​Ruca Malén Petit Verdot 2012 Mendoza

From $10.99 (2010 vintage), 118 Brazilian reals, £12.75, HK$1,000 for six bottles 

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When I acted as a judge in last year’s Wines of Argentina Awards I was surprised and impressed by the overall quality of the varietal Petit Verdots I tasted, as you can see from my comments on the top Argentine wines in the awards. The overall winner in the Petit Verdot category retailing at $30-50 a bottle was Decero Mini Ediciones 2012, imported into the UK by Berkmann Wine Cellars and into the US by Vintus. 

Much more recently in London I was impressed by a considerably cheaper Argentine 2012 Petit Verdot, from the highly regarded bodega Ruca Malén, whose wines are imported into the UK (and Hong Kong) by Corney & Barrow and into the US by Opici. You can see a complete list of importers here

In Bordeaux Petit Verdot is regarded as a late-ripening grape that can add agreeable seasoning to a blend in warmer years but needs to be fully ripe to express itself. In warmer climates such as those of Argentine and Australian wine country, it seems to ripen much more consistently. Petit Verdot has become quite a feature of the Australian wine scene with plantings totalling 1,210 ha (2,990 acres) by 2012 – considerably more than, say, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, Sangiovese (showcased today by Walter in Neb, Sangio and friends) or Malbec. In Australia much of it is used in blends such as Cullen’s delicious one from the Mangan vineyard, but there are also some very agreeable varietal versions, some of them keenly priced examples from the irrigated inland vineyards.

Searching our 125,000 tasting notes for high-scoring Petit Verdots, I see that other favourites have come from Virginia, Jumilla, Waiheke Island in New Zealand, Chile, Alentejo in Portugal, Long Island in New York, Washington state and South Africa. This grape has already travelled widely!

What I liked particularly about Ruca Malén Petit Verdot 2012 Mendoza was the intense, ripe Petit Verdot perfume of crystallised violets with a suggestion of red-pimento powder. Like most Argentine reds, this is plump and ripe (14% alcohol) but it also has good freshness and structure, and the rewarding fruit carries right through the tasting experience. Tannins are soft enough to drink this without food if you are looking for richness on a cold night; this is far from an industrial wine.

Bodega Ruca Malén was set up in 1998 by two men with long experience of the wine industry, Jacques-Louis de Montalembert of Burgundy and Jean-Pierre Thibaud (pictured above), who had long chaired Moët & Chandon’s sparkling wine business in Argentina. Recently, since this 2012 was made by winemaker Pablo Cuneo and his team, the company has been acquired by the Argentine food distributor Molinos Río de la Plata, whose owner is a wine enthusiast and already owns Nieto Senetiner. The vineyards are in Luján de Cuyo, not the highest of Mendoza’s vine-growing districts (vineyards lie at 800-1,100 m/2,625-3,280 ft) but one that has so long been admired that it was the first to gain its own appellation. The Petit Verdot is grown in Agrelo, one of the highest parts of Luján de Cuyo. 

The 2010 vintage, which I also liked a lot and reckoned it would still be drinking well now when I tasted it in 2013, is still available in the US from just $10.99, although the current vintage there is 2011, which I have not tasted and was particularly cool and wet in Argentina. 

The barman who poured this wine for us in the admirable new Trustcott Cellar in London NW3 volunteered that the label always reminded him of the Wella shampoo ad.

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