South American Reds and Classic Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason
The main feature of the rather large March 7th VINTAGES release (135 products) is Tuscany, which David will lead next week. There are also mini-features on British Columbia, Kosher wines and St. Patrick’s Day (Irish Whiskey, naturally). But for this week we were drawn hors piste by a handful of compelling reds from South America, including a pair of Chilean wines that further bolster my case to consider this conservative country in a new light (See my January report entitled “Chile Into The Future”).
And considering that Sara d’Amato has just returned from judging the Argentina Wine Awards (the first wine awards judged by an all-female panel, to my knowledge) and additional travels around the country, and that David Lawrason is currently basking under the South American sun (on business, of course), the focus of this week’s report is not entirely whimsical.
As a bonus, Sara shares some still-vivid impressions from Argentina. We’ll also round out this week’s recommendations with the short list of top chardonnays and sauvignon blanc (and blends) from the March 7th lineup.
d’Amato on Argentina
An invitation to judge close to 700 wines at the Argentina Wine Awards with an all-star, all-female panel, followed by a cross-country discovery tour had me in the southern hemisphere for most of this month. A few very distilled thoughts on my experience:
1. There is huge diversity of malbecs across the country. High elevations (where you’ll find the best) do not equate with cool, necessarily. Growers battle with the complications of high UV radiation, needing inventive canopy management to shade and protect their grapes, and specialized irrigation so that water does not immediately evaporate in the dry heat. What makes high elevation plantings special is the temperature difference between night and day – when the temperature drops six degrees per hour you can feel the night coming on, and can imagine the grapes shivering and almost feel the nervy tension being built in these wines. Most importantly, higher elevations offer soils with better drainage and low fertility (a good thing).
2. Varieties other than malbec are on the rise. In fact, in a big surprise to all judges, none of the regional trophies this year were awarded to malbecs. Top prizes were awarded instead to bonarda, which is widely planted and has great potential to be the next “it” grape. Not only is bonarda easy to grow on the less “desirable” soils, it’s approachable, easy to drink and offers plenty of fruit and supple tannins. What else rocked my world: tannat, petit verdot, cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc. And although I can’t imagine finding a pure tannat from Argentina on our shelves any time soon, its dark and surprisingly supple fruity goodness, uniquely expressed in Argentina, is worth demanding. Sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, unlike their fresh expressions in neighboring Chile, offered both depth and ripeness that proved balanced and appealing.
If you find yourself in southern Ontario, the last of the Colomé Reserva Malbec from a previous VINTAGES release is a gem worth seeking out. To put this in perspective, the higher elevation plantings of the Uco Valley in Mendoza are around 3,000 – 4,000 feet in elevation. At Colomé, in the northern region of Salta in the Upper Calchaquí Valleys, the plantings are well over 3,000 meters making them the highest elevation vineyards on earth. This is a malbec that will make you rethink malbec.
Readily available across the province is the Alamos 2013 Malbec. Affordably priced, this distinctive, reliable and solid quality malbec is produced in the higher elevations of Mendoza in the esteemed region of Vistaflores. A textbook malbec, finely crafted and a great value. For an introduction to bonarda, you’ll see my note below for the Zuccardi 2012 Serie A – which is being release in VINTAGES on March 7th.
The result of the AWA’s can be found here: http://www.winesofargentina.org/awa/edicion/2015/premiados/regional%20trophy. ~ Sara
VINTAGES March 7th Buyers Guide: South America
Emiliana 2012 Novas Gran Reserva Syrah-Mourvèdre, Cachapoal Valley (Colchagua Valley), Chile ($15.95)
John Szabo – Under the direction of César Morales Navia, the Novas line of organic wines from Emiliana is among the best values in South America. This syrah-mourvèdre blend is an excellent example of the shift to grapes that are better suited to parts of Chile (Mediterranean) than the maritime Bordeaux varieties that have dominated the scene since the 19th century. It’s stylish and rich, generously flavoured and long on the finish, far outperforming many competitors in the price category.
David Lawrason - Great value yet again from this leading producer of organic wines. It feels very much like a rather rustic Rhone but with more fruit exuberance. A lot of depth and life for $16. Very good to excellent length.
Santa Carolina 2010 Specialties Dry Farming Carignan, Cauquenes Valley (Maule Valley), Chile ($17.95)
John Szabo - The Santa Carolina Specialties range is another perfect example of even the very large, entrenched rear guard companies of Chile (Santa Carolina was established in 1875) looking to craft wines more representative of the country’s potential rather than the marketing department’s wishes. Led by Andrés Caballero, the Santa Carolina team has sought out new terroirs “where grapes are in perfect balance with soil and climate. These wines speak of forgotten varieties, dry lands and endless root systems, old vineyards and small scale farmers”, according to official sources. In my view, this is a terrific wine made from 80 year-old dry-farmed carignan vines in the Cauquenes Valley (Maule) in Southern Chile, a bit wild and rustic, but that’s the beauty of old carignan, like a characterful, wrinkled face that has seen the passage of a great many years. Enjoy with a rare-grilled, well-aged umami-rich, bone-in ribeye.
