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Argentina Beyond Malbec with Achaval-Ferrer and #WineStudio

April 26, 2017 3 comments

Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet FrancOf course, Argentina wine industry can’t be subsided only to Malbec  – Torrontes and Chardonnay for the whites and Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon (and Bordeaux-style blends, of course) for the reds comprise an absolute majority of Argentinian wines available at any given moment. You can find some Argentinian Bonarda, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, but they don’t carry the full recognition of the 4 main grapes.

Winemaking has a long history in Argentina, starting in the 16th century and entering an international trade in the second half of 19th century. If we will take into account that most of the grape plantings in Argentina are at high altitude, with climatic conditions and terroir overall ideal for the grape growing and providing protection against many grape diseases, such as phylloxera, we will quickly realize that Argentina is home to some of the best and oldest vineyards in the world. However, it is only during the last 20-25 years Argentinian wines start receiving a full international recognition they deserve, with Malbec been the brightest shining star.

Achaval-Ferrer winery was founded in 1998, and over its relatively short history, became a leading winery in Argentina, garnering numerous awards and high critic scores for its wines. To the great pleasure of wine geeks, wines of Achaval-Ferrer were also a focus of April #WineStudio educational program, allowing us to experience some of the very best wines Argentina is capable of producing – Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blend called Quimera. But for the last April session, Achaval-Ferrer and #WineStudio took us on the trip in entirely new direction with the inaugural vintage of the Cabernet Franc wine.

I guess it is time to reveal one of my (no, not darkest) deepest wine secrets – I have “a thing”, an obsessive passion for the Cabernet Franc wines. I can’t explain to you why or how. I don’t know how it happened that out of most grapes, the words “Cabernet Franc” make me literally jump. No matter how tired I am at the end of the large tasting, say to me “let’s go try Cab Franc” and I’m ready to run. Thus you can imagine how excited I was at this opportunity to try a new first release of Cabernet Franc.

There was a lot of excitement around this wine, seems everybody really enjoyed it. As for all the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, the grapes for this Cabernet Franc came from the high altitude vineyards (3,280 ft above sea level) in the Uco Valley, mostly sustainably farmed. Here are my tasting notes:

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Franc Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 months in 3-year old French oak barrels)
C: Dark garnet
N: intense, baking spices, dark fruit, mint, dark chocolate
P: medium-full body, fresh cut-through acidity, mint, hint of cassis, touch of white pepper on the finish, smooth, long finish with tannins kicking in at the end and lingering.  Needs time…
V: 8, nice, can be drunk on its own, will be great with the food, and will evolve with time – at least 10 years. The wine opened up more on the second day, and I’m sure will further improve on the 3rd.

Definitely an excellent wine which will be hard to find – 1,400 cases total production, and a lot of this wine went to Morton’s steakhouse (so if you plan to visit Morton’s keep that in mind) – but it is well worth seeking. If you will score some of these bottles, lay them down in the cellar and let them evolve. At least this is what I would do.

This wine concluded a delicious #WineStudio experience with the Achaval-Ferrer wines, and to sum it up, I want to leave you with the twitter quote from Tina Morey, the host of #WineStudio:

I can fully sign under every word here – beautiful, expressive wines, well representing what Argentina is capable of. Salud!

Geekiest Way to Celebrate #MalbecWorldDay – #WineStudio Blind Tasting with Achaval-Ferrer

April 21, 2017 3 comments

Achaval Ferrer WSET 3 tasting Starting in 2011, April 17th is the day when we celebrate Malbec – one of the noble French grapes, which almost disappeared in France, but found its new life in Argentina, where it became a star. I don’t want to bore you with the Malbec history – you can read it on your own in many places, including few posts in this very blog (here is a bit about the history of the Malbec grape, and here you can take a Malbec quiz).

Typical “grape holiday” celebration usually includes an opening of an upscale (high end, memorable, etc) varietally correct bottle. Our today’s celebration was a bit different, as it was based on the concept of pure, unadulterated, geeky wine lovers’ fun  – a blind tasting, and, of course, guessing.

This blind tasting was a part of the educational program run by the WineStudio during the month of April. In case you are not aware of the Wine Studio, it is a brainchild of Tina Morey, and it is wine education and marketing program which helps to expand people’s wine horizon and help them discover new regions, new grapes and new wines. April program, quite appropriately (April is designated as a Malbec wine month), was focused on the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, one of the very best wine producers from Argentina.

