Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Argentina - Part Nine - 'Upper End' Malbec

The home stretch. Imagine how I felt about Argentina after a massive day tasting all these and then a few days after of tasting through most of them again. As I write this, I am reminded how many good Argentine wines were left out of the tasting.

In the last post I concluded that the moderate price range, based on the wines tasted, mostly disappointed compared to lower end Malbec. Part of that is due to my general aversion to heavily oaked wines, but clearly some fault lies with the wineries' insistence to use as much oak as they did, even when the fruit can not possibly handle it. Medium weight fruit with heavy duty oak will lead to one dimensional wines since the oak will overwhelm not only the fruit but whatever complexity that fruit brought to bear.

This is the final countdown of Argentine Malbecs, and these are truly at the Reserva level. Some are labeled as such, and it is justifiable here since all of these wineries produce lower priced introductory level wines (that have been tasted and reviewed here). Unlike some others tasted earlier who slap the Reserva label on whatever wine they want. It is disingenuous at best and outright deceitful at worst.

While Reserva naming is justified here, do the wines measure up to the increased price?

Altos Las Hormigas Reserva 2006 - The grapes come from Valley de Uco and Lujan de Cuyo and the 100% Malbec grapes are fermented in stainless steel and then aged for 20 months in "only tight grain French oak." The wine has a wild color, almost pink on the edge, that remains bright and lively. It truly is an amazing color. The wine is a bit thinner on the back end than I remember (admittedly, from another vintage). 2nd day - The color has settled down a bit but it is still wildly intense and bright. High toned fruit and deep oak notes form a good balance. Not quite as lush on the palate, but solid. 3rd day - This has held up beautifully, bright still, but taking on a smoky note, and the juicy fruit continues. Just a bit tight on the back end, but this wine is well made, and I enjoy its hedonism. Give it time to breathe. Other tasters raved about the wine. Importer - Vin Divino and Michael Skurnik. $22-$26

Luigi Bosca Reserva Malbec 2005 - From Lujan de Cuyo and 100% Malbec. A light filteration is done and the wine spends 12 months in French oak. Some stewed fruit and sweet smelling fruit that retains tartness on the nose. Great fruit and oak mix on the finish, lively but still silky. Very good finish, I don't care for the nose though. 2nd day - A bit raw, but some bright, lifted, red fruit and cedar notes from the wood. The oak is rounder on the finish than the nose and good balance remains. This wine also was generally considered a hit despite its very different style. This is slightly more old world in that it wants food, doesn't have to have it, but leans toward pork, red sauces and mushrooms while the Altos wants big meat and stews. Importer - Gaucho Imports. $16-$20, although I did see it listed as low as $14.

Malma Reserva Malbec 2004 - I believe it to be all Malbec and the wine is aged in 80% French and 20% American oak. Most importantly, it comes from the NQN winery in Patagonia, a cooler growing area than Mendoza. There is no other way to describe the nose, but bloody. Like a good butcher shop smells of raw meat and blood (sorry vegetarians). The wine is soft, long, and juicy but not as concentrated as I expected from the nose. Perhaps the slightly lower concentration is due to the relative coolness of the region. I must confess I have not tried enough wines from Patagonia to speak with any level of authority. 2nd day - Again, raw meat, juicy red and black fruit on the palate and more lush today. The wine is even impressive today. 3rd day - It is fading, but for a 2004 opened for a few days the wine is amazingly persistent. Another taster referenced 'flesh and meat' in her description. I like it! Importer - Pinnacle International. $23-$28, price were odd on this wine on a google search.

Catena Malbec 2006 - Made from 100% Malbec and sourced from four vineyards ranging in altitude from 2,850 to 5,000 feet in Mendoza. The wine spends 12 months in 70% French oak, 20% of which is new, and 30% American oak. Unfined and unfiltered. Juicy, red fruit but a tad alcoholic on the nose. It seems perhaps acidified, making my tongue tingle. One word for this, "blah", especially for the price. No other taster cared about this, in fact, one expressed disappointment. 2nd day - Not as hot on the nose today, but not enough depth or complexity for the money. Much better today, not "blah", but still too expensive for what is in the bottle. This is a red fruit dominant Malbec and will not provide enough enjoyment for most people relative to price. A well known producer that sells wines based on previous reputation based on this tasting. Importer - Billington Distributors. $19-$24

Gouguenheim Flores del Valle Malbec Azul 2003 - From estate vineyards in Tupungato (Valle de Uco) this is the top bottling from the winery. It changes from year to year, sometimes a blend, sometimes a single variety. In this vintage the wine is 100% Malbec. I find a bizarrely sweet nose, almost medicinal, the flavor is better, but not interesting enough to forgive the nose. One other taster enjoyed it, but even she noted it was, "a different creature." 2nd day - A bit of a muddy color, the nose is more intriguing and showing some age. Almost licorice note today, fascinating nose today, but not so lively anymore and a bit muddled. I am intrigued enough to want to try another vintage. Importer - http://www.bodegagouguenheim.com.ar/ Pinnacle is no longer representing them, the rest of the states should be accurate. $23-$26

Carinae Prestige 2005 - Only 2,930 bottles of this wine were produced. The wine is 70% Malbec, 20% Syrah, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and spent 15 months in new French oak. The blend changes a bit from year to year and production has doubled since this vintage. Michel Rolland consults for this winery. Wow, even though this is clearly international and Rolland-influenced, this is good! Sorry for the lack of notes, last wine of the day, and I liked it. 2nd day - Bright, focused red and black fruit with oak mingling nicely. The key is the brightness of the wine, this is full, big, lush, and well oaked, but the lively acid in the wine keeps everything in good balance. There is no sense of terroir here, but it's Rolland. 3rd day - Fading, more clay, brick, aged fruit nose with more noticeable tannin and less fruit, but still okay. Overall, very impressive, this will please fans of flashy wines and jaded geeks as well. Importer - Pinnacle International. $30-$35

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