Argentina’s Value Reds

Argentina’s Value Reds

On Saturday, January 19th, Vintages will release 20 new Argentine reds, with all but one priced between $13 and $20. The exception is Familia Mayol’s 2003 Cuatro Primos ($23.75), the best of the bunch. Argentine reds are hugely popular right now; they deliver ample ripeness, weight and presence for a decent price. The reason is a desert-like, yet water-managed climate that promotes both ripeness and huge production. This is what keeps prices moderate.

What they don’t have at this price, however, is real depth and finesse. Some of the wines that I do not mentioned below are blunt and joyless, with too much alcohol and tannin. This is not to say that Argentina is incapable of excellent quality, but the LCBO, on our behalf, is not buying much top stuff because of the perception that we aren’t ready to pay more than $20 for Argentine wines—and besides, it doesn’t have the shelf space to give it a try. Nonetheless, the selections below (in ascending price order) are of very good quality and value. I have never said Vintages is not doing a good job shopping the world for us, but I would like to see another dozen retailers doing the same in order to broaden the scope.

Under $15

Finca el Retiro 2004 Syrah, Mendoza ($12.85, 88 points, LCBO 928283)Best value on Vintages’ special Argentine release. Very good concentration, density and complexity for the price, with maturing, very ripe fig-cherry fruit, chocolate and classic syrah pepper. A bit tannic and coarse on the finish; very good length. Now to 2010.

Newen del Fin del Mundo 2006 Pinot Noir, Patagonia ($12.85, 86 points, LCBO 55202) You won’t find many authentic pinots in the world for less than $15. This is hardly classic, being loose and a touch sweet, but it has typical cran-cherry fruit, with tobacco, smoke and an earthy edge. Sweet and sour palate with mild tannin. Good length. Enjoy over the next couple of years.

Sauras 2005 Malbec Select, Patagonia ($14.85, 88 points, LCBO 55459) From the greener hills of southern Patagonia comes a malbec with more charm than those from Mendoza. Soft, sweet and floral aroma of petunia, black raspberry and vague herbs. Mid-weight, slender and smooth, with very good acidity and fine, firm tannin. Good to very good length. Best 2009 to 2012.

Finca el Retiro 2004 Tempranillo Reserva Especial, Mendoza ($14.85, 88 points, LCBO 57216) Not much like a tempranillo from Rioja, though not dissimilar to Spanish tempranillos from further south. There is a floral lift (peony, violet) rare in Argentine reds, and slightly higher acidity. Otherwise, very ripe cassis fruit, leather and spice. Full bodied and dense with firm acidity and fine-grained tannin. Excellent length. Give it another year or two; should hold to 2012.

Sauras 2005 Pinot Noir, Neuquen, Patagonia ($14.85, 87 points, LCBO 55442) Made by Familia Schroeder in a cool Patagonia, the previous vintage of this pinot won some important accolades in European competitions. This is a very pretty, slender, mild and sweet pinot with generous cherry fruit and nuances of mint, spice and barrel toast. Very smooth and a bit soft, with very good length. Enjoy now to 2010.

$15 to $25

Trapiche 2005 Bonarda, Mendoza ($15.85, 89 points, LCBO 55558) Bonarda is an Italian variety Lombardy widely planted in the sandier soils of eastern Mendoza, usually to produce high-yield bulk wines. Anything but thin, this is a very intense wine, with fragrant black raspberry fruit centring the creamy mocha notes. Its very stylish feel is supple yet compact, with good acidity providing firmness. Very good length. Best now to 2011.

Weinert 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza ($16.85, 90 points, LCBO 656363) An intriguing, full mature cabernet that is poles apart from most of the plummy-berry fruit bombs from Argentina. There is correct cabernet cassis in there, amid leather, tobacco, cigar and animal flavours evoking old-style Euro red. Full bodied, smooth and rich, with fine tannin. Avoids excessive alcohol heat. Drying on the finish, with excellent length. Best now to 2010; enjoy with roast beef and gravy.

Jean Bousquet 2006 Malbec Reserva, Tupungato ($17.80, 88 points, LCBO 55244) Jean Bousquet emigrated from France to the oh-so-promising Tupungato region in 1997, a higher-elevation valley bringing heft and charm to the heavier, earthier profile of Mendoza reds. This malbec is a bit reserved, but it’s the most elegant red on the release, with ripe blackberry, vanilla and charcoal on the nose, and a dense, smooth, firm texture. Avoids excessive heat. Very good to excellent length. Now to 2012.

Bodegas Salentin 2005 el Portillo Elevado Malbec Reserve, Uco Valley ($17.80, 88 points, LCBO 55418) A moderately priced malbec that builds some finesse into all that chunkiness and concentration. Lifted nose of blackcurrant, with complex, well-handled smoky, tarry oak notes and a touch of desert sage. Full bodied, dense, sweet and hot, with some sensuality and elegance. Very good length. Best 2009 to 2012.

Catena 2005 Syrah, Mendoza ($19.80, 87 points, LCBO 55483) This wine features the typical European syrah character of smoked meat and pepper, laid over Argentina’s very ripe, plummy, black cherry fruit. There are also leather and chocolate notes from aging in new oak barrels. Full bodied, dense, lush and hot on the finish. Best 2009 to 2011.

Familia Mayol 2003 Cuatro Primos, Mendoza ($23.75, 90 points, LCBO 55434) The best-quality (and most expensive) red on Vintages’ special Argentine release combines 55 per cent malbec with 35 per cent syrah and minor amounts of cabernet and bonarda. It has matured into real complexity, with very ripe prune-cherry fruit, mocha, leather and olive notes. Full bodied, dense, a touch sour and quite hot, but saturated with flavour as well. Excellent length. Best now to 2011.