To facilitate the blind tasting, all the participants received a set of two bottles, some wrapped in colorful foil, and some in the black plastic – mine were the second type:

About an hour before the session I opened the bottles to let the wines breathe a little, as it was suggested by the organizers. And then the session started.

Of course, this was not the usual blind tasting. There are many ways to run the blind tasting, some of them quite extreme – for instance, tasting the wine without any known information from the black glass – an extreme sensual challenge. Going less extreme, in a typical blind tasting you will have at least some kind of limits installed – Pinot Noir grape, for instance, or wines of Pauillac. Our #winestudio blind tasting was on one side a lot less challenging, as we knew that the wines were made by Achaval-Ferrer, so we didn’t expect to find Petite Sirah in any of those bottles, and we even knew the vintage years, 2013 and 2012. At the same time, for sure for me, it was almost more challenging, as I was trying to guess the wines based on what I knew about Achaval-Ferrer and thinking about what they might want to showcase in the tasting,  instead of focusing on the actual wines.

We were asked to evaluate wines using WSET Level 3 tasting grid (you can find it here if you are curious). Here is a summary of my tasting notes – I’m distinguishing the wines by their vintage:

Wine 2013
APPEARANCE
Clarity: clear
Intensity: deep
Colour: garnet
NOSE
Condition: clean
Intensity: medium
Aroma characteristics: touch of funk, mint, underbrush, blackberries
Development: youthful
PALATE
Sweetness: off-dry
Acidity: medium+
Tannin: medium
Alcohol: medium
Body: medium+
Flavour intensity: medium+
Flavour Characteristics: cassis, eucalyptus, mint, blackberries
Finish: medium-
CONCLUSIONS
Quality level: outstanding
Level of readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: can drink now, but has potential for ageing

Wine 2012
APPEARANCE
Clarity: clear
Intensity: deep
Colour: garnet
NOSE
Condition: clean
Intensity: medium+
Aroma characteristics: tar, tobacco
Development: developing
PALATE
Sweetness: off-dry
Acidity: medium+
Tannin: medium
Alcohol: medium
Body: medium+
Flavour intensity: medium+
Flavour Characteristics: red and black fruit, salinity, raspberries, anis
Finish: medium
CONCLUSIONS
Quality level: outstanding
Level of readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: can drink now, but has potential for ageing

As it is usually the case with the blind tastings, I didn’t do well. I really wanted the wines to be pure Malbec and Cab Franc, and this is what I included into my final guess:

then, of course, I second guessed myself and changed the answer:

When the bottles were finally unwrapped, we found this beautiful Bordeaux blend called Quimera  been our Quimera for the night – it is no wonder every back label of Quimera explains the name: “Quimera. The Perfection we dream of and strive for. The search for an ideal wine”.

The wines were 2013 and 2012 Quimera, both classic Bordeaux blends, but with a high amount of Argentinian star variety – Malbec. Both vintages had the same composition: 50% Malbec, 24% Cab Franc, 16% Merlot, 8% Cab Sauv and 2% Petit Verdot. Just as a point of reference, I still have a few bottles of 2008 Quimera, and that wine has 40% of Malbec. Both wines were beautiful, but very different in its own right – and they will for sure age quite nicely. This was definitely a treat and yet another testament to the great wines Argentina is capable of producing.

Here you go, my friends. Another great night at #winestudio, celebrating the grape well worth a celebration. Next Tuesday, April 25, we will be tasting Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Franc, their new single-varietal bottling – been Cab Franc aficionado, I can’t tell you how excited I am. Join the fun – see you at 9 pm! Cheers!

Precision of Flavors – Tasting the Wines of Achaval-Ferrer

March 26, 2017 4 comments

Achaval Ferrer CorkDrinking wine is a pleasure – for sure it should be, and if you don’t feel like it, maybe you shouldn’t drink it at all. At the same time, there are multiple ways to look at one and the same thing.

A pleasure of drinking of the glass of wine may be just as it sounds, very simple  – take a sip of the liquid in the glass, say “ahh, it tastes good”, and continue to the next sip or with the conversation, whatever entices you the most at the moment.