Cuvelier Los Andes 2009 Grand Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($61.95)
John Szabo - Admittedly this is not the style of wine that I’m generally attracted to – the kind for which a fork and knife are as helpful as a glass – but this was so well done that it had to be mentioned. Fans of amarone and vintage port should line up for this 16.5% alcohol monster, a seriously dense and rich, ultra concentrated, smoky, wood-tinged, savoury red wine with massive structure and intensity. It would be hard to imagine stuffing more into a bottle of wine, or getting further in style from classic Bordeaux (from where the Cuvelier family hails and owns several château). This should also age magnificently.
David Lawrason - This 100% malbec is from one of the five French-owned estates in the magnificent desert compound in Vistaflores calles Clos de Los Siete. Cuvelier is owned by Jean- Guy and Bertrand Cuvelier who are also the owners of Château Léoville- Poyferré and Château Le Crock in Bordeaux. This is a very impressive, maturing rich, dense and elegant – very much in a French tone.
Zuccardi 2012 Serie A Bonarda, Santa Rosa, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato - Zuccardi is a true family affair and a big one that prides itself on innovation, finding unique sites and using cutting edge vinification. The Serie A Bonarda is a great introduction to this seductive and ready-to-drink varietal that offers loads of fruit spice, gentle tannins and an impactful nature.
David Lawrason – The Zuccardi family has been growing bonarda in the eastern Santa Rosa region for decades, long before it became a trendy varietal. So they have a good supply of old vine stock. This nicely catches the fruity charm I am looking for from this grape – simple but exuberant, balanced and ready to drink.
Viña Tarapacá 2012 Gran Reserva Carmenère, Maipo Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason - From a grand estate in middle Maipo this is a massive value in textbook carmenere! The nose absolutely soars here with an up-draught of cassis, sappy evergreen, steak tartar and background oak. Powerful, deep and even for carmenere lovers.
Buyer’s Guide March 7th: Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc (and blends)
Rodney Strong 2012 Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, USA ($22.95)
John Szabo – I’m quite sure this is the first wine from Rodney Strong that I’ve ever added to the recommended list, but this is a happy departure from the over-wooded and overly sweet cuvées of the past. I appreciate the freshness and subtlety on offer without sacrificing the ripe fruit you’d expect from Sonoma chardonnay. This is balanced and pleasurable drinking at the right price.
Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009, AC Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux, France ($31.95)
John Szabo - Each time I taste a wine of this quality I wonder why I don’t drink more great sauvignon-semillon blends. IN the context of all of the overpriced, oaky chardonnays of the world, this wine delivers terrific complexity and regional identity at an attractive price. ‘09 was, as you know, a ripe, highly celebrated vintage in Bordeaux and this is packed with flavor. Decant this before serving to maximize the enjoyment.
Cave Des Grands Crus Blancs 2013 Mâcon-Vinzelles, Burgundy, France ($17.95)
John Szabo - “We had a marvelous lunch from the hotel at Lyon, an excellent truffled roast chicken, delicious bread and white Macon wine.” I’m sure Hemingway was thinking of a wine like this when he wrote these words in A Moveable Feast, and no doubt actually drank several bottles of Mâcon with F. Scott Fitzgerald on picnics. This is simple but delicious country wine in the best sense, at a price that can only make upstart wineries with big loans to pay off cringe with envy.
M.Chapoutier Tournon 2013 Mathilda, Victoria, Australia ( $19.95)
David Lawrason - Although not specified on the label this is either wholly or in very large part made from viognier, the only white to my knowledge in this Rhone producer’s Australian portfolio. It makes sense as viognier too is a Rhone varietal. This is an intense, quite powerful white that rings with authenticity.
Villa Maria 2014 Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
David Lawrason - Marlborough is known for its very assertive sauvignons but there is a school going for less bombast and more compact structure. That is the book on Villa Maria in general as a matter of fact. This crisp, tart and mouth-watering with excellent focus and length, and an echo of wet stone on the finish.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
Touring Tuscany & Piedmont
Consider joining me next October in Tuscany and Piedmont for an insider’s deluxe gastronomy tour via Indus Travel. Only fluffy, unlumpy pillows and high thread count sheets, plus daily diet of white truffles, cooking classes, 5-star relaxation and of course, plenty of wine tastings. It will be memorable. Details: www.indus.travel/tour/tuscany-and-barolo-with-john-szabo
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo MS
From VINTAGES March 7, 2015:
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