Argentina's affordable, Bordeaux blends.

affordable, argentina, bordeaux blends People & Places Articles
  • Friday 30 January 2009

Can’t afford claret? Argentina has forged its own style of Bordeaux blend,
and, says CHRISTELLE GUIBERT, the best offer a viable, value alternative

Malbec is to Argentina what Nebbiolo is to Piedmont or Pinot Noir is to Burgundy. This darkskinned grape, once a popular blending component for Bordeaux, has discovered its true home in Argentina. Unsurprisingly, Malbec is the most widely planted variety here and every producer has a selection of single-varietal Malbecs in its portfolio.

But while this grape may be synonymous with Argentinian wine, the country’s mainstay is red blends. Bordeaux blends are gaining in popularity and Malbec generally remains the major component. I believe it is this unique Argentinian blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that will be the country’s calling card, as opposed to single-varietal Malbecs or more true Bordeaux-style Cabernet-Merlot blends.

Unlike other New World countries, Bordeaux varieties are relatively new to Argentina. In the past, wineries wanted a range of wines, so they planted as many grape varieties as possible and then mixed them together and hoped for the best; the results were often best forgotten.

Thanks to the revolutionary work of the pioneering Nicolás Catena, international investment in the country’s wine industry (not least Catena’s joint venture with Château Lafite-Rothschild), and input from famed consultants such as Michel Rolland and Paul Hobbs, producers now have a better understanding of Bordeaux grapes. As a result, the wines have gained global renown.

With 350 days of sunshine, the high altitude of new vineyards (1,400m above sea level in Mendoza and some as high as 2,400m in Salta), a semi-arid desert climate and no vine disease, Argentina’s wine regions are very different to Europe and even the rest of the world. Working with Bordeaux varieties requires a careful approach: if the grapes don’t reach complete maturity, the wines will develop herbaceous aromas and bitter flavours.

But improvements in the vineyard and cellar mean the country is now producing some very fine Cabernet blends at all price levels. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot here can be very elegant with great finesse, achieving the same colour and soft tannins found in single-varietal Malbecs.

These blends also offer very good value for money. More adventurous bodegas will often add Tempranillo, Syrah or Bonarda to the mix; it often works, adding further interest and Argentinian flair to their wines. But despite the great leaps forward in the past few decades, Argentina still has a young history of high-quality wines: bodegas are still experimenting with grapes, clones, high-altitude vineyards and equipment.

To me, most of the wines tasted on my recent trip wouldn’t last more than five years. For a bottle priced less than £10 this is not a problem, but for wines marketed at £25 or more, – with fancy labels and pointlessly heavy bottles, trying to compete with the best Bordeaux has to offer – it can be a disappointment for the consumer. The 25 wines below all punch above their weight and offer superb mid-term drinking.

Catena Zapata, Nicolás Catena

Zapata, Mendoza 2003

★★★★★

Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec,

Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

Elegant, minty, floral black fruit.

Lovely depth and acidity with

firm tannins. Very classy. From

2009–2013. £46.65; Bib

Ben Marco, Expressivo,

Mendoza 2006 ★★★★

60% Malbec, 10% Cabernet

Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 10%

Petit Verdot, 10% Tannat. Ripe

black fruits with elegance rather

than power. Expressive and

complex with lot of layers.

From 2009–2011. £13.50; WSo

Catena Zapata, Nicolás Catena

Zapata, Mendoza 2005 ★★★★

78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22%

Malbec. This has lovely fruit

purity: black berry aromas lead

to a balanced palate backed by

good acidity and floral notes.

Lovely finesse. From 2011–2013.

£46.65; Bib

Caro, Mendoza 2006 ★★★★

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50%,

Malbec. A joint venture between

Nicolás Catena and Domaines

Baron de Rothschild of Lafite.

Robust, vibrant black fruit and firm

tannins give a balance between

the Bordeaux and Argentinian

styles. From 2009–2012. N/A UK

MAR_El Esteco, Altimus, Cafayate

Valley, Salta 2005 ★★★★

40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35%

Merlot, 15% Bonarda, 5% Tannat,

5% Syrah. From 1,700m-high

vineyards, this has robust, ripe

black fruit and olives, and

balanced but big tannins.

From 2009–2011. £29.75; CdG

Finca la Anita, Varúa, Pinacoteca,

Mendoza 2007 ★★★★

100% Merlot. Vivacious red

cherry nose with hint of herb

and mint. Present but integrated

oak. Elegant concentration. Soft

tannins and high acidity, vibrant

fruit with purity and freshness.

