Argentine favourites
1 Mar 2002 by JR

These were some of the most impressive wines I tasted in Argentina, listed in approximate ascending order of price. Please note that the 1998 vintage was hit by El Niño and is in general a much less sumptuous vintage for reds than 1999 (a lovely year) and 2000. Many stockists are still selling the 1998s unfortunately. The subsequent vintage should be both better and less expensive. We hope.

Updated 6 March 2002

For more stockists, see WineSearcher.

Black River Torrontes 2000 Humberto Canale, Rio Negro

Ridiculously inexpensive Patagonian made from a particularly gently textured version of Argentina's signature white grape (grapy to lemon sherbet flavours; full body). Should be under £4.

Terry Platt Wine Merchants, Llandudno
Tate-Smith Ltd, Castlegate, N Yorks
Hedley Wright Wine Merchants, Stansted, Essex
Arkells Brewery, Swindon
Mills Whitcombe, near Hay-on-Wye
Richards & Richards, Bury
Pierre Henck, Wolverhampton
Cadet Imports of Mt Vernon, NY

Rio de Plata Torrontes/Chardonnay 2001 Etchart, Cafayate

Well made introduction to Torrontes. £3.99 Morrisons, Somerfield, Budgen in the UK. Peerless Imports of NY in the US.

Pinot Gris 2001 Lurton, Valle de Uco

Second vintage from cuttings imported from Alsace yield well priced Alsace richness on the nose, if slightly tight palate. £4.49 Waitrose

Black River Organic Merlot 2001 Humberto Canale, Rio Negro

Merlot, exceedingly fashionable in Argentina, is Patagonia's vineyard speciality. This is whistle-clean and refreshing. Argentina is fast realising its organic potential. The Canale Reserve Merlot 2000 (£9.99 Marks & Spencer) is deeply flavoured; low yields really have paid off. For stockists, see the Black River list above.

Chardonnay 2000 Norton, Agrelo

Very creditable, lively, dryish, long-flavoured wine from low-yielding vines originally selected by Weinert's renowned winemaker Raúl de la Motta. Unfortunately Oddbins and Unwins don't import this but the ripe, spicy Malbec at £4.99 is pretty good value. Hess Collection, CA

Viniterra Pinot Grigio 2001

Full, honeyed, lots of personality. Not imported into the UK unfortunately. The 1999 Luhan de Cuyo Malbec from this bodega, run by the Senetiner family who used to own Nieto y Senetiner, is pretty good too - polished example of the country's signature grape. US importer Senetiner, FL.

Fabre Montmayou Malbec 1999 Domaine Vistalba, Barrancas

French everything - including the look of the labels - but great value. This firm, a sister company to Infinitus in Patagonia, was set up by a happy refugee from the Bordeaux négociant business, tanned by the good life in Argentina. The 1998 is £5.99 Oddbins. Cadet Imports of Mt Vernon, NY

Don David Torrontes 2001 Michel Torino, Cafayate

Almost Germanically floral nose with lovely silky texture and a fine, fruity mid-palate without being at all sweet. To be shipped by Hallgarten Wines of Luton. This is a sister company of the giant Trapiche which is part American-owned.

Bonarda Reserva 2000 Nieto y Senetiner, Lujan de Cuyo

Seriously good value. This bodega's new (Argentine) owners are buying higher altitude vineyards and successfully using less oak on less expensive, gentle wines such as this and its Merlot counterpart. Both £6.99 Asda. Leonard Kreusch of Walton, NY

Infinitus Merlot Rio Negro

Deep, rich, full, fine and rather French, like the bodega's winemaker and owner (both the same as Fabre Montmayou).

Viniterra Malbec 1999 Lujan de Cuyo

Polished example of the country's signature grape from the ex-owner of Nieto y Senetiner. US importer Senetiner Inc, FL

Catena Malbec 1999 Lunlunta

Spicy, lively wine that spreads its ripeness over the palate. Good value. £8.81 Bibendum Wine of London NW1. Billington Imports in the US.

Luigi Bosca Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Big, syrupy, rich and comforting. Not exactly new wave but velvety stuff from five different clones. £7.99 Adnams of Southwold. Chatham Imports in the US.

Finca La Florencia Malbec 2000 Cassone, Alto Agrelo

New bodega with decisions taken by professional family and exceptionally sophisticated wines made by a Pine Ridge-trained son. Vines are up to 90 years old. See also the denser Obra Prima Malbec 1999. H&H Bancroft of London SE1 0870 444 1702 and MHW Imports in the US.

Viña Los Hormigas Malbec Reserva 1999 mainly La Consulta

An Italian take on the Argentine grape. Velvety but without heavy alcohol. Made by Alberto Antonini and shaped by Ital-American Marc de Grazia. £14 Justerini & Brooks of London SW1 and Edinburgh. Michael Skurnik Wines of Syosset, NY

Tocai Friulano 2000 Finca La Anita, Alto Agrelo

Small family bodega makes exceptional Syrah. Its Semillon can age beautifully and the Tocai Friulano puts many an Italian to shame. Not cheap though. £14.04 Caves de Pyrène of Artington, Surrey 01483 538820

Tempranillo 2001 O Fournier, Mendoza

Super-concentrated one to watch from a family famous in Spain for playing cards who have upped sticks from Burgos.

