 / 5)
But for my money, where Vina Cobos starts to become a must-try is at the next level up: the green-label Bramares. These are the wines from specific vineyards. The one from the Marchiori Vineyard, about $75 if you shop carefully, is one of the best wines I have ever tasted. (4.5 / 5)
But my friend Greg and I were sitting in the stunning courtyard of the Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt, arguably one of the nicest places to have a drink in the world. And Cobos Malbec was on the wine list. I’d just gotten a mess of pesos at 11/1 exchange via Xoom.com. So everything was a bargain, right? It not now, when?
So when they served the bottle, it was… good. Actually the bottle was a little warm, and I asked them to cool it off. And our first sip was just, nice. But after five minutes, oxygen worked its magic and we started to realize we had one delicious glass of wine in our hands.
It grew in complexity and the legs on the sides of the glass were just huge.
It was truly amazing, but for the price, you could have three bottles of equally amazing wine. So was it worth it? That depends on where you are, and what you are celebrating.
For all the talk of trophy wines that are too big, too New World, and too alcohol-tinged, there is something to be said for a wine that just blows you away on a perfect afternoon in one of the world’s most perfect places. Cobos Malbec (4.5 / 5)
Bodegas Belgrano Malbec(2 / 5)
Time to atone for that $200 bottle of Cobos.
I figure my job is to make the mistakes, so you don’t have to.
So when I saw this $7.99 bottle at Whole Foods Market, I decided to take one for the team.
The wine is called Bodegas Belgrano.
Never heard of it. In. My Life.
(If the audio were louder, my skepticism would come through even more clearly.)
And the verdict…
Is it good?
Well, yeah. In its own way. But so is Kool-Aid.
This stuff is jammy, jammy, jammy. Light-bodied and fruit forward – almost like an inexpensive Zinfandel.
I’ve had worse $12 wines, to be sure. There’s nothing overly barnyard, tannic, muddy, or obnoxious about it. And I wouldn’t avoid this. But I also wouldn’t give it as a gift.