Then there are many of us, wine lovers, who, professionally or unprofessionally, can’t stop just at that. Yes, we take pleasure in every sip, but then we need to dig in. We feel compelled to put on the Sherlock Holmes hat and play the wine sleuth, figuring out exactly what we are tasting in that very sip. What was that flavor? Was that a raspberry? Hmmm, maybe not. And that whiff of something? It is so familiar! Why can’t I put a name on it? Grrrr.

Everyone who engaged in that wine tasting exercise I’m sure can relate to what I’m saying. But every once in a while, we do get a break, when the flavor simply jumps at you, pristine and obvious. And the best twist here is when the flavor is matching to what is expected to find in the wine, like fresh cut grass in Sauvignon Blanc, black currant in Cabernet Sauvignon, or pepper in Syrah – don’t we love those pure and precise flavors?

Achaval-Ferrer winery is only about 20 years old, built on the passion and vision of a group of friends in Mendoza, Argentina. In those 20 years, Achaval-Ferrer accomplishments are nothing short of enviable. Achaval-Ferrer wines earned multiple Decanter magazine 5-star ratings (the highest). There are 29 wines from Argentina rated as “Classic” by Wine Spectator (95-100 ratings) – 13 out of those 29 wines are Achaval-Ferrer wines; the flagship Malbec Finca Altamira consistently getting 96 points rating year after year.

In addition to passion, vision, hard work and perseverance, the success foundation of Achaval-Ferrer is its high altitude vineyards, located from 700 to 1100 meters above sea level (2,300 – 3,600 ft). Three out of four main vineyards of Achaval-Ferrer are also about 100 years old, and boast pre-phylloxera vines, as Phylloxera simply can’t survive in those high mountains conditions. Now all left to do is to take the beautiful fruit those vineyards produce and make it into equally beautiful wines – the Achaval-Ferrer does it quite successfully.

Here is what triggered my “precision of flavors”  opening. I had an opportunity to taste a sample of Achaval-Ferrer wines recently, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. While Malbec was a very good wine, but clearly needed time to mature, Cabernet Sauvignon was stunning, with flavors and aromas just jumping at your right away from the glass, with easy to relate to, textbook-correct cassis – also intensifying its purity with the time. This was a perfect example of why Argentinian wines are so popular and deserving of all your attention. And at a price of $24.99, the Cabernet Sauvignon offer an outstanding QPR, easily beating many classic Napa Cabs which would also cost you at least three times as much.

Here are my detailed notes:

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: very intense, dark roasted fruit, cassis. The roasted fruit intensity diminishes as the wine breathes.
P: beautiful cassis, clean acidity, soft tannins, lots of layers. As the wine breathes, the tannins show better and more pronounced. Pure clean black currant after a day.
V: 8+, outstanding, wow. Will evolve.

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Malbec)
C: practically black
N: roasted meat, smoke, tar, intense, baking spices
P: dark fruit, bright acidity, mint, alcohol burn in the back?, succulent, lavender, spicy. Blueberries showed up on the second day.
V: 8,  needs time, but perfectly delicious on the second day.

Here you are, my friends. Achaval-Ferrer definitely makes wines worthy of oenophile’s attention – and the QPR makes these wines worth seeking. Cheers!

 

Expanding My Wine Map of Argentina

July 11, 2016 4 comments

Let’s start with the question: name winemaking region in Argentina, other than Mendoza. You have 5 seconds. Fine, take 10. Your time is up! Hmmm, no answer, huh?

May be I couldn’t hear and you said “Uco Valley”? That would be a good answer, though Uco Valley is a high altitude sub-appellation in Mendoza. But don’t feel bad; as a bare minimum, it makes two of us – Mendoza was the only appellation I knew in Argentina until a few weeks ago.

salta mapThen I was offered to try a few Argentinian wines from the appellation I never heard of – Salta, located all the way up in the northwest. In addition to unknown appellation, the wines were coming from the high altitude vineyards – not just high, but the highest in the world. I’m always interested to learn about the effect of extreme conditions on the grapes and wines. Poor soils and lack of water make vines to work hard, which is then manifested in flavor. High altitude usually means a large difference in day and night temperatures, which makes grapes to concentrate flavors. So yes – new region and high altitude vineyards – I’m definitely game.

