Argentine and Chilean Wines assessed: current releases and other thoughts

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This was a public tasting of wines from Argentina and Chile organized by Uncorked Events. Representatives of 15 or so importers, producers and distributors of wines from these countries were pouring, including Aresti, Bock Wines (La Yunta, Durigutti), Cabernet Corporation Wine Merchants (Don Rodolfo, Belasco de Banguedano), Casa Lapostolle, Dos Andes Wines (Llai Llai and Ruta 22), Henry Wine Group (De Martino, Clos de Los Siete, Diamandes), Hess Family Estates (Colome, Amalaya), Land of Malbec (Altos Las Hormigas, Ksana, Manos Negros), Oasis Wines (maker of Revolution Malbec), Palm Bay International (Salentein, MontGras), Pasternak Wine Imports (Los Vascos, Rutini), Titan Wine & Spirits (Norton, Montes, Santa Ema), Vine Connections (Crios, Mapema, Susana Balbao), Vineyard Brands (Cono Sur), Vintus (Errazuriz, Bodega Lurton), and Weinert. In my continuing efforts to keep abreast of the burgeoning world of wine, this looked like a worthy forum for catching up on the current state of wines in our Southern Hemisphere. Indeed it was, for the most part, but it also turned out to be a very overcast and chilly summer evening in San Francisco for an outdoor event. The large, youngish crowd made the most of it, and a bonfire at one end of the 620 Jones patio attracted a number of participants by the end of the tasting. A lot of entry level wines were poured, but there was also a pretty good smattering of the premium and top bottlings. I took notes on 72 wines at this tasting, which was most of what they were pouring except for a few wines that were corked (and they didn’t have back up bottles). Forty of those were Argentine, 31 were from Chile and 1 was from Uruguay (a Tannat, of course).

I must state upfront that I have yet to become a real fan of wines of Argentina and Chile. I lived in Argentina for several months in the mid-’80s and visited Mendoza and other wine growing regions of Argentina and Chile when the modern wine industry there was in its relative infancy. In those years, Chilean wines were widely acknowledged as of better quality than those of Argentina, and the top producer that was easily available was Concha y Toro. Things have changed dramatically since those visits 25 years ago, of course, and Argentina is now the fifth largest producer of wine in the world. I know that big, fruity, hearty Chilean and Argentine reds have their place alongside the parillada and expertly grilled red meats that make up such a significant part of the southern South American diet. They have their place in American culture too, and the relatively inexpensive Argentine Malbecs and Chilean red blends–at $8 to $16 a bottle–have a big following here among those looking for a big, fruity red to go with simple barbecues and the like. What wines from this region typically lack, however, is refinement and finesse. For this reason, they are virtually never my go to wines on any occasion when I’m drinking for pleasure. The one exception to that statement is the white wine that I think is the region’s biggest success story to date–Torrontés.

Argentina
As mentioned above, Argentina scores well with one distinctive white variety–Torrontés. There are terrific versions of this aromatic, floral, often peachy varietal available from $9 to $20. My benchmark for Torrontés is the Crios de Susana Balbo, which runs about $16, as it is pretty ubiquitous in California and very reliably good. I’ve also had a few good Chardonnays from Argentina, the best of which, to date, was the 2004 Viña Cobos Chardonnay Bramare Marchiori Vineyard. The Sauvignon Blancs I’ve had from Argentina to date have been undistinguished.

My favorite Argentine red wines from the relatively thin slice of the market that represents fine wine have been the atypically refined (and expensive) single vineyard Malbecs from Achával-Ferrer. A couple of these–in particular, the Finca Altamira–I’ve rated 93 and 94 points in particular vintages. I’ve also had a very good Cabernet/Malbec blend from Pascual Toso (I rated the 2006 93 points), and excellent single vineyard Malbecs from Bodega Catena and Viña Cobos, as well as very good blended Malbecs from Doña Paula, Kaiken and Terrazas de Los Andes. So Malbec, Argentina’s most widely planted red variety, does seem to have a promising future, although there’s also an ocean of mediocre, dull versions. Bordeaux blends also seem promising. The best of those that I’ve tried to date are the Achával-Ferrer Quimera (multiple vintages); the seriously pricey–$110 or so, since the Wine Advocate’s Jay Miller gave it 97 points–2006 Bodega Catena Zapata Nicolás Catena Zapata (RJ92+ points) and Cheval Blanc’s Argentine venture, the 2005 Terrazas de Los Andes Cheval des Andes (92 points). I have yet to taste a single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina that I’ve rated more than 89 points.

