Argentinian red wines

By Wayne Crawford

Argentinian wines are ranked fourth in overall imports to the U.S. and are slightly down in total case sales in 2014. The center for wine in Argentina is Mendoza, and the richness and depth of wine offerings is a reflection of the many immigrants from Spain and Italy who landed on its shores with a winemaking heritage. The first vines were planted in Argentina in 1551 to provide communion wine for the Roman Catholic Church. Today, there are nearly 500,000 acres in wine, with most of the vineyards in western Argentina along the Andes Mountain foothills and as far south as Patagonia.


The second largest country in Latin America, Argentina’s high altitude and low humidity within the wine regions prevent problems normally associated with organic wine practices, such as insects, fungi, molds and other grape diseases.


The most important wine grape in Argentina is malbec, with almost 84,000 acres under vine. Much like its early heritage, the grapes grown reflect varietals indigenous to Italy, Spain and, in the case of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, pinot noir, chardonnay, chenin, sauvignon blanc and viognier, France.


My first exposure to red wine in Argentina was the wines of Nicolas Catena, a third-generation winemaker in Mendoza well-known for his role in pioneering malbec production. The family’s first winery was founded in 1902 by Nicolas’s grandfather.


Malbec is one of six authorized red grapes in the Bordeaux region of France. Today, while there remains some production in Bordeaux, Malbec or Cot is the dark wine of Cahors, France. Malbec is a full-bodied red wine that either can be blended or produced as a single varietal. In the cooler climates around Mendoza, including the Uco Valley and Lujan de Cuyo region renowned for malbec, the grapes produce fruit characteristics of blackberry, plum, black currant and anise with long, lingering finishes in well-crafted wines that have the ability to cellar for a decade or more.


Since Argentina is one of the world’s leading beef cattle producers, its red wines complement a rich beef heritage. For our blind-tasting, the Big Canoe Wine Group served several traditional Argentinian dishes: carbonada, a classic vegetable and beef stew rich in fruits, vegetables and flank steak; an Argentinian beef pie with beef and raisins; and homemade crepes with Dulce de Leche sauce. Grilled, roasted or stewed beef will be complemented by any of the Argentinian red wines. More importantly, there are excellent wines in the $15 to $25 range that are best buys.


‘Wines Drinking Well Now’


Norton Privada 2012, a Bordeaux blend, $24.99. This is a blend of 40 percent malbec, 30 percent merlot and 30 percent cabernet. Dark ruby-red colors with rich, dark berry flavors such as cherry and cassis are noted. On the palate, the wine is a full-bodied, well-balanced red blend with soft tannins. Dark fruit and licorice are captured in a long, lingering aftertaste. This was our first choice in the blind-tasting. Best Buy with a note: Blended red wine is now second to cabernet sauvignon in the U.S., passing merlot.


Chakana 2010 Estate Selection Malbec, Mendoza Lujan de Cuyo, $24. This dark-red wine offers aromas of black cherry, black raspberry and tobacco with floral hints. On the palate, it is full-bodied with integrated tannins and a balanced acidity with black fruit dominating a long finish. Highly Recommended.


Salentein Reserve 2010 Malbec from Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina, $20. Dark-red with purple hues, this wine has aromas of blackberry, black cherry, plum and vanilla with floral overtones. On the palate, it is a full-bodied red with soft tannins, balanced acidity and black fruit dominating a long finish. This is an excellent malbec that should age well.


Nieto Senetiner, Don Nicanor 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, $17. Dark ruby-red with aromas of black and red currant, herbs and vanilla, on the palate this is a full-bodied wine with black cherry, spice and tannins to sustain a long finish. Best Buy.


Archival Ferrer 2013 Mendoza Malbec, $25. This dark-red wine with purple hues is a young, robust malbec. Aromas of blackberry and black cherry with hints of licorice and red plum contribute to complex aromas. This is a full-bodied balanced red, with black fruit flavors matching the aroma. A lingering fruit-forward finish makes this an excellent wine to pair with food.


BenMarco 2013 Malbec Vallede Uco, $18.95. Grown from grapes in vineyards at 3,000 feet in the high desert, this wine is dark ruby-red with aromas of ripe black fruit and cocoa. On the palate, it is full-bodied with a smooth mouthfeel. Integrated acid and tannins, black cherry and red currant dominate a long finish in an excellent wine. Best Buy.


Other Argentinian wines to consider: Son Vida 2012 Malbec, $23; Mascota 2011 Unánime Gran Vino Tinto Red, $25; Lamadrid 2014 Single Vineyard Malbec, $15; La Posta 2014 Armando, $15; Benvenuto de la Serna 2014 Mil Piedras Malbec, $13; Bressia 2012 Monteagrelo Cabernet Franc, $27; and Finca El Origen 2012 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, $23.


‘Drink what you like’


In my next article, the focus will be on the medium-bodied red grenache wines from around the world, with the leading producers being France and Spain.


Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators, American Wine Society and The Wine Scholar Guild (formerly the French Wine Society).

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