Argentina spent the majority of the 20th century shrouded in trouble and political instability. Despite having all the key elements to create a wine industry worthy of taking on the old establishment, investors never felt secure enough to really put the time and money into the areas that showed real potential.
However the 1990s saw a change and investment and knowledgeable oenologists made their way to Argentina and began a rapid process of development. Mendoza became the focal point: a large and varied region at the foothills of the Andes that is dry and warm but, rather romantically, benefits from irrigation direct from the springs fed by the snow capped mountains. It is also an area where altitude is key and those producers that command the highest prices have vines located as high as they can go before frost becomes a major problem.
Three producers from Mendoza that have played a strong role in getting Argentine wines into the serious fine wine lists are Catena Zapata, Bodegas Aleanna, and Achaval Ferrer, although all for slightly different reasons.
One of the finest producers in Mendoza, Catena has always set the bar for top quality Malbec blends. Nicolas Catena, the founder, is revered for being the one to turn Mendoza into a region to be taken seriously and the Nicolas Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec blend is a serious wine to match. Grown and produced with meticulous care it is a wine to be aged and enjoyed for several decades. As one would expect from Argentina it is full of depth with plenty of black fruit and no end of weight. It is definitely not for the feint hearted but perfect for those who savour the bold.
Bodega Aleanna has excelled since its inception in 2007 which is unsurprising given the pedigree of winemaking here. Set up by the head winemaker at Catena, Alejandro Vigil, and Catena’s daughter, Adrianna, they have spent their time striving for perfection and for some critics they have definitely achieved it.
The single vineyard Gran Enemigo Gualtallary is predominantly Cabernet Franc with a little Malbec and produced in limited quantities. It has gained a loyal following and rave reviews. It is Bordeaux like in its make-up and structure yet is still noticeably Argentinian. It has plenty of fruit and elegance but its earthy minerality sets it apart.
2012 Bodega Aleanna Gran Enemigo Gualtallary Cabernet Franc £75 per bottle
2013 Bodega Aleanna Gran Enemigo Gualtallary Cabernet Franc £130 per bottle
Both the 2012 and 2013 were good vintages but the price differential is fairly large. 2013 was a bumper vintage for Argentina with dry, sunshine filled days that cooled toward the end of the summer allowing for great concentration. The wine is intense and bold. 2012 on the other hand was a tricky vintage with frost and hail causing damage to the grapes. As a result the grape selection had to be carefully executed and those producers at the top had to work harder to achieve great quality. Both are rated highly but perhaps the 2013 is more Argentine and the 2012 more Bordeaux like.
If Catena is the stalwart of the Mendoza region Achaval Ferrer is definitely the new kid on the block shaking things up. When I say ‘new kid’ I mean in terms of the wine industry. Set up in the late 90’s they purchased a lowly vineyard on a north facing slope (not that common) in the Uco valley and started focusing on Malbec heavy fine wines with low intervention techniques. They aim for low yields and high concentration in an attempt to showcase the true character of the region.
The three single vineyard wines they produce are the most interesting but can prove expensive as they are produced in small quantities. It is worthwhile buying from the less revered vintages as they tend to offer much better value. All the wines are meticulously made and blends adjusted to accommodate for changing weather conditions making them interesting if not always exact in the lesser years.
Both of the magnums of 2008 we have on offer from Finca Bella Vista and Finca Altamira (the original rather neglected vineyard they purchased) are great value. Elegant and powerful with a good number of years left in them. Just the kind of thing to break out when you can finally have a dinner party.