If you follow wine trends, then you probably know that the popularity of Argentine wines has skyrocketed in the United States over the past decade.
For starters, the availability of the wines in the U.S. has never been greater. Long gone are the days when one could find barely 10 Argentine wineries or brands on store shelves or restaurant wine lists.
Compared to a decade ago, there’s roughly five times more Argentine wine being exported to America. And since variety is the so-called spice of life, that greater availability, particularly of Malbec, has resulted in a spike in sales.
Second, the quality of Argentine wine has greatly improved, especially in Mendoza, the region where roughly 80% of Argentina’s wine production takes place.
As recently as the 1990s, many Argentine wineries produced crude, inconsistent wines that were heavy and lacked balance. Today, following in the footsteps of quality-minded pioneers like Bodega Catena Zapata, Bodega Norton and Trapiche, more wineries of all sizes are making consistently better, cleaner, more satisfying selections that appeal to worldwide markets.
Malbec has led this charge, but the country’s wineries have also stepped up the quality of their varietal Cabernet Sauvignons and blends.
Third—and this is where this story takes off—Argentina is among the best in the world at delivering quality across all price points.
While there remains plenty of dreck at the low level, mediocrity amid the midtier and overdone, overoaked strikeouts among the upper echelon, it’s not hard to find excellent wines throughout Argentina’s price spectrum.
What follows is a look at the best of Argentina by price point, segmented into three categories: $15 and less, or the always-popular Best Buy zone; $16–$30, what we consider to be the midtier of the wine market; and more than $30, or high-end offerings.
These 12 wines represent the best of what I tasted and reviewed during the past year. Each wine scored 90 points or higher, and I strived to provide suggestions that go beyond just varietal Malbec, including Cabernet Sauvignon, red blends and even Chardonnay.
As recently as 2010, James Lapsley, Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis, reported that 87% of U.S. wine sales fell into this price range. Argentina, with its large vineyards and inexpensive labor, excels in this category, with Malbec performing exceedingly well.
My favorite among these Best Buys is Kaiken’s 2009 Corte, a blend of Malbec and lesser amounts of Bonarda and Petit Verdot.
Aurelio Montes Jr., the winemaker at Kaiken, says Malbec forms the foundation of the wine, “but I added Bonarda, which gives the wine incredibly soft tannins, some salt flavor and a lot of dark fruit. The Petit Verdot gives the wine great acidity and a full body without adding any aggressive tannins, something that’s almost unique in Argentina.
“In the end, we get an equilibrated wine, with a complex nose,” he says.
91 Kaiken 2009 Corte Malbec-Bonarda-Petit Verdot (Mendoza). This three-grape blend delivers dark fruit aromas, which lead to blackberry, black currant, cola, spice and toast flavors. A nicely balanced wine. TGIC Importers. Best Buy.
abv: 14.5% Price: $14
91 Trapiche 2010 Broquel Malbec (Mendoza). Minty and toasty upfront, this wine features layered blackberry, licorice, leather and toast aromas. The flavors of wild berry are bright, with herb and oak accents. The Wine Group. Best Buy.
abv: 14.5% Price: $15
90 Finca Flichman 2009 Expresiones Reserve (Mendoza). Plum, berry and campfire aromas pour it on, while the palate of this blend of 60% Malbec and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon is stout, with pronounced tannins. It tastes charred, with berry, prune and chocolate undercurrents. Evaton Inc. Best Buy.
abv: 14.5% Price: $15
90 Fabre Montmayou 2009 Phebus Reserva Malbec (Mendoza). This wine is spicy on the nose, with berry and plum aromas. The palate is smooth and sturdy, with toasty black-fruit flavors and a spicy base. It finishes long and serious. Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits. Best Buy.
abv: 14.5% Price: $15
The midtier is where quality and value meet and dance the tango. Argentina’s top midtier wines can display complexity, layering and a depth of flavor that generally doesn’t exist at the Best Buy level, but still remain reasonably priced.
A fine example is the 2009 Privada from Bodega Norton, a blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that hints at Bordeaux, but screams of Argentina through its richness, silky texture and smooth acid-to-tannin balance.
Jorge Riccitelli, winemaker at Bodega Norton and Wine Enthusiast’s Winemaker of the Year for 2012, says Privada has long been one of his favorite offerings.