The wines I got to try were produced by two wineries, both part of Hess Family Wine Estates collection. Wine production at Bodegas Colomé dates all the way back to 1831, when the winery was built high in the Andes Mountains. The pre-phylloxera Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon vinies were brought in directly from Bordeux in 1854, and they still produce fruit today, which is used for the Reserva wines. Today, Bodegas Colomé sustainably farms highest elevation vineyards in the world, including Altura Máxima, located at the 3,100 meters (about 10,170 feet) above sea level (mind boggling, if you ask me).

The second winery, Amalaya, is much, much younger – it was founded in 2010 as a project by Bodegas Colomé, with the idea to grow more than just signature Malbec and Torrontés, but the other old world varietals as well (like Cabernet Franc, for instance). It was built high up in the desert, where nothing was growing before. I like this quote from the winery web site, I think it explains well the philosophy behind it and explains the colorful labels: “Amalaya means «Hope for a Miracle» in native language. the miracle is revealed from the heart of the Cafayate desert in a mystical and magic way, in order to provide us vines with excellent quality. The holistic circle embodies the fertility of the «pachamama» or «mother earth».”

I had an opportunity to try Malbec and Torrontés wines produced by Amalaya and Bodegas Colomé – below you will find my tasting notes:

2015 Amalaya Malbec Salta Argentina (13.9% ABV, $16, 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, 5% Syrah, 5,900 feet above sea level)
C: Dark garnet, practically black
N: black truffles, ripe plums, touch of cinnamon, licorice, warm, inviting
P: lighter than expected, medium body, a bit of back burn on the palate, under extracted?, unbalanced. After 2 days, the wine leveled out and became more balanced, with dark core.
V: 7- initially, 2 days after opening – 7, wine improved.

2015 Amalaya Torrontés/Riesling Salta Argentina (13% ABV, SRP: $12, 85% Torrontés, 15% Riesling, 5,500 feet above sea level)
C: light straw pale, just a touch darker than water
N: exuberant, intense, lots of ripe tropical fruit, guava, mango
P: crisp, clean, good acidity, good balance, grassy notes after warming up
V: 7+, very good, refreshing wine

2013 Colomé Estate Malbec Salta Argentina (14.9% ABV, SRP: $25, 100% Malbec, 4 high altitude vineyards from 5,600 to 10,100 feet)
C: dark Garnet, practically black
N: intense, ripe fruit, plums, cherries, touch of roasted meat
P: polished, silky smooth, fine grain tannins, dusty mouthfeel, tar, dark restrained fruit, needs time to open,
V: 8/8+, good aging potential

2015 Colomé Estate Torrontés Valle Calchaquí Salta Argentina (13.5% ABV, SRP: $15, 100% Torrontés, vineyards altitude from 5,600 to 10,100 feet)
C: straw pale
N: lightly perfumed, restrained, touch of tropical fruit, hint of lemon
P: continues to be restrained, elegant, fresh clean and balanced, touch of white fruit with good acidity, good structure
V: 8, elegant white wine, definitely a next level for Torrontés, great QPR

As you can tell from my notes, these were good wines. Would I claim that I clearly saw the effects of the high altitude? No, not at all. To make such an observation would probably require a tasting (blind) of seemingly similar wines, produced at the different altitudes – may be someone will come up with such a tasting, that would be cool. In any case, these were interesting wines and I’m glad I had an opportunity to try them. Have you had any of these wines? What are your thoughts? Cheers!

Celebrate Malbec!

April 17, 2016 3 comments

This very blog exists for more than 6 years, so in my mind, I’m sure I’ve written about pretty much everything, especially when it comes to such a heart-warming subject as grape holidays.

Only it turns out I have not.

Sunday, April 17th is 6th (!) annual celebration of World Malbec Day. So how many times over those 6 special occasions I’ve written a post for the Malbec Day? Aha, you got that. Zero.

Well, this is incorrect. None for the previous five, but we are talking about Malbec today, so the problem is finally fixed.

Thinking about grapes with long and turbulent history, Malbec might be the most prolific example of such. Taking its roots in Middle Ages, being a choice wine of the kings, shining in Bordeaux and all over the France and then literally disappearing from the face of the earth, but luckily, finding its second, and very prosperous life in Argentina – not too many grapes can brag about such an adventurous life. By the way, if you are curious about the events I mentioned here, you can test your knowledge of Malbec with this quiz, or you can just jump straight to the answers.

