Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Argentina - Part Four - Cabernet Sauvignon

I touched on a couple of Cabernets in the last post, this one will cover the rest from the tasting. Why do we hear almost nothing about Argentine Cabernets? Is it due to the simple fact that the success of Malbec overshadows all other wine from the country. There is Cabernet available from all over the world, but top notch Malbec at a great price only comes from Argentina. So, are the Cabernets truly good enough to compete with the Malbecs? Are they being missed by people who have blinders for all things not Malbec, or are they missable? No one can blame Argentine vineyard owners for cultivating Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the most impressive wines on the planet are made from the variety. Our tasting focused mostly on reasonably priced versions of Cabernet and I will admit to a general bias at that price point against that variety. I find Cabernet Sauvignon generally dull and lacking intrigue, perhaps even being rough around the edges or having too much softness to be a good example in the under $15 category. Bear that in mind for the following notes.

NQN Picada 15 2007 - This is a blend, 40% Cabernet, 30% Merlot, 20% Malbec, and 10% Pinot Noir. Although there is no oak used for this wine, I could have sworn there was some slight presence on the palate. Sweet, bright fruit, very juicy style. It is light and pretty but comes off a bit thin perhaps for the blend. 2nd day - interesting sweet note on the nose, with a deep fruited hint as well. It is tasty and enjoyable, but a bit simple. 3rd day - still intense fruit here, and earth is coming on. This is still quite nice. Overall, an interesting diversion, friendly with poultry and pork and mushrooms, but will not reward people looking for bigger is better Cabernet style. Importer - Pinnacle International. $11-$13.

La Linda Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 - 100% Cabernet from Lujan de Cuyo and located at 3,150 feet. Three months in French and American oak complete the aging process. Elegant wine, but with some gritty tannin. The nose and palate offer hints of sweet cherry fruit. It is solid and will pair well with food. 2nd day - There is more fruity dryness on the nose, still pronounced tannin, albeit very fine. Not much fruit left on the palate today. A taster pronounced it "good for the 82nd Avenue nightlife." Note - 82nd Ave in Portland is home to much prostitution and 'lingerie modeling' businesses. There are also some nicer parts, but it seemed her intention with the comment was that it might drink well out of a bag while smoking a cigarette and waiting for some action. I think it's better than that sounds, and I think it needs food. Importer - Gaucho Imports. $10-$12

Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 -From Mendoza and 100% Cabernet, with "moderate oak aging in French and American oak." I pick up an earthy note, not a pleasant one; is it brett? It tastes better than it smells, but not by a lot. The wine is fine, but there is no need to search it out in my opinion. 2nd day - It seems a bit stewy today, but not bretty, the cork did 'pop' when I reopened it. Perhaps this bottle has some issues. One tasting note read, "yawn" which I think says it all about the wine. Importer - Billington Distributors. $10-$11

Luna Benegas Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 - I believe this is the second vintage of this for the winery. The fruit is all Mendoza. Juicy, lifted nose, lots of tannin on the palate but good fruit balances it. The fruit and oak mostly wash over the tannin. This is a good Cabernet. From another taster, "It is one dimensional, but it's a solid dimension...berries, plums and currants rolled in dirt - in a good way." 2nd day - Some pepper here too. I like the wine better today, it is still firm but shows even better balance. 3rd day - Nearly the lead pencil notes of good left bank Bordeaux, good acid, although there is not much fruit left on the nose anymore. The penetrating nose masquerading as Bordeaux adds more than enough intrigue to offset the loss of some fruit. This is well done and will work beautifully on the table with all manner of meat and harder cheeses. A pleasant surprise, a Michel Rolland wine improving after a few days open. Importer - Pinnacle International. $11-$15

El Cipres Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - Mendoza fruit here again, from relatively young vines. Some black pepper (one taster found black tea), this wine is big and juicy on the front end and is clearly good quality. The finish is long and intense. 2nd day - Black pepper still dominates the nose, the finish is more compact, but still full of flavor. The nose is wild and absolutely riveting. 3rd day - That wild black tea aroma seems to be getting more intense with time open. The mid-palate is great even as the finish seems to fade, but then reappears to be intense and long once again. Wow! It would make an excellent match for cream sauces and pizza. The nose alone is worth the price of admission. Importer - Pinnacle International. $10-$13.

Gouguenheim Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 - From Tupungato in Mendoza this ages for three months with French oak inner staves in, I assume, stainless steel. I find greenish acidity on the nose but plenty of ripe fruit as well. Fine, nothing much going on here at all. The feeling was the same for just about everyone. 2nd day - Firmer tannin showing now, very reminiscent of Chilean Cabernet for me, but with riper fruit. 3rd day - Still some nice red fruit showing, palate still offers hints of juiciness and it seems oakier on the back and middle. Surprisingly good this far along. By the 4th day, the mid-palate virtually explodes with fruit, wow. I don't know what to make of this. The wine showed best on day 4, but I can't imagine that it is a wine for aging. Perhaps decanting and pouring back into the bottle will bring that magic along faster. Importer - Go to their website - Pinnacle International is no longer their importer, other states should be accurate. $10-$13

Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 - Some estate fruit here, but mostly sourced from around Mendoza, it is 100% Cabernet. Very new world style, deep, sweet oak with lots of juicy fruit. There is some out of balance tannin to my palate. 2nd day - similar notes. I find it too simple, but I bet it sells well. The wine is easy and safe, if unrewarding. One taster called it his favorite, another said it would make a good glass pour. Importer - Frederick Wildman and Sons. $13-$17

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 - 100% Cabernet from Mendoza, specifically a mix of vineyards from 3,100-5,000 feet. Their website is woefully out of date, but the 2004 vintage spent twelve months in oak with 80% French oak, 30% of which was new, and 20% new American oak. This is a winery that gets a lot of hype and reverence and we were frankly amazed at what appeared in bottle. Deep fruit and lots of oak imply a rich mouthfeel, but the wine tasted almost watered down. It was thin, with absolutely no expanse on the finish, it just kind of fades away limply. 2nd day - Better front end, red fruit dominant, but overall, I have the same reaction - where's the beef? Another taster summed it up nicely, "This is a crime against Cabernet." Importer - Billington Distributors. $18-$21 - a few less expensive and a few more, but I wouldn't buy it at $10. Very disappointing.

Overall I find nothing here to rivet me and take the place of Malbec although there are certainly some good wines here. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit again to my general disappointment in Cabernet under $15. As far as I could determine, all of the Cabernets were 100%, perhaps some judicious blending would improve my reactions.

Next up, a few odds and ends, then it's Malbec, Malbec and more Malbec!

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