A great deal of Syrah has been planted in Argentina in recent years, and the best one of those I’ve tasted, and rated 92+ points, was the 2006 Luca Laborde Double Select. (We had the ’09 version in this tasting, and it was nowhere near as good as the ’06.) Otherwise, I’ve been quite disappointed with Argentine Syrahs, which are rarely anywhere near as tasty and interesting as the dozens of good and complex Syrahs one can find from California, Washington State, Australia or, of course, France. Bonarda, which is probably the same as Charbono, is the second most widely planted red grape in Argentina after Malbec. My highest rated single varietal Bonardas have been the 2000 Tikal Corazón (89+ points), and a couple that I’ve rated 89: 2007 Argie Andes and 2008 Argento.

Chile
Chile now produces about half as much wine as Argentina. Chile’s vineyards are famous for being free of phylloxera, due to Chile’s geographic isolation–bounded by the Andes on the east, the Pacific on the west, and the vast desert of the north. As a result, some wonderful old vine vineyards can be found, with vines on their own rootstocks. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted varietal in Chile. My favorite Chilean wine to date (at least since I started keeping track of my tasting notes in 2003), at 93 points, was a 2004 Montes Syrah Folly La Finca de Apalta. I’ve also had one remarkably good Pinot Noir from Chile–2002 Matetic Pinot Noir EQ (92 points)–and a very good Bordeaux blend, 2005 Viña Almaviva S.A. Almaviva (92+ points). I’ve mainly had good Cabernets and Bordeaux blends from Chile, the most reliable producer of which has been Casa Lapostolle–both the Clos Apalta blend and the Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvée Alexandre Apalta Vineyard. On the white side, I’ve had quite decent Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs from Chile. The best of the latter was the 2008 Luis Felipe Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Family Selection. I’ll mention my top Chardonnay to date in the list of my top wines from this tasting below.

Carménère has become Chile’s answer to Argentina’s Malbec as its distinctive and widely planted Bordeaux heritage varietal. The fact this traditional Bordeaux grape, now virtually gone from Bordeaux, was widely present in Chile was only discovered in 1994. Previously, these Carménère plantings were thought to be Merlot, or a local clone of Merlot. The best varietal bottling I’ve had of this grape to date was the 2007 TerraNoble Carménère Reserva (90 points). Based on over 15 single varietal bottlings of Carménère I’ve tried so far, including a few in this tasting, I believe it is better employed in blends with Cabernet and other red varieties than on its own. It simply lacks the complexity and depth of flavor to make a very interesting varietal on its own.

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My top wines of this tasting, that I rated 90 points or higher, were:
Whites
2010 Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontés – 91 points
2008 Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay Cuvée Alexandre – 90 points
Reds
2008 Clos de los Siete – 91 points
2005 Durigutti Malbec Familia – 91+ points
2007 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta – 91 points
2007 Santa Ema Catalina – 90+ points

As a guide to those who are looking for those $8 to $16 Argentine or Chilean big reds, here are the best I found at this event, at 88 points or higher:
Best Bargain Reds
2009 Durigutti Malbec – 89 points (around $13)
2009 Errazuriz Cabernet Sauvignon Single Vineyard – 89 points ($16)
2009 Casa Lapostolle Carménère Casa – 88+ points ($12)
2007 Manos Negras Malbec – 88 points ($14)
2006 Viña Cono Sur Carménère Visión – 89 points ($12)

Also, even though I didn’t rate any of their wines 90 points or higher, I was impressed with the lineup from Errazuriz across the board, as I was with Casa Lapostolle’s offerings generally. Particularly disappointing, for me, were a couple of the labels with significant French owners or partners: Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) and Bodega Lurton.

For the detailed tasting notes, see below.

Altos Las Hormigas

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Aresti

Barons de Rothschild

Belasco de Baquedano

Bouza

  • 2008 Bodega Bouza Tannat – Uruguay, Canelones
    Reticent, tart black fruit, earthy, loamy nose; tart, earthy black fruit, green tea palate; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)

Camino Del Inca

  • 2008 Camino Del Inca Malbec – Argentina, Salta, Cafayate
    Tart berry, black fruit nose; tart berry, black fruit palate; medium finish (8 months in 30% second-use French and 70% American oak barrels) (88 pts.)

Carlos Basso

  • 2010 Carlos Basso Dos Fincas – Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco
    Tart black fruit, herbal nose; tart black fruit, herbal palate; medium-plus finish 86+ points (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Malbec) (86 pts.)

