6 March – I first published the article below immediately after the Wines of Argentina Awards on 16 February, but Buenos Aires-based sommelier Andrés Rosberg has now come back with so much new information on the wines, including importers and websites (thank you, Andrés) that we are re-publishing this today.
Would you value a short cut to identifying some of the finest wines currently being made in Argentina?
I spent most of last week [week beginning 9 February] holed up in a zealously chilled room in the Park Hyatt in Mendoza judging this year's Wines of Argentina wine awards, having last been in the country in 2007 to take part in the very first of these annual calibrations of wine progress in the land of gauchos and Malbec.
Each year Wines of Argentina chooses a theme for their judges (all MWs, all MSs, or all Americans, for example). This year was the year of women and 18 of us were recruited, one Argentine per panel plus representatives from the US and Canada (the two export markets that are even more important for Argentine wine than the UK), Japan, Finland, Germany and Singapore. In all the judges included six of us Masters of Wine: Essi Avellan from Finland, Barbara Philip from British Columbia, Annette Scarfe who travels around the world between LVMH operations from her base in Singapore and Christy Canterbury from the US.
The ever-cheerful wine writer Suzana Barelli from São Paulo who had attended the previous year's awards reported that this year's was much more peaceful, harmonious and efficient. Certainly my team consisting of her and the glamorous Argentine sommelier-educator Marina Beltrame, hardly disagreed at all about the quality and characteristics of the 230-odd wines we judged blind together – and when we did I think we all learnt from each other. The 671 wines entered from 143 bodegas had been carefully checked and divided into suitable flights by variety, vintage and price bracket by another Master of Wine, Jane Hunt whose company Hunt & Coady specialises in organising massive tastings.
On the fourth day all of the judges tasted wines on the borderlines between silver and bronze medals, on the borderline between gold and silver, and those golds that were in the running for a trophy. Below are the final trophy winners, announced that night at Concha y Toro's Trivento winery. It was quite noticeable how many of the winemakers who came onto the stage to collect a trophy were female, when Argentina is not famous for equal opportunities (ouch... ha ha!).
The week after next I plan to start publishing reviews of all 250-plus wines I tasted in Argentina, including many surprising new styles.
You will spot many missing categories in the last below such as Sauvignon Blanc, or varietals in various price brackets. This means that nothing was deemed quite exceptional enough in that category to be worth a trophy.
ARGENTINE WINE AWARDS 2015 TROPHIES
Ruca Malén Sparkling Brut NV Mendoza
Perhaps not surprising since this bodega is owned by the Jacques-Louis de Montalembert, partner at the Bemberg group that owns Peñaflor, and Jean Pierre Thibaud, Frenchman who used to run Moët et Chandon's Argentine operation (he was its CEO), and was the brother-in-law of Baron Bertrand de Ladoucette of the Loire. 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay from Uco Valley. Traditional method with at least one year on the lees. Andrés suggests that perhaps this, together with winning the International Trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards last year, suggests that Argentina has strong potential for sparkling wine production?
Imported by Corney & Barrow (UK), Opici Imports (US)
Chardonnay retailing at $7-13
La Rosa, Finca La Escondida Chardonnay 2014 Cafayate, Salta
Owned by the giant Peñaflor, from the northern region most famous for Torrontés, Argentina's signature white wine grape, this wine was made by Steve McEwen, a Californian winemaker who has lived in Argentina for quite a few years now.
Salentein, Single Vineyard San Pablo Chardonnay 2012, Tunuyán, Uco Valley, Mendoza
The Dutch family-owned, high-altitude company hired José 'Pepe' Galante, former head winemaker at Catena Zapata, five years ago, and this is now showing in their wines. This Chardonnay, made from vines planted in 2002, is barrel fermented and comes from the company's Finca San Pablo, at 1,600 m above sea level. This unique vineyard yields unusually high acidity levels for Mendoza, normally reaching 10 g/l of total acidity (measured in tartaric), of which up to 5 g/l are usually made up of malic acid. Also, it rains over 450 mm every year, so roughly twice as much as in the rest of Mendoza.
Imported by Palm Bay International (US)
Cadus, Finca Las Tortugas 2013 Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Cadus is the upmarket sister winery to Nieto Senetiner. This wine comes from a 45-year-old pergola-trained vineyard in Agrelo, in the heart of Luján de Cuyo. Considerable effort is being expended in Argentina on this variety, the second most planted red wine variety, to good effect.
