What better way to start off a wine vacation in Argentina than to have perhaps one of Argentina's best sommeliers, Marcelo Rebole lead a discussion and tasting of some of the finest wines of his homeland which he personally selected for us to try. Marcelo is the charming sommelier for the Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau in Buenos Aires and a great ambassador for the wines of Argentina. It was a wonderful opportunity to get a perspective from a fellow sommelier and and learn how important wine is in Argentine culture. I would like to share some interesting tid bits that I learned from his presentation. Further below you will find a list of the wines we sampled along with my tasting notes.
Argentina has over 1800 wineries but only 300 wineries export to the United States. There are 145 wineries in the Argentine Wine Association and they are responsible for over 90% of what is sold in the US. The great majority of what is produced in Argentina stays in Argentina.
Argentine wine culture is born from an Italian ancestry. Per capita wine consumption in Argentina is 30 liters per year. The US consumption is approximately 11 liters per year - the same as Chile. I'm pretty sure my consumption is closer to Argentina.
Argentines drink 60% red wine since their diet consists mostly of red meat. The average Argentine consumes 150 lbs of red meat every year. The beef is often cheaper than tomatoes.
The most popular white wines include Torrontes and Chardonnay. Torrontes is a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica (a local Mission grape). Torrontes used to be bottled in brown Riesling bottles to prevent it from oxidizing too quickly.
Chandon is a synonym for Champagne or Sparkling wine - sort of like Kleenex doubles for facial tissue. Moet Chandon own 85% of the sparkling wine market in Argentina. If you want bubbles, just ask for Chandon but this does not mean you will end up with a Moet product.
We tasted an exceptional group of diverse wines made from various varietals and blends. The selections were not your average everyday wines but some of them would blow $100 California Cabs right of the water. The tasting was very special but if I had one complaint, I would say that some of them were a little too high on the alcohol. A few of the wines registered at almost 16%. They reminded me a bit of Kathy Griffin - loud, brash, in your face, a little goes a long way but at the same time intelligent and entertaining.
Here is a list of the wines we tried (I will update with the vintages once we receive the formal list, this is from my personal notes). I have seen many of these wines in the US but am not 100% sure what the retail prices are. You can always Google them to learn more.
2008 Terrazas Unoaked Torrontes Reserva, La Salta - slight medicinal aroma, high acid but with a crisp, broad texture. Drier than the Crios but also seemingly higher in alcohol.
2006 Quara Oaked Torrontes, Salta, Cafayate Valley - touch of pink hue with brass tint, notes of nutmeg, spice. Reminds me of Alsace Pinot Gris or a white Rhone blend. Very impressive and would pair well with molecular gastronomy dishes.
Chacra Pinot Noir, Patagonia, Rio Negro - Patagonia is currently Argentina's most up and coming region and is known for the production of Pinot Noir. Smoky, Mezcal tequila like nose, rubber, fleshy, dry firm tannins, bacon, feral. Not exactly a pretty Pinot Noir. Reminds me of Alsace Pinot Noir.
Achaval-Ferrer Finca Altamira Malbec, La Consulta - smells and tastes like a cross between Italian Brunello and ripe, figgy Amarone della Valpolicella. Warm on the palate with notes of dried leaves, raisins and stewed fruits. Definitely more terroir driven.
2004 Catena Alta Malbec, Argentina - 100% new French oak and it shows, toasted coconut shavings, kirsch liqueur, very ripe and concentrated yet silky. Fine firm tannins - definitely an exceptional wine.
Bodega Colome Reserva, Calchaqui, Salta - This is made by Hess Collection winemaker, Randle Johnson. Aromas of fresh turned soil, beets, cocoa nibs, glides down, very silky and smooth but still has nice acidity. A great bottle of wine.
Yacochuya, Salta - 90% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon - strange herbaceous nose - almost like thyme, rosemary or hemp. Palate is much different with tons of ripe extracted fruits, fleshy texture. Definitely interesting. A Michel Rolland project.
La Riojana Raza Syrah, Famatina, La Rioja - blueberry syrup cooked with thyme, high acid, very well extracted. Nice to try a Syrah from Argentina.
02 Bodega La Rural Felipe Rutini Apartado - Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec/Shiraz - cassis, herbaceous, very Bordeaux like in the nose, cooler climate style, more traditional French like in nature - old school.
03 Enzo Bianchi Red Blend, San Rafael, Mendoza - grown at 600 meters above sea level. Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Malbec - elegant old school style. Riper than the Apartado.
Mendel Unus - 65% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon - full, fleshy style with notes of ripe figs, blackberries and almost a port wine like nose. Impressive.
Luigi Bosco Icono, Lujan de Cuyo - Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec - I don't know why I did not write something about this wine, I guess my palate got tired at this point.
Cobos Unico - 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Malbec - rich and full bodied. Made by Paul Hobbs, very concentrated yet super silky. Ripe raisins, figs, very warm but definitely enjoyable.