Every once in a while something unexpected crosses your lips in the world of wine. You go to a tasting and you think you know what to expect: a typical wine from a region………..And then something remarkable happens: You are completely surprised. You find yourself immersed rather than just a warm body filling the room. You become ignited with ideas, brain and taste buds stimulated.
I had such a day last Thursday when I attended the Wines of Argentina conference and tasting at the JFK Library. As I rode the Red Line, I admit, I wondered why I was going. I told myself that I know what Argentine wines such as Malbec and Torrontes tasted like. I already liked them and I knew the region fairly well through my reading. I also told myself that this wine fad was soon to fade and Malbecs would soon join the ranks of Australian Shiraz: over-planted, over-hyped, and after a couple of years, I wouldn’t’ be able to sell them.
As I stepped into the JFK Library, I saw Bauer’s good friend and ally Cathy Huyghe from Red, White Boston. Always the wonderful hostess, Cathy introduced me to fellow blogger Meghan M from Travel Eat Love (traveleatlove.com-check it out, it’s one of my favorite blogs) and Katrin A from winedinewith.us (another amazing food and wine blog to check out). We, and others, were allowed the special treat of meeting with Edgardo del Popolo, winemaker and viticulturist at Dona Paula, and Tomas Hughes, Agriculture Manager at Bodegas Nieto Senetiner. In this insightful round of Q & A, we learned why the climate and altitude of Argentina makes for great wine and not just Malbec. Most importantly for me, I learned that Argentina is doing everything it can to not be pigeon-holed by their most famous varietal. Malbec may be their flagship wine but it is not their only one that is worthy of critical acclaim. Torrentes, the only native grape to be grown and made into wine, is delicious, but winemakers like Edgardo predict that Cabernet Sauvignon is going the next big thing coming out of Argentina. After their discussion about how consumers are moving away from “green” flavors like mint, leather, and eucalyptus in favor of fruit forwardness, I would have to agree.
I had the great pleasure of tasting 6 young Malbecs that afternoon and the one that stood out to me Tomas’ 2009 Nieto Senetiner Terroir Blend. It was earthy but fruit forward. Hints of vanilla and oak were there but not overpowering in the nose. The flavors had vanilla, chocolate, dark red fruits and just a smidge of herbiness.
The three wines that were not Malbec should be mentioned because these are stars on the rise. Michel Torino Don David Torrontes, Altos Las Hormigas Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda and Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon were three very distinct wines that, indeed, changed how I looked at Argentine wines. The Torrontes had a Muscato feel in the mouth while aromas and flavors of orange peel, white flowers and nuts came through. Bonarda, the native French (Carbonne) grape varietal, had delicious, sweet tannins with dried fruit aromas was juicy with just the right amount of earthiness. Lastly, the Cabernet Sauvignon had 10% Malbec blended and it was meaty, smoky with ripe cherries, cassis, blackberry and licorice. Outstanding.
Here’s what won me over to Argentine wines and in particular, their Malbec. I tasted the 1977 Weinart Malbec and it showed me that Malbec may be great when they are young, but aged Malbec is spectacular. The Weinart 1977 was the first bottling of Malbec for Roberto de la Mota and it showed the amazing aging potential of this varietal. Silky smooth with root vegetable flavors, it had characteristics of aged Rhone wines. The tannins were fully-integrated and when I popped a piece of Brie in my mouth before the second sip, I found wine Nirvana.
So thank you Wines of Argentina for showing me the beauty, grace and wonder of Argentine wines. You are not just a wine fad destined for obscurity; you will prove to all that you are a powerhouse in the New World ready for to take your place among the great regions of wine.