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Friday Night Wine

May 20, 2019 2 comments

Isn’t Friday the best day of the week? Or to narrow it down even more – isn’t Friday night the best time of the week?

I know, it is considered lame. The right thing to do is to love Mondays, as this is your new chance to make a difference, and yada yada yada. Whatever.

So really, isn’t Friday night great? Especially when you don’t need to go anywhere. You don’t need to entertain anyone. The whole weekend lies ahead. Life is good.

Does such quiet Friday night deserve a special wine? This is a tough question, especially for someone who drinks wine only on the special occasions, such as days which names end with “y”. I can actually argue this both ways – I guess it only depends if you feel like making it special, or treat it as any other day and just open a random bottle. Well, but still – quiet Friday night is special, so a special bottle feels appropriate more often than not.

Finding the right bottle for the Friday night is an as difficult exercise as selecting a bottle for any special holidays or birthdays. On one side, it is the Friday night – on another side, it is just a Friday night, one of the 52. A Friday is not a special enough occasion to pull one of your most prized bottles, but you do want to celebrate the weekend coming, so it should be at least something unique and different.

It is hard to figure out how the brain decides on the bottle. After about 10 minutes of pulling the wine fridge shelves back and forth, I came across the 2011 Cahors, and the brain (or whatever is there) said: “that will do”.

Jean-Luc Baldès Triguedina Clos Triguedina Cahors

2011 Jean-Luc Baldès Triguedina Clos Triguedina Cahors AOP (14.5% ABV, 85% Malbec, 10% Merlot, 5% Tannat) was one of my favorite discoveries of the past year while attending the Wines of Southwest of France event. I had only one bottle, but that is the same story with the absolute majority of my cellar, so I typically go through the regretful “second thoughts”  process no matter what I decide to open.

Boy, was that a lucky decision… This wine had everything one can desire to make any day special – from the first smell to the first sip to the last sip; a perfect oenophile wine. Its major quality, outside of balance, was a tremendous range of expression. The nose started with a little funk, a touch of the barnyard, and fresh berries. The palate offered an exquisite bouquet and an ability to travel in the instant. The first sip squarely established – I’m not sitting on my deck anymore, I’m now in the winery’s cellar, breathing the vinous aromas which accumulated there during the centuries.

The wine continued evolving, offering tobacco, fresh blackberries, a touch of pepper, dark power, dark magic, and layers of pleasure. The acidity, the tannins, the fruit – everything was there in complete harmony. I call such wines a “vinous vino”, as these are the only words which come to mind. The wine was a beautiful rendition of Malbec – unquestionably an “old world”, and unquestionably delicious. If Cahors wines produced back in the middle ages were anything similar to this Clos Triguedina wine, I fully understand why it was so popular in Europe and Russia.

There you are, my friends. I hope your Friday night was filled with pleasure, just like mine was. Do you think Friday night wine should be special? What would you open to celebrate a quiet Friday night? Cheers!

Celebrate Malbec!

April 17, 2019 Leave a comment

While performing the traditional morning ritual – checking in with all the social media sources, something caught my attention – ohh,  I almost missed the Malbec Day, or to be even more precise, the World Malbec Day. So not to miss a celebration of one of the 10 major red grapes, let’s talk Malbec.

Today, when you hear “Malbec”, people instantly think “Argentina”. Yes, Argentina is the best-known source of the Malbec wines at the moment. However, Malbec story originated in France, where it was known initially under the name of Cot – this is the name which is still used in the wines of Cahors, the region in South of France, where Malbec was really a star for a long time. In Cahors, the wines were and still are required to contain at least 70% of Malbec – while popular in most of the other regions in France, there Malbec typically played a supporting role in the blends, such as Bordeaux, for example.

