With a few notable exceptions, I don’t like “New World” wines. Those who enjoy these bottlings admire their effortless ripeness, spiciness, robust alcohol and accessibility. “Old World” (European) aficionados like me regard them as being closer to beet borscht and Coca Cola than to grape juice. For us, they’re too high in alcohol and extract, too low on fresh acidity and too heavy on new oak.
My anti-New-World bias extended to the wines of Argentina until a recent master class in Toronto stood my prejudice on its head. Sara d’Amato (sommelier and wine critic) and Marcelo Pelleriti (director general and winemaker at Monteviejo in Mendoza), presented fourteen different wines from Argentina which demonstrated an elegance and translucency I hadn’t encountered in older offerings from that country.
Mr. Pelleriti explained that this impressive transformation has been achieved through a decade of changes in viticulture and winemaking inspired by his counterparts in France. The most relevant beneficial factors include earlier harvesting, more careful vine irrigation, meticulous berry selection and shorter cooler fermentations. The results were evident in a variety of wine styles ranging from sparkling through still whites and reds. Here are my favourite examples:
Bodega Ruca Malen Brut NV (estimated $25, score 89+) is a 75/25 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This substantial sparkler is gold-coloured with a hint of onion skin and a vigorous mousse. It features sweet pear fruit with earthy and toasty notes. It’s crisp and dry in the mouth with fullish body and a well-fruited finish.
Sol.Fa.Sol Torrontes 2010, La Rioja (estimated $9.95, score 89+) is 100% Torrontés, the trademark white grape of Argentina. This pale-straw wine features elegant mango and lychee fruit aromas with floral and herbal notes. It’s bone-dry on the palate with fresh to crisp acidity and a creamy (not heavy) mouthfeel. The fruit is front and centre through a long, fresh slightly bitter finish.
Finca Agostino Familia Semillon/Sauvignon 2013 (estimated $34.95, score 89+) emulates white Bordeaux. Pale gold, it flaunts tropical fruit aromas framed by big vanilla and sawn plank oak aromas. It’s soft and rich on the palate with lemon notes joining toasty nutty oak flavours through a long finish. This wine will evolve and improve for years.
Sin Fin Guarda Bonarda 2013 (estimated $21.95, score 90-) is an Argentinian take on a northern Italian red varietal. The nose is elegant, sophisticated and complex with mixed black berry fruit and toasty vanillary sweet-spicy oak. It has grippy ripe fine tannins and a creamy fresh mouthfeel. It’s sweet, spicy, fruity and very pleasing through a long gently astringent finish. I’d love to taste this again in a decade!
Monteviejo Lindaflor 2010 Malbec/Syrah Blend (estimated $50.00, score 90) is a blend of Malbec, Argentina’s flagship red variety, with spicy Syrah. It’s opaque ruby with a purple ruby rim and has a lovely deep nose built around black currant-black cherry fruit with well-integrated toasty vanillary oak, violet and sweet-spice notes. It has fine tannins, fresh acidity, sweetly ripe fruit and harmonious oak flavours that linger undiminished for a long time. This is another age-worthy red.
Nicolas Catena Zapata 2010 (estimated $109.95, score 91) is an “icon wine.” A blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Malbec sourced from four different vineyards to ensure perfectly ripe fruit, it’s an opaque ruby-purple specimen with a very elegant nose. It sports focused Bordelais black currant and blackberry fruit with a kiss of luscious well-handled oak aromas encompassing vanilla, toasted nuts and sweet spice. It’s a ripe round fresh mouthful with tasty oak and fruit flavours dancing divinely through along well-fruited finish.