Whilst the idea of sitting snuggled around a wood fire tasting through the most recent Argentinian releases with the venerable wine scribe Dick Snyder as we listen to
Sleater Kinney Jaco Pastorius (him) and obscure Weatherall mixes (me) sounds like an absolute dream right now, unfortunately due to the omnipotent COVID variant of the week and my seemingly endless anxiety about this, our cosy wine and knob-twiddling music session was not to be.
However, we chose to taste the wines apart from each other and then compare notes on GFR, which was a fun exercise in itself as it is so interesting to see where our plates align and where they don’t.
2018 El Enemigo Chardonnay, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Argentina (Alcohol 14.3%, Residual Sugar 2 g/l) LCBO Vintages $24.95 (750ml bottle)
DS: A beautiful wine: perfumed with pretty florals, crushed berries, lemon oil, thyme. An aromatic sense of wide open meadow and wild flowers — call it herbal, but it’s more alluring than that. Crisp yet supple attack, with generous fruit and just enough balancing acidity. The texture is notable, and while the fruit is very ripe it’s not over-ripe. Lovely apple, pear, apricot and yellow plum. Hints of almond (marzipan). Some sweet spice from oak, vanilla, but quite restrained. A really well-made wine that exhibits pristine fruit and a Chardonnay profile that may well be uniquely Argentinian: more perfumed but not tropical. Cool climate, with some extra heft.
JD: This went through some rather crazy evolution in the glass. At first, when it was way too cold, it came over as almost Côte D’Or-esque, then as it warmed up it nosed like a Grand Cru Chablis with a touch of wood, until finally it came home (via Jura) to being top-notch Argentinian Chardonnay. Much like the 2017, this is by no means a shy wine, but despite being as deep and broad perhaps shows a touch more reserve than that previous vintage. I get loads of pineapple, baked pear, beeswax, lanolin, leesy autolytic notes (from wild ferment/9 months under flor), chamomile, and warm baking spices from the French oak. It certainly more defined and focused on the palate that the 2017 with some strident acidity keeping all the ripe fruit in check. Terrific. More please.
2017 El Enemigo “Single Vineyard” Bonarda El Barranco, Junín, Mendoza, Argentina (Alcohol 13.5%, Residual Sugar 2 g/l) LCBO Vintages $21.95 (750ml bottle)
DS: Juicy, dry and inviting. Remarkably different from the other single vineyard Bonarda from El Enemigo (see below). This one is by far my favourite. Wonderful fruit expression, concentrated but nimble, with fresh juicy acidity and a slight herbaceous (dried herbs) edge and some pepper spice. Light like a Gamay but with a bit more edge. Fine tannins with a bit of grit.
JD: I was thinking of the Gamay comparisons too, and being a huge Beaujolais enthusiast found these two Bonardas hard to resist. There are four single vineyard Bonardas from El Enemigo in Vintages right now, what a time to be alive!
The El Barranco had basket upon basket of sweet ripe blueberries, blackberries, damsons, just a touch of moist prunes, and hints of the kinds of herbs one finds on rocky outcrops (think thyme, rosemary, lavender). Even revisiting the wine two days after opening (waiting for a Flower Day!) the fruit was all still present and correct. An incredibly approachable fruit-driven beauty with some pleasing brisk acidity, and gloriously soft ripe tannins rounding out the package. A really great wine, but I was certainly more taken with the second one…
2017 El Enemigo “Single Vineyard” Bonarda El Mirador 2017, Rivadavia, Mendoza, Argentina (Alcohol 13.5%, Residual Sugar 3 g/l) LCBO Vintages $21.95 (750ml bottle)
DS: An edgier take on Bonarda, when compared to the other El Barranco vineyard (see above). Red berry fruit, hints of herbs, but lacks complexity and finesse. There’s astringency and the fruit is muted. Still a well-made wine, but a very different expression. Is it all due to the vineyard? Hard to say. There may be some bottle variation going on.
JD: Edgier? Yes, I can see certainly that, but that’s what made it so damn great. I still found all of the deep, dark juicy fruit of the El Barranco, but this time with added structural components adding a counterpoint to the fruit attack. Like a fine Cru Moulin this teased you with simply glorious fruit whilst whipping your palate back into shape with some nice tightly-wound tannins. Revisiting after two days this was still both vibrant and taut. A remarkably complete wine for this pricepoint, and one that would most probably benefit from a bit of cellar dwelling. If only I could stop drinking the stuff.
2019 Luigi Bosca Cabernet Sauvignon, Lujàn de Cuyo & Maipú, Mendoza, Argentina (Alcohol 14%, Residual Sugar 2 g/l) LCBO Vintages $18.95 (750ml bottle)
DS: It’s Cabernet Sauvignon all right! Lots of plum, cedar, bell pepper, blueberry/blackberrry and sweet-scented violet. Fruit forward in its entirety, with no presence of pencil lead or graphite. Very pretty nose! Sweet spice and plum entry, all plush fruit and soft ripe tannins. Well integrated oak, with sweet vanilla. A sultry wine at the price! Very nice bright fresh fruit, sweet spice and texture. Not complex, but pleasurable.