It was Argentina where Malbec really flourished starting at the end of the 19th century and became the star it is today. However, the popularity of Malbec goes way beyond Argentina, with excellent Malbec and Malbec-based blends coming from Australia, Chile, Israel, many regions in the USA, and other places. In Argentina, where Malbec is by far the most planted red grape (with more than 106,000 acres planted), the viticulture dramatically evolved over the years, with high altitude, ultra-premium bottlings being the latest craze.

Over the years, Malbec was always present on the pages of this blog. Want to test your knowledge of Malbec? Here is the Malbec wine quiz for you. Looking to add some sensuality to your evening? How about Kaiken Malbec? Do you think you know Malbec? How about a blind taste challenge from one of the best in the business, Achaval-Ferrer? Everyone love Argentinian Malbec but don’t ignore the classics – Southwest of France can deliver amazing Malbec renditions, and I had a pleasure of tasting them more than once. Do you have a favorite Malbec bottle? The one which you are always happy to see in the store or a restaurant wine list? I can tell you that mine is Trapiche Broquel, which never disappoint.

Well, it is time to round it up and proceed with celebration. Do you have a favorite Malbec wine or wines? Feel free to share it with the world. Cheers!

Tale of Two Reds – Are All Wine Lovers Eternal Optimists?

January 14, 2019 8 comments

Let’s talk about red wines. And optimism. The connection between the two? You will see – give me a few minutes.

Let’s start from a simple question – how many chances do you give to a bottle of wine? Fine, let’s rephrase it. You open a bottle of wine. It is not corked, or if you think it is, you are not 100% sure. You taste the wine. The wine is not spoiled, but you don’t like it – doesn’t matter why, we are not interested in the reason – the bottom line is that it doesn’t give you pleasure. What do you do next?

Of course, breathing is the thing. You let the wine breathe – you pour it into a decanter, and let is stand – few hours, at least. You taste it again – and it still doesn’t make you happy. Your next action?

Let’s take a few notes here. First, we are not talking about the wine you feel obliged to drink – it is not a $200 bottle, it is not a first-growth Bordeaux – it is an average bottle of wine, let’s say, of $20-$40 value. Second, it is a quiet evening – let’s say, it is you and your spouse, and you have a luxury of opening another bottle of wine to enjoy.

As we said, two hours in decanter didn’t do anything. And another 4 hours didn’t help either. Or maybe you didn’t use the decanter, as you only wanted a glass, and dealing with moving the wine in and out of decanter was not your priority, so the wine was standing in the open bottle. In any case, it is the end of the day, and it is time to go to sleep – and the wine is still not what you want to drink. What is next?

At this point, you got a few options – leave the bottle on the counter, dump it into the sink, put it aside into the “to cook with” section, or pump the air out and see what the next day will bring. Let’s assume you’ve chosen the latter option, but the next day didn’t improve the situation – for how long will you keep trying?

While I’m sending you on the trip down the memory lane (or maybe not), let me share with you my most recent experience. On December 31st, I opened the bottle of 2012 Codice Citra Laus Vitae Riserva Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP (14% ABV, $32). I had very high expectations of this bottle for a few reasons. First, the bottle itself is a BAB (for the uninitiated, it stands for Big Ass Bottle – a heavy, thick glass, pleasant to hold, bottle), which always creates high expectations for me. Second, I have high respect to the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – was surprised with the quality more often than not. Third, I just tasted through the samples of a new line of wines from the same producer, Codice Citra (the line is called Ferzo), four delicious wines, more about it in a later post – obviously, all of this added up to the expectations. Only the first sip delivered nothing but disappointment.

I took a sip of the wine, all ready to say “wow”, and instead the first thought was – “heat damage”? Most prominent note on the palate was stewed fruit, which is definitely a problem for the 6/7 years old wine, clearly meant to have a long cellar life. What happened? Was the wine stored improperly? No way I can pour this to my guests, so put the cork in, pump the air out and let’s see what will happen.

Every day from there on, I would pull the cork out, pour a glass, taste, and sigh. Still, the stewed fruit in various amounts – day three seem to show some improvement only to go back on day 4. Can you see me winding up the drama? What do you expect happened on day 5?