From 2009–2012. £85; Hpa

Finca Flichman, Dedicado,

Tupungato, Mendoza 2006

★★★★

60% Malbec, 30% Cabernet

Sauvignon, 10% Syrah. Expressive,

spicy, floral nose. Acidity adds

freshness to vibrant floral fruit

palate. Soft tannic finish. From

2009–2011. £18.95; StG

Finca Sophenia, Reserve

Cabernet Sauvignon,

Mendoza 2007 ★★★★

From the foothills of the Andes,

this has pure cassis fruit. Natural

acidity, grainy tannin and

elegant fruit characters with a

great freshness on the finish.

From 2009–2011. £10.05; Ell

Mendel, Unus,

Mendoza 2006 ★★★★

70% Malbec, 30% Cabernet

Sauvignon. Elegant red berry

and cassis fruits combine with

integrated toasted oak. Tannic

structure supported by a natural

acidity. Complex and fresh. From

2009–2012. £20.60; PrA

Pulenta Estate, Gran Corte,

Mendoza 2006 ★★★★

35% Malbec, 25% Cabernet

Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 12%,

Tannat, 5% Petit Verdot. Cherry,

plum and spice. Expressive,

sophisticated palate with good

acidity and elegant fruit depth.

From 2009–2013. £19.95; BBr

Sur de Los Andes, Infinito, Lujan

de Cuyo, Mendoza 2005 ★★★★

60% Malbec, 20% Cabernet

Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc,

10% Merlot. Plum fruit nose. The

palate is fresh and vibrant with

smooth tannins, clean red fruit

and good concentration on the

finish. From 2009. N/A UK

Finca Sophenia, Synthesis,

The Blend, Tupungato,

Mendoza 2006 ★★★★

45% Malbec, 35% Cabernet

Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. The

region’s best grapes give elegant

black forest fruit and sweet

spice. Bold, with grainy tannins.

From 2009–2012. £21.99; Ell

Luigi Bosca, Gala 2,

Mendoza 2006 ★★★★

80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10%

Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot.

Cassis and pepper nose. Robust

palate with high acidity and

elegant structure, intense, spicy

fruit characters; depth on finish.

From 2009–2012. £15.95; HBa

Salentein, Numina, Uco Valley,

Mendoza 2004 ★★★★

70% Malbec, 30% Merlot. From

the coolest part of Mendoza,

this has elegant thyme perfume.

Balanced palate with high

acidity, characterful red fruit,

firm tannins and good length.

From 2009–2012. £14.99;

D&DSusanna Balbo, Brioso, Agrelo,

Mendoza 2005 ★★★★

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15%

Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5%

Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot. Classic

herb and pepper nose. Elegant

tannins, fine acidity and attractive

red fruit; good depth on the finish.

From 2009–2012. £14.95; WSo

Weinert, Cavas de Weinert,

Mendoza 2002 ★★★★

Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon,

Merlot. Secondary aromas of

meat and forest floor. Mediumbodied

with firm tannins –

showing lots of development

but can still age. From 2009–

2014. £10.95; StG, WSo

Tapiz, Reserva Selección de

Barricas, Tupungato,

Mendoza 2004 ★★★★

46% Cabernet Sauvignon; 38%

Malbec; 16% Merlot. From the

high-altitude San Pablo vineyard.

Concentrated yet elegant. Velvet

tannins, integrated oak. Classy.

From 2009–2013. £13.99; Hpa

Alta Vista, Atemporal Blend,

Mendoza 2007 ★★★

43% Malbec, 36% Cabernet

Sauvignon, 11% Syrah, 10% Petit

Verdot. With grapes sourced

from Lujan de Cuyo and Valle de

Uco, this has vibrant red cherry

fruit and soft tannins. Well

made. From 2009. £12.95; CCI

Finca Flichman, Expresiones

Reserve, Mendoza 2007 ★★★

60% Malbec, 40% Cabernet

Sauvignon. Plum fruit and

herbal nose. Smooth palate with

firm tannic grip. Concentrated

fruit dominates, followed by soft

oak characters. Decent length.

From 2009. £9.95; StG

Salentein, MCM Winemaker’s

Selection, Uco Valley,

Mendoza 2006 ★★★

40% Malbec, 30% Cabernet

Sauvignon, 30% Merlot. Red

berry nose. Good acidity with

firm tannins and vibrant red

fruit. Good-value, easy-drinking.

From 2009. £7.99; Tes

Weinert, Carrascal,

Mendoza 2005 ★★★

Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot. Rich,

evolving leather aroma. Some

meatiness emerges on the

palate. Pleasant, old-fashioned

winemaking giving early

developed characters.

From 2009–2011. £7.95; StG

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