Starting from the second half of 19th century, Malbec found its new home in Argentina. Consistently dry climate of Mendoza happened to be just what Malbec needed to strive. As there are two sides to everything, the ideal growing conditions lead to overproduction and subsequently dull wines. It was not until the 1980s that Malbec commanded proper attention for the quality instead of quantity, and slowly became one of the darlings of the wine world – depending on who you would talk to, Malbec is considered the hottest wine at the moment. Starting from the bottom of Andes in Mendoza, plantings of Malbec are now extending to the higher and higher elevations, offering new range of expression of already delicious wines.

Argentinian Malbec wines are easy to like for many palates – while appearing big and powerful in the glass with its inky, almost black color, Malbec wines are usually round, soft and mellow, avoiding spikes of tannins and acidity which often upset wine drinkers looking for relaxing glass of wine. Interestingly enough, Malbec from other regions, such as Cahors in south of France, shows totally differently and often offers very forceful personality, so if you are looking for that soft and mellow Malbec, you might want to ask for the Argentinian Malbec by name.

Rutini Malbec

Today I want to bring to your attention two Malbec wines I had pleasure of tasting recently. It is not the first time I’m talking about Rutini wines from Argentina in this blog – here you can find my interview with Mariano Di Paola, winemaker at Rutini wines, as well as tasting notes for few other Rutini wines. Here are the notes for the two Malbec wines:

2014 Rutini Trumpeter Malbec Mendoza Argentina (14% ABV, SRP $11.99)
C: dark garnet
N: freshly crushed fruit, sage, savory notes
P: clean, earthy, tart cherries with hint of licorice, touch of sweet tobacco
V: 7+/8-, nice, refreshing, round, great QPR

2011 Rutini Encuentro  Malbec Mendoza Argentina (13.5% ABV, SRP $18.99)
C: dark garnet, inky
N: roasted notes, tar, cherries, warm, inviting, touch of barnyard
P: soft, round, sweet berries, concentrated, good acidity, perfect balance. Became dark and concentrated on the day 2/3.
V: 8, very enjoyable, easy to drink; will evolve with time – you should forget few bottles in the cellar…

Here you are, my friends. Celebrate Malbec, this grape definitely worth your attention. Cheers!

 

From Marche to Mendoza, With Vine

December 5, 2015 5 comments
Rutini Vineyards

Rutini Vineyards. Source: Rutini Wines web site

In 1884, Felipe Rutini arrived to Mendoza area in Argentina. Continuing family traditions from the early 1800s when his father, Francisco Rutini, started making wine in the area known as Le Marche in Italy, he planted grapes and started making wine now in Argentina. Don Felipe, as he became later known at, was 19 years old when he founded La Rural winery in the district of Coquimbito. In 1925, Rutini family continued pioneering traditions of Don Felipe by planting first vines in the Tupungato area of the Uco Valley, a high altitude home to some of the very best vineyards in Argentina.

Today Rutini family is one of the biggest wine producers in Argentina, making about 9.5 million bottles of wine per year and exporting it to the 40 countries. You might be well familiar with the line of wines under a common name of Trumpeter, which include Chardonnay, Torrontes, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and a number of others – Trumpeter is one of the 6 different ranges produced by Rutini Wines. Recently, Rutini Wines started introducing a new “Classic Series” line of wines in the United States, and I wanted to share my impressions from few of the wines in this line which I had an opportunity to taste.

But before we talk about the wines, let’s talk a bit more about Rutini family wine business today. Once again, I got together – well, yes, virtually, same as few times in the past – with Mariano Di Paola, head winemaker for Rutini Wines and one of the top winemakers in Argentina, and I had an opportunity to ask him a few questions. Here is what we talked about:

Q: Rutini family started making wines in Italy. Is there still a connection today at the Rutini Winery back to the traditions and customs of Region Marche?
A: No there are no direct links, but we still try to use the original Rutini winemaking influence today. Felipe Rutini was a visionary man who believed in Argentina’s winemaking capabilities, planting the first vines in Mendoza, and generations after we still work hard to maintain his legacy.