January 4th, I’m pouring another glass, not expecting anything good, but willing to finish the “experiment”, and subconsciously still surprised that BAB didn’t deliver. The first sip extorts “wow” and the thought of “what just happened”? The core of pure, ripe, tart cherries with a touch of a cherry pit, the hallmark of good Montepulciano, is laughing at me. Firm structure, fresh tannins, balancing acidity – the transformation couldn’t have been more dramatic. I thoroughly enjoyed every last drop of that wine, still utterly amazed at how little I understand in the mystery of the wine.

The second wine, which I happened to open a day later, but played with in parallel to the Montepulciano, worked in a very similar fashion. I got the bottle of 2014 Ernesto Catena “Tikal Amorio” Malbec Mendoza Argentina (13.5% ABV, $30) as the present from Chuck Prevatte of Food, Wine, Beer, Travel blog as part of the “Secret Wine Santa” fun originated and run by Jeff Kralik, a.k.a. The Drunken Cyclist. Chuck sent me a bottle with the message that Malbec is his favorite wine, and he was hoping that I will also enjoy his selection.

Okay, so here is another gaping hole in my “I don’t discriminate against any wine” adage – Argentinian Malbec is not my thing. I will gladly jump at Cahors, but given an option, unless I perfectly know the producer and the wine, I will avoid Argentinian Malbec as a generic category (as an example Broquel, Kaiken, Achaval-Ferrer, Trapiche are all on the “good list”). Yes, I will still try the Malbec I don’t know (someone has to eat the broccoli, right?), but only if asked. If you are interested in the reason, it has something to do with the flavor profile – I had a lot of Argentinian Malbecs which lack acidity and have too much of the overripe fruit and baking spices – interestingly enough, that exact flavor profile often wins the “easy to drink” praise among wine consumers.

Anyway, the Tikal Amorio Malbec had a very attractive label and sounded good from the description – the wine was created for the love of the grape and represented a blend of Malbec grapes from 3 different vineyard sites in Mendoza. Besides, it was recommended, so as I was opening the bottle, the thought was a happy “what if…” The first sip, however, brought (I’m sure you guessed it) the “this is why I don’t like the Argentinian Malbec” sigh – flabby fruit, very little acidity, and lots of baking spices. Ooh. I will spare you the day by day description – not much changed over the three days. But on the 4th day… The first sip brought in perfectly ripe blueberries with the core of acidity – nothing flabby, perfect structure, firm, fresh “pop in your mouth” blueberries with undertones of tobacco. The wine beautifully transformed (another mystery), and similarly to the Montepulciano, was gone in no time.

Here it is, my friends, a tale of two reds – and an ode to the optimism, don’t you think? Have you been in a similar situation? What do you do when you discover the wine you don’t like at first sight? How many chances would you give it? Cheers!

New and Noteworthy: Red Wines Edition

June 1, 2017 Leave a comment

Recently, we were talking about the Spanish wine samples I had a pleasure of trying. Now, let’s visit some other countries. Would  France and Argentina be okay with you?

Let’s start with something very simple – how about some Cotes du Rhone? Cotes du Rhone reds are known to be easy drinking and soft. They typically can be classified as GSM – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre – however, the exact proportions of those three grapes can vary from 0 to 100%. It is recommended that Cotes du Rhone reds should be consumed within 3-4 years after release, but some of the better specimens can last for close to 10 – still, they are not meant to be aged extensively.