“In 2009, the Cabernet Sauvignon made all the difference,” he says. “It had a lot of character, especially in aromas and body. Cool harvest temperatures in late April and early May permitted us to make a wine with a lot of expression, but nothing overripe or tannic.”
93 Bodega Norton 2009 Privada (Mendoza). This blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon starts with aromas of graham cracker, berry and pastry. The palate is perfectly framed by acidity and tannins, with complex blackberry and cassis flavors. Runs a mile long on the finish; drink from 2014–2020. TGIC Importers. Cellar
abv: 14.8% Price: $23
92 Bodega Maestre 2009 Escudero del Maestre Malbec (Mendoza). Smoky, but controlled on the bouquet, this has lead pencil, blackberry and vanilla aromas. It feels full, with plum, berry, creamy oak and vanilla flavors. Drink now–2015. San Francisco Wine Exchange.
abv: 14.6% Price: $29
91 Trivento 2009 Golden Reserve Malbec (Luján de Cuyo). The nose is deep and dense, delivering blackberry and blueberry aromas along with toast and herb scents. Blackberry, spice and chocolate flavors precede a strong finish marked by firm tannins. Banfi Vintners. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 14.5% Price: $21
90 Zuccardi 2010 Q Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendoza). This wine opens with a mix of subtle berry aromas and hints of herb, rubber and leather. It feels tight and tannic, with spicy plum and cassis flavors and herb shadings. Powerful, but restrained, it is not excessively grapey. Winesellers Ltd.
abv: 14% Price: $23
If you like powerful red wines made in a modern style (think Napa Valley Cabernet, Australian Shiraz and even some Tempranillo from Spain), then Argentina’s top shelf offers some excellent options.
One of Argentina’s leading winemakers of top-flight Malbec is Daniel Pi of Trapiche, who began the winery’s Single Vineyard Series in 2003. Since then, Pi has selected fruit from three different growers every vintage to make a trio of individual-tasting wines.
One of the best to date is the 2009 Finca Jorge Miralles, which was made from fruit grown in La Consulta in the Uco Valley subzone of Mendoza.
“What I love about our Single Vineyard Series is how it pays tribute to the anonymous growers of Mendoza who produce high-quality Malbec,” Pi says. “In Argentina, there are almost 220,000 hectares of vineyards [approximately 550,000 acres], around 25,000 growers and fewer than 1,000 wineries. This series allows the growers to show the world their grapes and the results of their efforts.”
The Jorge Miralles Vineyard is planted in the Andes foothills on alluvial soils, dominated by light sediments of clay and sand, with few stones. It’s a heavier soil compared with those used to produce the other wines in the 2009 series (Suarez Lastra and Sarmiento). Pi says the Miralles boasts round tannins, a rich midpalate and true balance between acid, alcohol and tannin structure.
95 Trapiche 2009 Finca Jorge Miralles Single Vineyard Malbec (La Consulta). This shows power, concentration and subtlety. The bouquet is full of graham cracker, cola, berry and moss notes, while the palate deals toasty flavors of blackberry, spice and mocha. It hums like a fine-tuned machine. Drink now–2018. The Wine Group. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 15% Price: $50
93 Viña Cobos 2009 Bramare Marchiori Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Perdriel). This has aromas of sweet red bell pepper, blackberry, plum and cola. Flavors of roasted berry, cassis and chocolate are layered, and the finish is long and toasty. A bullish Cabernet to drink now–2014. Paul Hobbs Wines.
abv: 14.7% Price: $60
93 Alta Vista 2009 Serenade Single Vineyard Malbec (Luján de Cuyo). This wine is rich and sultry, with cola, vanilla, char, coconut and berry aromas. It feels strapping, with flavors of chocolate and blackberry that are offset by an oak-driven cedar note. Toasty and spicy, the finish possesses a fudge-like richness. Drink now–2016. Kobrand. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 15.5% Price: $50
91 Bodega Catena Zapata 2010 Catena Alta Estate Rows Chardonnay (Mendoza). This vintage of Alta Chardonnay supplies toasty apple, pear and banana aromas in front of a fresh yet full-bodied palate that’s Burgundian in character. Flavors of baked apple, pear, oak and spice lead to a long finish. Winebow. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 13% Price: $33