Q: If I understand correctly, Rutini is introducing its Classic Collection wines in the US. For how long had you been producing the Classic Collction wines? What were the main markets for it until now?
The Rutini collection was first released in Argentina with the 1996 Malbec, followed by Merlot and Gewürztraminer. It has been available in the U.S.: NY, TX, FL, MD, DC, MA, RI, and CA since the end of 2013.

Q: What are the oldest vines growing at Rutini vineyards?
A: Select Malbec vines in La Consulta date back over 100 years.

Q: What was the source of inspiration for the Rutini Sauvignon Blanc?
A: We wanted to create a well- balanced Sauvignon Blanc that spoke to the true characteristics of this varietal and represented the best quality of this wine.

Q: Sauvignon Blanc is really not the grape Argentina is known for. Do you think Argentinian Sauvignon Blanc has its own style and will become a wide movement?
A: Yes, Argentine Sauvignon Blanc has its own style which is heavily dictated by the particular growing region. Our continental climate, highly influenced by the Andes, and high altitude provide us with optimal grape growing conditions. Sunny day and dry summer conditions allow us to harvest fully ripened grapes. The cool evening temperatures and controlled irrigation serve to prolong hang time and to create a good balance between sugar and acidity. As there is more interest to try other Argentine varietals, there will be more Sauvignon Blanc production. Our Sauvignon Blanc style of course offers really good acidity, lemongrass aromas, floral aromas, but we also focus on producing a mineral style.

Q: Malbec is unquestionably a star red grape of Argentina. Is there a next great Argentinian Grape on the horizon, or is it going to be Malbec for a while?
A: We are always experimenting with different varietals, and while the native varietal Torrontes produces an exceptional and distinct white wine, Malbec will always shine when grown in this region, and it really speaks for the tradition and future of winemaking in Argentina.

Q: Do you use any of sustained, organic or biodynamic methods in production of your wines?
A: In our vineyards we do not practice organic or biodynamic methods, due to the health and hygiene of the plants themselves and the nobility of our soils, all of which , the use of pesticides that may eventually affect the vineyard is not necessary.

Q: It seems that most of the Rutini wines made from the grapes coming from the multiple vineyards. Do you have any plans to produce single vineyard or even single plot wines?
A: Yes, we do have plans to produce single-vineyard wines. At the moment wines are in the aging process and will launch in the market soon. ( Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon ).

Q: Probably a very unexpected question 🙂 – I understand that Rutini wines are sold in China. How big and/or important that market for Rutini family wines? What wines sell best in China?
China is a very important market for Rutini. As of 2013, the U.S. and China represented 50% of our sales, with the Rutini collection being the most popular brand sold. Chinese consume mostly red wines /red blends and for Argentina they prefer of course Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sparkling also sells well in this market.

So, what do you think? I think it was a very interesting conversation, albeit virtual. But now, I’m sure you are thirsty, so let’s have some wines. Here are my notes on the 3 Rutini wines form the Classic collection which I tasted:

2012 Rutini Wines Rutini Sauvignon Blanc Mendoza Argentina (12.5% ABV, $25, 3 month in oak, 50% new, 50% 2nd and 3rd use)
C: light golden
N: minerality, Chablis-like nose, very restrained
P: plump, creamy, delicious. I would never identify this as Sauvignon Blanc – Marsanne, Roussane or Chardonnay come to mind. The wine was also not over-chilled, just chilled slightly. This wine is an enigma – coming straight from the fridge, it shows more of a restrained sweetness, somewhat between New Zealand and California style
V: 8-, unique and interesting. The price looks somewhat high, but then this wine clearly aims at a nice Sancerre, so this provides rationale behind it

2012 Rutini Wines Rutini Malbec Mendoza Argentina (14% ABV, $35, 12 month in oak, 80% new French oak, 20% new American oak)
C: dark garnet
N: licorice, touch of tobacco, dark chocolate, blackberries, very inviting
P: fresh berries, touch dark chocolate, raspberries and blueberries, very smooth, medium body
V: 8-. I have to be very honest – this is not exactly my type of wine – however, there is large category of wine drinkers who will be ecstatic about this wine because of its smoothness.

