Wines of Argentina: Diversity, Complexity and Yes, You Can Age Malbec

The folks from the Wines of Argentina came through town last week and hosted a panel and tasting featuring the country’s next generation of great winemakers.  Fernando Buscema of Catena Zapata; Federico Lleonart, the global wine ambassador for Argentina; Melissa Monasaw, the wine and education director for Pioneer Wine Company and James Tidwell from the Four Seasons Resort along with Nora Z. Favelukes, US Representative for Wines of Argentina, talked about the history of Malbec and other unique varietals to Argentina.

The United States is the leading country for Argentinian wine exports and the Wines of Argentina organization represents 200 wineries.

Malbec was a grape of French origin that was once a predominant grape in Bordeaux and Cahors.  In 1853, the Quinta Normal de Agricultura was founded in Mendoza.  Michel Aime Ponget, a French agromist was hired to manage the school.  He brought the grape vines and seeds that made Malbec predominant in Argentina.

Malbec is known for its inky color; notes of berries, clove, mocha, vanilla and flowers; and for being soft, but dense with a good acidity.  It surprised me that Malbec can age gracefully because of its altitude, own roots, high phenol concentration and low pH.  We tried 8 wines; with the last two deemed “hidden gems” from Melissa and James that the trade group may not have sampled prior.

The line-up was as follows (well, I think it was, but the order kept changing, so I may have missed a beat or two):

  • Monteviejo Lindaflor Malbec 08, very tannic with black fruit.
  • Catena Alta Malbec 03, elegant wine and I was surprised that the fruits were still active and the wine maintained its character.
  • Catena Zapata Malbec Adrianna 08, very fruit forward with big notes of plum. This was a very drinkable wine you could open today.
  • Graffigna Centario Torrontes 12, apricot, white peach, orange blossom and stone fruit.  This isn’t available yet in Dallas, but when it is, I recommend finding it.
  • Zuccardi Serie A Bonarda 10, this was very interesting and smooth.  I tasted raspberry and strawberry notes and it begged for Italian food.  Bonarda is the second most planted variety and a grape unique to Argentina.
  • Graffigna Gran Reserva Cab 08, a very nice smooth wine with herbal notes and black fruit.  This was one of my favorites.
  • Fin del Mundo Special Blend 08, this was a pretty wine with notes of eucalyptus, dark fruit and spice.  This was a pretty wine made up of cabernet franc and petit verdot.

James’ hidden gem was the Mendel Semillon 11, which is on the Four Seasons Resort wine list.  Melissa’s choice was the Reginato Sparkling Rose of Malbec NV, which had notes of rhubarb, strawberry and nice acidity with the bubbles.  This was my favorite of the two.

Jorge Liley, Catena  Zapata Wines

The first three wines were under $15 and the next three wines are around $50.  After the event, there was a tasting of 135 wines from 25 wineries representing what Argentina has to offer.  Based on what I tried, I think I’m going to pick up a few bottles of Malbec and let the aging begin.