Clos de los Siete

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Colome

  • 2010 Bodega Colome Torrontés – Argentina, Salta, Calchaquies
    Floral, tart peach nose; tart peach, floral palate; medium finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Bodega Colome Amalaya Malbec – Argentina, Salta, Calchaquies
    Black fruit, berry nose; tart black fruit, tart berry palate; medium finish 86+ points (85% Malbec, 8% Tannat, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Syrah, 1% Petit Verdot) (86 pts.)
  • 2009 Bodega Colome Malbec Estate – Argentina, Salta, Calchaquies
    Nice roasted berry, tart black fruit nose; tasty, tart berry, tart black fruit, coffee palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)

Crios de Susana Balbo

Decero

De Martino

Diamandes

  • 2007 Diamandes Malbec Gran Reserva – Argentina, Mendoza
    Redolent French oak, berry, plum nose; tight, ripe plum, tart berry palate; needs 5-7 years; medium-plus finish (70% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30 mos. new French oak) (89 pts.)

Dominio del Plata

Don Martino

Durigutti

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  • 2009 Durigutti Malbec – Argentina, Mendoza
    Plum, ripe black fruit nose with some lift; tight, ripe black fruit, French oak, tart berry, menthol palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2005 Durigutti Malbec Familia – Argentina, Mendoza
    Lovely, lifted, berry, black raspberry, black cherry nose; tasty, tight, tart berry, plum, black raspberry, French oak palate; needs 3-4 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (85% Malbec) (91 pts.)

Errazuriz

LaMadrid

La Playa

La Yunta

  • 2010 La Yunta Torrontés – Argentina, La Rioja, Famatina Valley
    Floral, peach nose; floral, tart peach palate; medium finish (89 pts.)

Lapostolle

  • 2008 Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay Cuvée Alexandre – Chile, Aconcagua, Casablanca Valley
    Nice tart pineapple, tart lemon nose; rich, tart pineapple, lemon, vanilla palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2010 Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc – Chile, Central Valley, Rapel Valley
    Pale green yellow color; intense lemon grass, lime, grapefruit nose; ripe grapefruit, lime palate with sweetness; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Casa Lapostolle Carménère Casa – Chile, Central Valley, Rapel Valley
    Tart plum, tart currant, herbaceous nose; solid, ripe currant, tart berry, dried black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Casa Lapostolle Syrah Cuvée Alexandre – Chile, Central Valley, Rapel Valley, Cachapoal Valley
    Lifted, ripe berry, ripe black fruit, light oak nose; tight, tart berry, black fruit, oak palate; needs 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta – Chile, Central Valley, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
    Deep berry, roasted berry, rich black fruit nose; tight, velvety textured, tart berry, black fruit, cedar palate; needs 4-5 years; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Llai Llai

  • 2008 Llai Llai Chardonnay – Chile, South Region, Bío-Bío Valley
    Tart apple, citrus nose; odd, tart apple, tart citrus palate that drops after entry; short finish (50/50 oak and stainless steel) (79 pts.)
  • 2008 Llai Llai Pinot Noir – Chile, South Region, Bío-Bío Valley
    Menthol, minty, cherry nose; tart cherry, minty, menthol palate; needs 2-plus years; medium finish (50/50 oak and stainless steel) (87 pts.)

Lo Tengo

  • 2009 Lo Tengo Torrontés – Argentina, Mendoza
    Very lifted, floral, lime, green fruit nose; tart lime, floral, tart peach palate; short-medium finish 88+ points (88 pts.)

Luca

  • 2009 Luca Syrah Laborde Double Select – Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco
    Berry, black fruit, reticent nose; tight, tart berry, black fruit palate; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)

Lurton

  • 2010 Bodega Lurton Pinot Gris – Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco
    Lifted, lime, tart green apple nose; tart lime, tart green apple palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2009 Bodega Lurton Malbec Reserva – Argentina, Mendoza
    Intense, tart currant, red berry, berry smoke nose; tight, tart currant, red berry, currant jam palate; medium finish 86+ points (86 pts.)

Manos Negras

  • 2007 Manos Negras Malbec – Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco
    Nice berry, black fruit nose; tasty, berry, tart black fruit, plum palate; medium finish (88 pts.)

Mapema

  • 2010 Mapema Sauvignon Blanc – Argentina, Mendoza
    Intense lemon grass nose; lemon grass, lime, tart grapefruit palate; medium finish (89 pts.)

