If price is all the matters drink Fuzion at $7.45. Tens of thousands do and it is actually decent value. But there are better values under $10 from Argentina when you factor quality into your thinking. And of course Argentina is capable of much better beyond the $10 threshold. The nation’s wine quality and value cannot be doubted, and in a moment six wineries doing a great job in this regard.
They were among 26 wineries at the Argentina wine fair at the Design Exchange in Toronto in early November. The event itself was yet another example of far too much wine in too short a time, but with nose to the glass it was possible to focus, somewhat. Thank goodness organizer Monica Ralphs gave media a private run through a wide range of malbecs before the main event. I was also able to have dinner later with Luis Cabral de Almedia, winemaker at Finca Flichman, one of the leading producers of Mendoza.
Before my top six I want to quickly discuss a notion that Argentina is producing too much wine that is too similar. Is it the Achilles heel of the world’s 5th largest wine producing country? In this arid land with its searing desert days, chilled mountain nights and pin-pointed irrigation, there is very little variation of climate and terroir, thus wine style. The only real differential is vineyard altitude, which explains the land rush up the slopes of the Andes, and why producers like Flichman are stating altitude on their labels, and blending wines from varying altitudes.
I tasted the stylistic sameness of Argentine wine all afternoon – very ripe dense fruit, high alcohol, and dusty dry tannin. There is a bluntness to many Mendoza wines once you get passed their density and volume. The problem is more significant for Argentina if the market place is indeed shifting from heavy, high alcohol reds to lighter, higher acid reds. More than one colleague talked about Argentina being perfectly set up to fall into Australia’s trap once prices begin to rise and value begins to evaporate.
With styles being similar, one looks to individual producers and winemakers to define the differences, and there were six that stood out for me this day. Not that I managed to taste all 26.
Finca Flichman has been a favourite in recent years, a company mindful of Penfolds in Australia that has a knack for creating solid, big wines that also possess complexity, balance and flavour depth well beyond their price. From the basic Misterio 2008 Malbec (that at $7.95 duels with Fuzion in the bargain basement) to the fine Expresiones range (currently on last legs after Sept. release at Vintages), to the deep yet very elegant Dedicado, there isn’t a single Flichman wine that isn’t worth almost double its price (not that I advocate sudden price hikes). When I discovered that winemaker Luis Cabrial de Almeida was originally the winemaker at Sogrape in Portugal the light went on.
Pascual Toso Malbec
Pascual Toso also has a hot hand, the style being a bit more svelte, feminine and fruity than Flichman, but also possessing depth and balance beyond its price. On the LCBO general list, the 2007 Malbec, 2007 Merlot and 2008 Sauvignon Blanc all over deliver at $12.95. The Reserve Cabernet 2006 was another hit now sold out at Vintages and the 2008 Malbec Reserve which is en route is also very good. So what is the winemaking strength behind Toso? Could be the consultancy of Californian Paul Hobbs who has specialized in Mendoza for many years, as well as having his own winery in Sonoma. (He has also just signed with Stratus in Niagara).
Nieto Senetiner was the surprise of the day at the Argentine fair. There have had spot listings in Vintages the past, but nothing currently shows at the LCBO (agent is Cipelli Wines). At only $11.95 the 2008 Malbec was the best value of the day, with classic floral, blackberry malbec fruit aromas set in a fine, firm structure. And at $17.95 the Don Nicanor 2007 from 40 year old vines was a gentle giant, with girth and depth worth more like $30. Consulting winemaker here is Italy’s Alberto Antonini.
Another winery that impressed is Trivento, which has been through Vintages in the past and has a real gem coming down the pipe January 10th. At this tasting the focus shifted away from malbec to syrah, and the unbelievable good value 2008 Reserve Syrah ($12.95, 90 pts) with all kinds of pepper, licorice and dark fruit. A 2008 Syrah Malbec ($12.95, 85 pts) was a bit meaty on the nose, but might come around. The winemaking connection here is back to parent company, Concha Y Toro of Chile, which in my mind is making some of the most varietally correct and delicious wines in the world.
Luigi Bosca Reserva Malbec 2006
Luigi Bosca tilts to a Euro style – less opulently fruity than Trivento or Toso above, with a leather, spice and peppery notes taking the spotlight. But as with Nieto Senetiner the structure is what really counts; admirable density supported by firm acidity and tannin and sense of elegance. The 2006 Malbec Reserva ($17.95, 89 points) looks to be sold out, but a slate of six others are coming in January and February.
And what’s a wine fair without at least one brand new star. For me it was Bodega NQN from Patagonia with a delicious 2006 Coleccion Malbec that spoke real finesse, abetted by great French oak. Stylistically it was clearly not from Mendoza, but it had surprising poise and structure from vineyards not yet 10 years of age. It was not represented in Ontario when the fair opened, but I bet it is now.
Filed under: News