Dolium Malbec Reserva 2000 Perdriel

Fruit from a single, old vineyard transformed California-style into a particularly opulent, slightly sweet mouthful.

Catena Alta Chardonnay 2000 Tupungato

High-altitude sunshine in a glass. Very direct product of ageing for a year in all-new French oak. Not yet released but its predecessor was almost £20 a bottle. Catena is the most reliable name in Argentine wine.

Primus Pinot Noir 1999, 2000 and 2001 Salentein, Valle de Uco

Surprisingly impressive gently textured and convincingly flavoured answer to red burgundy from increasingly high vineyards. The 2002 will contain fruit grown at 1500m. Its predecessor gained national fame in Argentina for having been served at the recent Dutch royal wedding. UK importer D & D Wines of Knutsford. Soon to be imported into the US by San Francisco Wine Exchange. The brother of Salentein's Dutch owner owns the Bernardus winery in Carmel, California.

Gran Malbec 1999 Terrazas de los Andes, Lujan de Cujo

One of several successful wines from Chandon's ambitious still wine bodega based on purchased old vineyards. Very sumptuous style; more Argentine and less French than Infinitus and Fabre Montmayou, for example. Young Lurton of Ch Cheval Blanc was so impressed by the fruit in Argentina that he has developed a red wine joint venture with Terrazas which should be launched next year.

The Great Northern Wine Company, Leeds (tel 0113 246 1200)
Philglass & Swiggot, London (tel 020 7924 4494)
Villeneuve Wines, Edinburgh (tel 01721 722500)
The Vineyard, Dorking (tel 01306 876 828)
Wadebridge Wines (tel 01208 812 692)
Wimbledon Wine Cellars, London (tel 020 8540 9979)
Richardson & Sons Fine Wine Merchants, Cumbria (tel 01946 692 443)
Gordons of Bolton Ltd (tel 01204 697 805)
Schieffelin imports these wines in the US

Specialist importer of small producer's wines (no-one over six foot allowed) The Wine Messenger of New Rochelle, NY (tel 914 632 4829, web www.winemessenger.com) is a useful source of wines imported from Canale, Dolium, Fabre Montmayou, Infinitus, Jean Rivier, Lunlunta, Salentein, Temporada and Viña Amalia. They are a licensed retailer in 18 states.

Yacochuya 2000 Cafayate

The supplest, most voluptuous of the first three vintages (from 1999) of a joint venture at more than 2000m, between Michel Rolland and Arnaldo Etchart whose large family company was sold and is now a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard. Malbec with a little Cabernet Sauvignon and even less Tannat. Sold through Bordeaux Millésimes of Bordeaux.

Iscay Malbec/Merlot 1999 Trapiche

Steeply priced but hugely enjoyable cooperative effort between Trapiche's improbably named Señor Vino Angel Mendoza and Pomerol's Monsieur Merlot Michel Rolland. One of the few wines I saw selling for less in Buenos Aires than is asked for it in Britain. The 1998 is £29.50 at Harrods, London SW1. Peerless Importers, NY

Caro 2000 Agrelo

Sumptous Cabernet/Malbec (70/30) blend from Eric de Rothschild and Catena (Ca, Ro - geddit?) to be launched in September. Notably more elegant than most Argentine reds and very, very long. The aim, to make a wine of which one could enjoy two bottles, seems to have been achieved. And caro is what Baron Eric's Italian wife calls him too. Aaahhh.  

Update 6 March 2002

Nicolas Catena Zapata 1999 Agrelo

There have been fine red wines whose names combine various permutations of the words Catena, Zapata and Angelica at the top end of Buenos Aires' relatively expensive wine lists for some years now, but it was only with the 1997 vintage that this dynamic company launched a seriously ambitious Cabernet-based wine on the outside world. At tastings in the US and UK, Nicolas Catena Zapata 1997 was shown blind alongside such wines as Opus One and Bordeaux first growths of the same vintage (not exactly glorious for Bordeaux of course) to wine trade professionals. At the session I attended (and, I believe, the American ones) most tasters' favourite wine was the Argentine newcomer. (I preferred Ch Latour but Zapata was certainly no disgrace.)

The next, El Niño, vintage has been skipped for this label but the 1999, to be launched in March 2003, is already finer than the 1997 with much more elegant tannins and no less ambition. The 1999 vintage is based on super-ripe Cabernet Sauvignon from Agrelo bolstered by nine per cent Malbec from the cooler La Consulta area and four per cent Merlot from a high altitude vineyard in Tupungato which is already showing an affinity for this variety. The grapes were picked at the end of March and this is no monster. The alcohol level of 13.8 per cent is well balanced by inky yet flattering fresh fruit and an attractively dry finish.

The UK agents Bibendum Wine of London NW1 offered their small allocation of the 1997 at just under £40 a bottle which is certainly ambitious enough. I would hope that the 1999 will be offered at less than this since the dramatic devaluation of Argentina's peso but I know that the bodega's talented winemaker Pedro Marchevsky (whose wife makes such thoughtfully made wines as Anubis) has argued to owner Dr Nicolas Catena that any reduction in price would signify a lack of confidence in the wine's quality. As a consumer champion I do not of course agree, but I'm sure that however they eventually decide to price this wine, it will sell with ease. (US importers Billington Wines.)