JD: Textbook Argentine Cab here, with the requisite cassis and hints of mint and floral, wrapped up in a whole load of warm spice from French and American oak. Great value if you are looking for an affordable, accessible, well-made Cabernet Sauvignon, as they don’t really come better than this at the sub-$19 pricepoint. I don’t recall ever disliking any of Luigi Bosca’s wines as they are always a very solid bet.
2018 Amancaya “Reserve” (70% Malbec / 30% Cabernet Sauvignon) , Lujàn de Cuyo & Paraje Altamira, Mendoza, Argentina (Alcohol 13.5%, Residual Sugar 3 g/l) LCBO Vintages $23.95 (750ml bottle)
JD: A lovechild of the Rothschild and Catena families, this Malbec/Cab blend has some serious pedigree, and it really shows in the glass. Using a combo of old/new oak, with 50% on concrete tanks, this wine retains a remarkable juicy freshness, making this wine rather nimble on its feet, and this is a truly wonderful thing. Slick black fruit, crisp acids, and polished tannins. A superb elegance and equilibrium is on display in this very modern tasting wine, but that doesn’t stop it from being entirely crushable, as the “kids” say. I have to say that I really do enjoy these more medium bodied Argentinians. A class act indeed.
2019 Humberto Canale “Intimo Malbec”, Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina (Alcohol 13.5%, Residual Sugar 2 g/l) LCBO Vintages $14.95 (750ml bottle)
DS: Solid easy-drinking and approachable Malbec, mercifully somewhat restrained versus typical “big juicy” Malbecs. It has requisite plum and blackberry fruit, but it’s a tad thin, and it’s astringent on the finish. A good wine, though it’ll shine with an ice cube in a tumbler under the sun, or in an artisanal sangria.
JD: It seems as if my palate is the exact opposite of James Suckling’s… he seems to simply love plummier wines, particularly when it comes to Argentina, and that’s a characteristic that I’ve never found very appealing in my wines. There is something almost reductive on the nose here that I just couldn’t get my head around; perhaps I’ll have to pick up another bottle and give it another chance (watch this space!) as I fear this one wasn’t showing it’s best.
(Pending a second review)
2020 Crios Chardonnay,, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Alcohol 14% , Residual Sugar 2 g/l) LCBO Vintages $15.95 (750ml bottle)
DS: A strange wine. Not unpleasant, but not your grandfather’s Chardonnay. Extraordinarily perfumed and floral — so much so, I thought it was Torrontes. Again, not unpleasant. Nice mineral elements and delicious fruit, it’s juicy with chardonnay-like apple and citrus notes. The acidity is nice, but overall, it’s a little too fluid (thin) — though its light body would be very nice served chilled in July when it’s gonna be frickin’ hot out.
JD: A Chardonnay from Argentina’s first female winemaker, Susana Balbo. It certainly wears its cool climate heart on its sleeve here, with loads of almost-ripe pineapple, Golden Delicious apple, Honeydew melon, green fig, and white peach. “Almost-ripe” keeps popping up in my scribbled tasting notes on this, and perhaps it is this particular “greenness” that appeals to me. The fruit is as fresh and thrilling as one would expect from grapes sourced at 3,700 feet ASL. A more medium-bodied and understated Chardonnay than many will be used to from Argentina, and the kind of wine I can see fitting in rather nicely at i4C. I like it (and strangely enough actually rather enjoyed their Torrontés two years back).
2019 Salentein “Reserva” Malbec, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Alcohol 14.5% , Residual Sugar 3 g/l) LCBO Vintages $17.95 (750ml bottle)
JD: Seeing as the winemaker, Jose “Pepe” Galante, is best pals with travelling winemaker Paul Hobbs, it should come as no surprise that we are looking at a wine with many similar characteristics to those of Snr. Hobbs. Whether this is a good thing or not depends upon whether you are drawn to that ultra-polished, international style. For me it’s just a little too smooth, and little too airbrushed, as I like tannins to challenge my palate, not to drip around my mouth like blackberry flavoured molasses. Still, if you enjoy seriously managed tannins this may be the wine for you?
2018 Catena Appellation Paraje Altamira Malbec, Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley, Argentina (Alcohol 13.2%, Residual Sugar 4 g/l) LCBO Vintages $22.95 (750ml bottle)
DS: The nose is a tad shy, but it’s packed with complex aromas: a mineral/elemental quality, with blue fruit, blueberry, coffee, slight toast/incense, black pepper. One of those wines you just can’t stop sniffing. The attack is subtle, quite gentle, all spicy blue/black fruits, herbs and spice, and dried aromatics. Good tannin structure, dusty and fine. Concentrated but not over-extracted. Pure. Approachable, but will develop nicely for five years or so.