2012 Rutini Wines Rutini Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza Argentina (14% ABV, $35, 14 month in oak, 50% new oak, 50% second use oak)
C: dark garnet
N: touch of mint, fresh berries, black currant, touch of barnyard, very interesting
P: surprisingly light and smooth, medium body (very unusual for the Cab), blackberries, vibrant acidity, good balance. Shows firmer structure after 10–15 minutes in the glass.
V: 8-, lighter style with lots of pleasure, this wine would definitely appeal to the people who prefers their reds to be not too heavy

Have you had any of the Rutini Wines, Classic Series, Trumpeter or any other? What are your thoughts?

I would like to thank kind folks at Gregory White PR for helping with the virtual interview and for providing the samples. Cheers!

Daily Glass: World Cup-Appropriate Wine

July 9, 2014 7 comments

As I didn’t have time to look for the interesting news and articles for the traditional Meritage post, I will skip it and will give you the quiz answers next week. And for today, let’s just talk about an interesting wine find.

Literally days before the World Cup started (even if you are not following the World Cup 2014, I assume you are aware of the soccer’s (it is football for the world outside of the United States) main tournament, taking place in Brazil), I got an e-mail from the Last Bottles Wine, offering the wine with the picture of the soccer ball on the label.

Leo Malbec

How appropriate, I thought, I definitely should get this wine, especially considering the price of $18 per bottle – and so I did. Not only this wine has a picture of soccer ball on the label, it is also associated with one of the best known names in the soccer today – Leo Messi, the star of the Argentinian team and one of the very best players in the world.

Same as Leo Messi, the wine hails from Argentina, and yes, it is a Malbec (star player to star grape), and it is produced by the Casa Bianchi, an excellent Argentinian winery which makes a wide range of wines, from simple everyday wines to the ultra-premium, cellar-worthy bottles. The connection between the wine and Leo Messi? Simple. As the back label says, “collaborate with the Leo Messi Foundation in long lasting commitment to building projects focused in health-care and educational developments for children with social disadvantages”.

Leo Malbec Back Label

Let’s talk about the wine – 2011 Casa Bianchi Premium Leo Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (15% ABV). It was definitely World Cup game -worthy. Dark garnet color in the glass. Beautiful nose of supple fruit, herbs and spices – a touch of eucalyptus, a bit of the dark chocolate – very promising. On the palate, the wine opened up very dense, balanced and smooth, then showing some spicy spikes as it was breathing in the glass. On the second day the wine showed more of that spicy nature, with some acidity and tannins not always dancing together. I believe it will come around in another 3-4 years, it is a bit too young at the moment to show its full potential. Drinkability: 8-

That’s all I have for you – go back to the game and wish Leo Messi all the luck – he and his team will need it. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Oh No, Don’t Lose The Bottle, Wine Prices, Reminders and more

September 11, 2013 5 comments
Donna Paula Torrontes

Donna Paula Torrontés

Meritage time!

First, let’s start with the answer for the wine quiz #72, grape trivia – Torrontés.

In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about white grape called Torrontés. Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Name three varietals of Torrontés growing in Argentina

A1: Torrontés Riojano, Torrontés Sanjuanino, and Torrontés Mendocino

Q2: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 90-94 range Outstanding. True or False: there are no Torrontés wines with Outstanding rating?

A2: True. The highest rated Torrontés from Bodega Colomé has a rating of 88 points.

Q3: As established by DNA analysis, Torrontés is a cross of two grapes. One of them is Muscat of Alexandria. The second grape played an important role in the early days of winemaking in the United States. Do you know what grape it is?

A3: Mission. Torrontés is a cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Mission grape, which used to be widely planted in California in the 1800s.

Q4: Most of the Torrontés is growing in pretty unique conditions, for most of the plantings being at a high altitude. Name one problem which needs to be controlled for the production of the high quality wines.

A4: Overproduction. Torrontés enjoys almost ideal growing conditions, with dry mountain air, no diseases and plenty of water – but that doesn’t allow grapes to concentrate the flavor and produce high quality wines.

Q5: True or False: Torrontés produces both dry and dessert wines

A5: True. Santa Julia, Susana Balbo and number of others produce Late Harvest Torrontés wines.

Talking about the results, I was glad that there we people who said that they had Torrontés before and they like it. And of course there were those who said that they never had it before – I hope this quiz will make at least one person curious enough to go and find a bottle of Torrontés to try – this shouldn’t be difficult at all. We have only one person who attempted to answer the questions – while Linda from Foxress didn’t answer all the questions correctly, she definitely gets an honorable mention for attempting to solve the quiz.