Montes

MontGras

  • 2009 MontGras Carménère Reserva – Chile, Central Valley, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
    Intense, oak, earthy, tar nose; tar, tart black fruit, herbs palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2007 MontGras Syrah Antu – Chile, Central Valley, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
    Earthy, black fruit, menthol nose; tart black fruit, berry, light menthol palate; medium finish (86 pts.)

Norton

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  • 2007 Bodega Norton Privada – Argentina, Mendoza
    Herbal, tart black fruit nose; tart black fruit, earthy, herbal palate; medium-plus finish 85+ points (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blend) (85 pts.)

Oasis

  • 2008 Oasis Malbec Revolution – Argentina, Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo
    Deep berry, roasted nose; roasted, tart black fruit, tar palate; medium finish (from 60 year old vines) (87 pts.)

Ruta 22

  • 2009 Ruta 22 Malbec – Argentina, Patagonia, Neuquén
    Earthy, carbonic maceration, plum nose; carbonic maceration, light-medium bodied, tart plum palate; medium finish (83 pts.)

Rutini

  • 2008 Rutini Chardonnay – Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, La Consulta
    Tart apple nose; tart apple, citrus palate; medium finish (85 pts.)
  • 2009 Trumpeter (Familia Rutini) Torrontés – Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Tupungato
    Nice tart and intense lime, floral nose; tasty, floral, lime, tart apple palate; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Trumpeter (Familia Rutini) Pinot Noir – Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco
    Tart cherry, tart raspberry nose with a green note; tart cherry, light raspberry palate with good acidity; medium finish 86+ points (86 pts.)
  • 2004 Rutini Felipe Rutini Encuentro – Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, La Consulta
    Deep berry, French oak, black fruit nose; tight, tart plum, French oak palate with drying, tannic finish; needs 3-4 years; medium-plus finish (Malbec, Merlot blend) (86 pts.)

Salentein

Santa Ema

  • 2007 Santa Ema Catalina – Chile, Central Valley, Rapel Valley, Cachapoal Valley
    Ripe berry, black fruit, French oak nose; tight, rich, ripe berry, plum palate; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)

Tikal

  • 2008 Tikal Malbec Amorio – Argentina, Mendoza
    Tart plum, light herbal, tart black fruit nose; tasty, tart plum, tart berry, light herbal palate; needs 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)

Viña Alicia

Viña Cono Sur

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  • 2010 Viña Cono Sur Riesling Bicycle – Chile, Central Valley
    Intense tart apple, tart peach, mineral nose; dry, tart peach, tart apple palate; medium finish (86 pts.)
  • 2010 Viña Cono Sur Viognier Visión – Chile, Central Valley, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
    Oak, sour green apple nose; dull, oaky, tart apple palate; short finish (78 pts.)
  • 2007 Viña Cono Sur Pinot Noir 20 Barrels – Chile, Aconcagua, Casablanca Valley
    Brett, tart berry, black cherry nose; tight, black cherry, berry, sous bois palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2006 Viña Cono Sur Merlot – Chile, Central Valley
    Roasted, tar, tart black fruit nose; incense, tar, tart black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 87+ points (87 pts.)
  • 2006 Viña Cono Sur Carménère Visión – Chile, Central Valley, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
    Herbal, tart black fruit, lifed nose; tight, tart currant, red plum, red berry palate; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Viña Cono Sur Cabernet Sauvignon 20 Barrels – Chile, Central Valley, Maipo Valley
    Redolent, red berry, baked plum, cassis nose; tight, velvety textured, tart cassis, red plum palate; needs 102 years; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)

Viña Cornejo

Viña Peralillo

  • 2010 Viña Peralillo Carménère Arenal – Chile, Central Valley
    Earthy, roasted tart black fruit, coffee grounds nose; tart roasted plum, coffee palate; medium-plus finish 86+ points (86 pts.)

Vino Del Sol

  • 2008 Vino Del Sol Malbec Reserva Ksana – Argentina, Mendoza
    Deep black fruit, tar nose; tasty, deep black fruit, tar, charcoal palate; medium-plus finish (24 months in new French oak barrels) (89 pts.)

Weinert

  • 2006 Bodega Weinert Carrascal – Argentina, Mendoza
    Lifted red berry, ripe currant, Gamay-like, menthol nose; ripe currant, menthol palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2002 Bodega Weinert Cavas de Weinert Gran Vino – Argentina, Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo
    Good, tart currant, tart red berry nose; tasty, poised, red berry, tart currant palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
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