Les Dauphins became a family wine venture in the 1920s, when France was experiencing a “bistro revolution”. Easy drinking Cotes du Rhone wines were a perfect pairing for a vibrant bistro fare, and Les Dauphins became one of the popular suppliers for such wines. Fast forward to today, Les Dauphins offers a full range of Cotes du Rhone wines – white, rosé and a number of reds, still well suitable for a bistro experience. The wine I had was 2015 Les Dauphins Reserve Cotes du Rhone:

2015 Les Dauphins Réserve Côtes du Rhône (14% ABV, $18, 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre)
C: dark Ruby
N: medium intensity, touch of sweet tobacco, fall leaves, plums
P: hint of pepper, good acidity, touch of alcohol heat, graphite, black plums
V: 7, maybe needs a bit of breathing time to round up. Definitely evolved and smoothed out over the next couple of days. 7+ on the next day

Last year, I had a pleasure of learning about Cru Bourgeouis wines, and the wines were so good that I proudly declared that my faith in affordable and tasty Bordeaux wines was restored. This year, I was happy to find out that my conclusion was not an accident, and it is definitely possible to find deliciously tasting [and reasonably priced] Bordeaux wines.

Château Haut-Logat vineyards overlook the village of Cissac-Médoc, located between Saint-Estèphe and Pauillac, and it is a part of the Cheval Quancard properties. The wine was perfect from the get go:

2012 Château Haut-Logat Cru Bourgeois Haut-Médoc AOC (12.5 ABV, $25, 45% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc)
C: garnet
N: intense, mint, touch of bell pepper, touch of freshly crushed cassis
P: beautiful, medium body, cassis, eucalyptus, tobacco, touch of sweet oak, medium finish
V: 8, excellent Pop’n’Pour wine

The next two wines come from Argentina, and yes, both are Malbec.

Ruca Malen means “the house of the young girl” in the local language of the ancient tribes inhabiting the area, and it has a nice legend attached to that name (which you can read on the back label above). Bodega Ruca Malen was born in 1998 with the vision of creating terroir-driven wines. The grapes for the Ruca Malen Malbec came from the two high-altitude vineyards – one in the Uco Valley, at 3600 feet, and the second one in Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, at 3115 feet above sea level, from the 22+ years old vines. The wine was varietally correct and easy to drink:

2014 Ruca Malen Malbec Reserva Mendoza Argentina (13.5% ABV, $18.99, 12 months in 80% French Oak/20% American oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: touch of pepper, sage, freshly crushed blackberries, intense
P: medium body, plums, mint, soft, good acidity and overall good balance, medium finish
V: 8-, easy to drink

Nieto Senetiner history predates Ruca Malen’s by more than 100 years – it starts from the first vineyard in Vistalba, Luján de Cuyo in Mendoza, planted by the Italian immigrants in 1888. Today, Nieto Senetiner farms more the 1000 acres of vines, located in the 3 estates in Mendoza.

Don Nicanor Single Vineyard is a flagship wine produced at the estate and it is named after the mentor of Bodegas Nieto Senetiner who was instrumental in setting the direction and the vision for the winery.

2010 Nieto Senetiner Don Nicanor Malbec Villa Blanca Lujan de Cuyo Mendoza Argentina (15% ABV, $44.99, 18-24 months in French oak barrels)
C: dark garnet, practically black
N: intense, red and black berries, baking spices, vanilla, fresh blackberries
P: intense, fresh, noticeable tannins (French oak), clean acidity, a bit of the alcohol burn, slightly underripe, crunchy berries, more of a raspberry profile, tar. A couple of days later, the intensity still there.
V: 8. Needs time to open up, can’t judge from the get go. Even a few days later, packs a lot of power. Craves food – nice charred steak feels the most appropriate. Will develop over next 10–15 years at the minimum.

Here you are, my friends – a few red wines well worthy of your attention. Cheers!

 

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

April 21, 2017 4 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 Collection 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 months 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, Roussanne 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 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 a rationale behind it

2012 Rutini Wines Rutini Malbec Mendoza Argentina (14% ABV, $35, 12 months in oak, 80% new French oak, 20% new American oak)
C: dark garnet
N: licorice, a 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 a 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 months in oak, 50% new oak, 50% second use oak)
C: dark garnet
N: a touch of mint, fresh berries, black currant, a 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 prefer 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!

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