Move Over, Malbec: David Lawrason picks nine lesser-known Argentine wines
Argentine malbec, with its huge flavour, lush texture and low price, was the official soother of the recession. At $8, Fuzion’s malbec-shiraz was (and still is) the best-selling wine in LCBO history. Argentina has upped its game since then. It’s now the fifth-largest wine-producing country in the world, and vineyards have branched out from the Mendoza heartland to the windswept plateaus of Patagonia, the high-altitude vineyards of Salta in the north and several newly cultivated Andean pockets like La Rioja, San Juan and San Rafael. Although 26 per cent of all vineyards are devoted to malbec, vintners are experimenting with red grapes like petit verdot from Bordeaux, tempranillo from Spain and tannat from southwest France. Technology has improved, too. Cold fermentation, which helps maintain the delicate aromas of white wines, is elevating fragrant varieties like torrontés. Here, nine alternative Argentine wines that exude the country’s bold flavours with added sophistication.
$23 | Mendoza | 89 points
Made from a single vineyard, this malbec is an evolved version of the country’s beloved red. It has refined aromas of ripe blackberry and vanilla, with a hint of cedary spice. It’s also stylish and smooth, but needs a bit more depth to achieve 90 points. Vintages. LCBO 247304
$15 | Patagonia | 88 points
Pinot noir is increasingly popular in Patagonia, but compared with Ontario’s or Burgundy’s pinots, Argentina’s are a little soft. This red has cherry and strawberry jam flavours, herbs and spices set in a smooth texture and a warm finish. It’s worth the extra effort of ordering online. liffordwine.com
$12 | Mendoza | 87 points
Argentina’s climate is great for syrah (also known as shiraz), but winemakers are almost blasé about it, in part because Australia has cornered the syrah market. This one has great structure and depth for $12. It’s a bit chunky and tannic, with ripe black cherry, licorice and meaty complexity. LCBO 222281
$13 | Mendoza | 88 points
Originally from the Alps, the bonarda grape is responsible for much of Argentina’s bulk wine, but it’s being upgraded through lower yields. This is a classic with deep purple colour and lifted floral, peppery and blueberry scents. It’s rounded, lively and juicy, with less tannin than malbec. Vintages. LCBO 261941
$13 | Salta | 90 points
Torrontés is an unabashedly aromatic, muscat-like variety grown throughout Argentina. The zesty, lean and mineral versions from Cafayate are the best in the country. This one has aromas of tangerine, lime and licorice, and fresh evergreen notes. Chill well. Vintages. LCBO 262014
$20 | Mendoza | 89 points
I was surprised by the quality of Argentina’s merlot this year, especially from Patagonia and the higher elevations in Mendoza. This red exudes flavours of raspberry, figs and tobacco, with an undercurrent of steak tartare meatiness. It’s satiny and lush. A touch too much alcohol holds it back from a 90-point rating. Vintages. LCBO 248492
$13 | San Juan | 88 points
Pinot grigio’s wave of global popularity has washed up at the foot of the Andes. The warm climate produces riper, more tropical versions than Italy or France. This one exudes banana, orange and fennel flavours. It’s a touch soft but still refreshing. LCBO 164756
$14 | Mendoza | 87 points
The high elevation of Mendoza’s Uco Valley is the heart of avant-garde winemaking in Argentina. O.Fournier makes several good malbec blends, like this one. It’s fleshy and juicy, making it a lovely red for everyday sipping. Very ripe fig and plum flavours with earthy notes. Vintages. LCBO 166397
$13 | Mendoza | 88 points
Argentina’s hot, dry climate is prime for cabernet, but malbec has always had more mass appeal. Wines like this will change minds. It has a rich, complex cabernet nose of cedar, leather and blackcurrants. It’s medium-full bodied, with some heat and woody tannin. Best 2013 to 2016. LCBO 218842
Scores: David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality.
A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 85 to 89 very good; 80 to 84 good.