JD: If there is one factor that gets me literally drooling when it comes to Argentinian Malbec, it’s that elusive violet aromatic that I tend to find in some of the best high-altitude/cooler climate Malbec wines. Tasting this on a Flower Day, the floral elements on the nose were through the roof, satiating my lust for violets. Catena really do have this Malbec thing down to a tee, and with this pristine fruit coming from the alluvial loamy soils of the historied Altamira vineyard, have produced a wine of considerable elegance and finesse without one having to break the bank to access. The dark fruit core is wrapped up in smooth chocolatey tannins, with attractive vanilla spice showing on both the nose and palate. There’s a wonderfully persistent finish on this too. Next time I’ll probably decant for a bit before drinking, as I think this would benefit from a little bit of air. I’ll be interviewing the smashing Laura Catena about this next week BTW.
2019 Pasarisa Malbec Mendoza, Mendoza, Argentina (Alcohol 14%, Residual Sugar 5 g/l) LCBO Vintages $16.95 (750ml bottle)
JD: An extremely well-priced Malbec that I have seen being sold for considerably more in other markets. A blend of three high altitude vineyards, leading to a rather well-rounded example of this variety, this is undoubtedly one of the best value Malbecs in the market right now. There’s all that classic black fruit basket with fennel and cloves, with just a touch of those tantalisingly heady floral notes. Tannins are certainly there, but well integrated with the fruit and oak. Quite rich and deep for $16.95, that is for sure. I’ll be interviewing the smashing Laura Catena about this next week BTW.
2018 Alamos “Selección” Malbec, Argentina (Alcohol 13.5%, Residual Sugar 5 g/l) LCBO Vintages $16.95 (750ml bottle)
DS: This wine has a nice red fruit nose, with fresh fruit, a touch of spiced plum, and cinnamon. Doesn’t that sound nice? It’s fluid, and quite light for a Malbec. Pleasant spice, and a gentle attack with ripe fruit, some blackberry/currant too. A soft, easy, gentle wine. Ripe fine-grained smooth tannins, almost imperceptible. A good Tuesday wine. (For me, every day is Tuesday.)
JD: Again, this veers heavily into that heavy plummy territory that I have mentioned I find rather difficult in Malbecs. I’m guessing that James Suckling loves this one too? Ah yes, he does! I knew it! I found this too soft and dumbly plummy for my personal taste. Dick, you mention the “almost imperceptible” tannins, and therein lies one of my biggest problems with this particular bottling. Not for me, not even on a Tuesday.
2020 Zuccardi “Serie A” Torrontés 2020, Cafayate, Salta, Argentina (Alcohol 14.5%, Residual Sugar 4 g/l) LCBO Vintages $17.95 (750ml bottle)
DS: Very pleasant. Torrontés, for me, is a diminutive wine. Lots of florals and perfume in the nose, then a rather pedestrian texture, low acidity and just a few basic fruit elements. It doesn’t challenge the palate, but it does nestle in quite nicely. Great for drinking cold while mingling about the kitchen island. This wine is better than most Torrontes — fans of fruity, easy drinking, perfumed wines will love it. I think it’s quite lovely.
JD: While this is perhaps one of the better examples of Torrontés I have tasted in a wee while, much like my old pal, chef Jamie Kennedy, I find it an extremely hard grape to love. He would always disapprove of any Torrontés I brought in by the glass at JKWB. Thankfully this one doesn’t have that almost oily textural component that can really put me off, and there is a quite pleasant salinity in there. If you like wild, exotically aromatic whites, you’ll probably get sufficient arousal out of this example, but for me the perfume is just a little too much. Aperitif/by the pool wine, for sure.
2019 Zuccardi Q Malbec, San Carlos [Paraje Altamira] & Los Chacayes [Tunuyán], Valle de Uco, Argentina (Alcohol 14.5%, Residual Sugar 4 g/l) LCBO Vintages $20.95 (750ml bottle)
DS: Fresh bright blue fruit, with mellow vanilla spice, and some lovely raisin and nut notes. Something high-toned here, with menthol and herbal. I like the bracing attack, with solid acidity and balanced bitterness. Then the fruit opens up, with blue/black and plum/cran — generous bright berries. I like this; it’s got some personality and juicy acidity and an anarchic edge.
JD: Definitely showing an improvement over previous vintages, as I think I’m seeing a shift to a more contemporary style Malbec here. This is a brisk, dynamic, fresh Malbec that really doesn’t tire the palate. The blue/black fruit is lifted and sits pretty high in the mix, which serves this wine decidedly well. Perhaps this won’t be to the taste of those who like their Malbecs heavy and sullen, as this is a wine with considerable verve. Colour me impressed.
(All wines are scored out of a possible five apples)
So a strong showing all across the board here, with the El Enemigo wines being a real highlight for me.
There are some real treats in this release, so don’t dawdle and get them before they are gone.
Thanks to Wines Of Argentina for providing the wines.