Imported by Boutinot (UK)
Séptima, Obra Malbec 2012 Mendoza
This is the company that belongs to the Spanish Cava specialists Codorniú. They are generally better at fizz than still wine. This is a blend from high-altitude vineyards in both Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo, made by winemaker Paula Borgo. This was not one of my personal favourites - JR.
Imported by Codorníu (UK) and Aveniu Brands (US).
Riglos, Quinto Malbec 2013 Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza
The bodega in Gualtallary, Uco Valley is owned by Darío Werthein, from the well-heeled Werthein family. It comes from its Finca Las Divas vineyard, at 1,300 m elevation and has a small addition (8%) of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is made by Pulqui Rodríguez Villa, with Paul Hobbs as consultant.
Imported by Las Bodegas (UK) and Paul Hobbs Imports (US)
Casarena, Jamilla's Vineyard 2012 Perdriel, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
The American-owned, relatively new Casarena founded 2007, did very well with their single-vineyard bottlings; another won a gold medal with an 80-year-old, pergola-trained Cabernet. Bernardo Bossi (formerly with Catena) has been the winery's winemaker since 2012. This vineyard is 35 years old, planted with a massal selection from the traditional Bertona family of Luján de Cuyo. Its owner is a Wall Street financier Peter Dartley.
Imported by Robinsons Wines of Stockport (UK) and Southern Starz (US)
Zuccardi, Aluvional Vista Flores 2012 Tunuyán, Uco Valley, Mendoza
From this successful family business's new vineyards in the high-altitude districts, reflecting their new-found devotion to geology and concrete tanks. As a result, they are building a new Zuccardi Altamira winery at their Piedra Infinita finca where their top wines are now being produced. Aluvional is Zuccardi's new range of Uco Valley wines, made with Malbec but focused more in terroir than grape variety (to the point that the variety isn't even mentioned on the label). I write more about this enterprise and its new direction in Zuccardis - three generations of Argentine wine.
Imported by Alliance Wine (UK) and Winesellers (US)
Petit Verdot $30-50
Decero, Mini Ediciones Petit Verdot 2012 Mendoza
We were impressed by the quality of the Petit Verdots submitted, a category that is small but has grown considerably in recent years. Owned by Thomas Schmidheiny, a Swiss cement magnate, this Agrelo estate specialises in single- vineyard bottlings. This particular wine is made with grapes planted at slightly over 1,000 m on silt soils, with strict pruning, thinning and irrigation designed to control Petit Verdot's vigour.
Imported by Berkmann (UK) and Vintus (US)
Cabernet Franc $20-30
Mascota Vineyards, La Mascota Cabernet Franc 2013 Mendoza
Cabernet Franc has recently become fashionable in Argentine wine circles, particularly in the high elevation vineyards of Uco Valley. Made by Rodolfo 'Opi' Sadler, this wine comes from yet another Peñaflor operation. The previous vintage of this wine seems to be sold for a song by the Swedish monopoly.
Imported by Enotria (UK) and Total Wine & More (US)
Cabernet Franc $30-50
Salentein, Numina Cabernet Franc 2012 Mendoza
A second trophy for this producer, and one of the wines that is feeding the hype for Cab Franc in Argentina. This comes from their sandy and stony El Oasis vineyard in Uco Valley planted in 2000 at 1,150 m. Fermented in 7,000-litre casks.
Imported by Palm Bay International(US)
Cabernet Sauvignon $13-20
Proemio, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Tupungato and Maipú, Mendoza
Marcelo Bocardo, owner and winemaker, is Argentina's biggest must exporter, and started this low-key project in 2003, in a small winery built in the very early 1930s near the city of Mendoza, although 95% of the grapes for this wine come from a 30-year-old vineyard in Gualtallary, Uco Valley (95%) with the remaining 5% from Russell, Maipú. Proemio means prologue in old Spanish.
Imported by Faropian (US)
Bodega El Esteco, Serie Fincas Notables Tannat 2012, Cafayate Salta
Yet another success for a Peñaflor subsidiary, their premium Salta label, made by winemaker Alejandro Pepa. Argentina, and particularly Salta, can produce some very appealing examples of the Madiran grape.
Imported by Hallgarten (UK) and Frederick Wildman (US)
Red blend $50+
Finca Sophenia, Synthesis The Blend 2011, Gualtallary, Uco Valley, Mendoza Roberto Luka, ex head of Wines of Argentina, became one of the pioneers of Gualtallary when he founded this winery focusing on high-end wines sold mostly in independent wine stores and restaurants in this part of Tupungato in 2004. I found it a bit too syrupy and exaggerated for my personal taste, but there were some excellent red blends.
Imported by Ellis of Richmond (UK) and The Winebow Group (US)