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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Argentinian Wines With Wink Lorch at Cambridge Food and Wine Society‏

O Fournier in Uco Valley‏, Mendoza: photo by Wink Lorch
It's been seven years since I last saw Wink Lorch presenting on Argentinian wines to the Cambridge Food and Wine Society, but at the weekend, I got a chance to catch up when she returned to present eight wines from the Salta and Mendoza regions.

Having travelled several times to Argentina, Wink knows the country well and really brought the wines to life with stories about the wine-makers behind them and the regions.


Some key facts about Argentina from Wink:

- the country is very dry and vines have to be irrigated, often using canals built by the native inhabitants which visiting Scottish engineers declared "impressive"
- whilst the country cannot claim (as neighbouring Chile can) to be completely phylloxera-free, most of the vines are ungrafted with correspondingly higher vine ages
- almost all wines are made at high altitude; ranging from 700m to 1,500m in Mendoza and between 1,600 and 3,000m+ for Salta
- Salta, in the far north of the country, is technically in the tropics - hence the need to plant vines at altitude for coolness and length of growing season
- the grape varieties (of which Torrontes and Malbec are the most famous) are a mix of descendants of those brought by the Spanish settlers (Torrontes), those brought over from Europe in the mid-C19th (Bordeaux varieties, Tempranillo and Bonarda) with Chardonnay as a more recent addition
- grape varieties are 30% white and 70% red
- Argentina has the largest plantings of Tempranillo outside Spain
- distances between the vineyards and the wineries can be huge with the grapes trucked in bulk; this is reducing, however, for quality-led export wines
- with a large Italian immigrant population, Argentina has something of an Italian feel that is reflected in its lifestyle, culture and the wines themselves

The Whites
 
 
We started with an example of Argentina's signature white grape, Torrontes (which I have historically struggled with).

Faldeos Nevados Torrontes 2011 Salta 13.5% (£7.50, The Wine Society)
A relative of Muscat d'Alexandria and Mission, it is a sandy yellow in the glass; ripe, floral aromas with peaches and apricots. Pleasant hint of yeasty apricot skins.

The palate is mouthfilling and waxy, with pineapple and exotic fruit - peachy texture reminiscent of Viognier, but balanced by good fresh acidity and not cloying. Good length.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this wine and was reminded of a Gelber Muskateller from Austria's high-altitude Styria - both floral grapes that, for me, benefit greatly from high acidity being maintained to offset the perfumey aromas.

Very well received by the group.

Mendel Semillon 2010 Mendoza 13.5% (£9.75, The Wine Society)
A yellowy-green in the glass, with not so much on the nose - just some hints of diesel, ripe citrus and a touch of lime zest. On the palate, there is good lime fruit, a creamy leesiness and fresh acidity.

Less extrovert than the previous wine, this initially felt a little elusive and underwhelming after the all-singing, all-dancing Torrontes. However, after a little "palate acclimatisation", it revealed itself to be well-made and well-balanced; a soul-mate rather than a bouncy young thing.

Catena Chardonnay 2010 Mendoza 13.5% (£12:20 Waitrose)
A golden yellow, there are aromas of spicy oak and exotic fruit. Ripe, buttery and creamy on the palate, with more exotic fruit - a slight hint of hot alcohol on the palate.

Distinctly New World in style, not at all Burgundian, yet fresh and not blowsy. Wink observed that the nearest comparison would be a cool part of California, such as Carneros.

Overall, this was considered to be a solid, workmanlike example, but lacking a touch of individuality - especially at the price.

The Reds
 
 
Faldeos Nevados Bonarda 2011 Mendoza 13% (£8.25, The Wine Society)
Bonarda is Argentina's second-most planted red grape after Malbec. There is Bonarda in Italy, but it turns out to be a completely different grape and the true European equivalent is Savoie's Corbeau (aka Charboneau in California).

Lots of ripe, primary bramble fruit on the nose. Juicy acidity and low tannins on the palate with some black and red cherry fruit.

Distinctly Italian in style, it has a rasping acidity that demands to be matched with tomato-based dishes - not at all a quaffer, then.

Gestos Shiraz 2009 Mendoza 14% Bodegas Finca Flichman (£9.99 Majestic)
Lots of ripe bramble fruit, baked fruitcake and vanilla spice and sweetness. Ripe, rounded tannins.

For me, and others, this was rather overdone and a case of more is less.

Catena Zapata The Wine Society Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Mendoza 13.5% (£10.75 The Wine Society)
A version of Catena CS (not really Catena Zapata which is a higher level of wine), this specific blend is unique to The Wine Society and features a higher proportion of wines from higher altitude and all aged French oak - overall, a good thing. For completists, there is also some Malbec and Cab Franc in the blend, adding spice and perfume.

A complex nose of liquorice and leather, blackcurrant and red peppercorns. On the palate, there is blackcurrant fruit, more acidity, chocolatey-ness and spice. It feels elegant and balanced, with good structure and lovely ripe tannins.

Drinking well now, it still has good ageing potential.

A really lovely wine - for me and many, the best of the reds, perhaps because it is the most European in style.

Amalaya 2010 Salta 14% Bodegas Colome (£10.79 Majestic and Noel Young Wines)
A Malbec blend, this also features some Cab (15%), Syrah (5%) and Tannat (5%); the nose shows spicy bramble fruit, something floral and some fruitcake.

On the palate, there is red and black cherry fruit, peppery grip and juicy acidity, plus some subtle oak and soft tannins.

Noel Young describes this wine as "a touch lighter than straight Malbec ... makes a nice change; really bright and vibrant."

O Fournier Alfa Crux 2004, Valle de Uco, Mendoza 15% (£22.99 Waitrose)
A blend of Tempranillo (50%), Malbec (30%) and Merlot (20%), this is a big beast of a wine - in the glass, it shows some brick-red hints of age around the rim. The nose is complex with meaty aromas, iodine / medicinal hints, cherry fruit, spice, leather and roasted coffee, whilst the palate is mouthfilling and fruitcake-rich.

From old vines all grown at over 1,000m and 17 months in new oak, it is an accomplished and impressive wine - with many awards.

And yet, and yet ... it feels just too much, too over-the-top. That full-on ripeness and everything-including-the-kitchen-sink may wow the critics at tastings and competitions, but for me, it's a Nancy Dell'Olio of a wine - smart and not unattractive, but I couldn't live with it.

Conclusions

In a word association game, you say Argentina and I think of Malbec and Torrontes.

Wink's presentation showed that Argentina is a more diverse wine-producing country than one might first think and gave some great insights into what the country is like.

With the 33 colleges that make up the university here, each with its own cellars and buyers, and a large number of independent wine merchants, the average palate in Cambridge is probably rather classical. As a result, whilst all the wines were recognised as being well-made, those that were most appreciated by Society members were generally the more European-style, lower-alcohol ones.

Recommended Wines
 
My own favourites were:

- the Torrontes for its peachy texture, long palate and fresh acidity
- the Catena Zapata Cab for its elegance, complexity and overall assuredness

Both from The Wine Society.

Links

Wink Lorch - website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn
Wines of Argentina - http://www.winesofargentina.org/
Cambridge Food and Wine Society - website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn

The Wine Society - http://www.thewinesociety.com/
Noel Young - http://www.nywines.co.uk/
Majestic - http://www.majestic.co.uk/
Waitrose - http://www.waitrosedirect.com/wine

Image Credit - Main picture: O Fournier in Uco Valley‏ reproduced by kind permission of Wink Lorch


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