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

Boy, there are lots of things to talk about. First, I came across an interesting article by Chris Kassel, who writes an outstanding blog called “Intoxicology Report” – if you enjoy the high level of language sophistication almost to the point of reading challenge (for me it is), read Chris’s blog, I promise you will not regret. In this article, Chris shared his view on the latest series of commercials themed “Lose the Bottle” and produced by Black Box Wines. I don’t want to take away from your pleasure of reading Chris’s hilarious comments, so I recommend you will read the article first, and then watch the commercials.

Next, Steve Heimoff ponders at the high prices of the brand new wines in their first release (here is the link to the blog post). Steve is talking about new Central Coast wine made by Raj Parr (famous sommelier at RN74 in San Francisco) and released at measly $90/bottle; he is trying to figure out the logic and reason behind such a high introductory price. My personal view on the price of wine is that any price is possible, but in the free market, you have to have enough people willing to pay the money, and if you do – good for you, and if you don’t – you are out. The post is definitely an interesting read, and make sure to read through the comments, some of them being quite interesting.

Another post from Steve Heimoff is an excellent set of instructions for the perfect day in Napa Valley. I like his take on the tasting at the most of Napa vineyards nowadays (“slurp 3 of something for $25”), so if you are planning a Napa getaway, make sure to read this post which will help to improve the experience.

Now, a friendly reminder: you need to possess your possessions – the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #3 with the theme “Possession” is still on, with the deadline for submissions on September 23rd. Get possessed and write. All the rules and other important information can be found here.

Do you like Spanish wines? Do you live in New York City or in a close proximity of? Don’t miss Spanish Wine Festival 2013, taking place on October 4th at The Metropolitan Pavilion. This will be your great opportunity to experience Vega Sicilia, Emilio Moro, Clos Mogador, Clos Martinet, multiple Rioja verticals and many other outstanding wines. Click here for all the details.

And the last update for today. I changed my Top Wine Ratings page ( I mentioned it in the post yesterday), and I also added the menu links for my top dozen wines for 2010, 2011 and 2012 – for all of you who likes the lists, these are a few more to play with.

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty – but refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #72: Grape Trivia – Torrontés

September 7, 2013 13 comments
Torrontes

Torrontés grapes, as shown in Wikipedia

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

We are continuing our grape trivia series, still focusing on the white grapes, and today’s subject is Torrontés.

How often do you drink Torrontés? Do you know at least what country it is coming from? Yes, I understand that my choice of the grape for today’s quiz might be questionable – Torrontés is not a mainstream grape by all means. But as we are continuing with the white grapes, and the last white grape we talked about was the spanish grape called Albariño, the choice of Torrontés as a subject for today’s quiz is almost automatic for me.

Torrontés has a relatively short history, first appearing under its name in the second half of the 19th century in Argentina. Originally it was thought that Torrontés came from Spain, where there is a grape with the same name, but it appears that the two have nothing in common. While Torrontés plantings only amount to the 10% of total grape plantings in Argentina, it yields about 20% of the total wine production. Torrontés today is mostly growing in Argentina with some small plantings appearing on the other side of the Andes, in Chile. Torrontés wines typically have very expressive aromatics, more of a floral nature, coupled with crisp acidity on the palate, which makes them a great accompaniment to the wide variety of dishes. Best Torrontés wines come from the regions of Salta and Cafayate, where grapes are growing at the altitude of 5,000 ft (~1700 m) above sea level.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: Name three varietals of Torrontés growing in Argentina

Q2: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 90-94 range Outstanding. True or False: there are no Torrontés wines with Outstanding rating?

Q3: As established by DNA analysis, Torrontés is a cross of two grapes. One of them is Muscat of Alexandria. The second grape played an important role in the early days of winemaking in the United States. Do you know what grape it is?

Q4: Most of the Torrontés is growing in pretty unique conditions, for most of the plantings being at a high altitude. Name one problem which needs to be controlled for the production of the high quality wines.

Q5: True or False: Torrontés produces both dry and dessert wines

Even if you don’t feel like answering the questions in the quiz, I’m curious to know if you had Torrontés wines, and if you did, what do you think of them.

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!