Argentina’s Alternative Top-Rated Wine
In horse racing parlance, Argentina’s Cabernet Sauvignon has a lesser pedigree and longer odds than its Malbec. Still, it’s good enough to run alongside Malbec at times, and if you were looking for a second horse for, say, an exacta bet, you’d be smart to pick Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet Franc is something of a dark horse, but gaining ground fast.
Requiring warm days, cool nights and dry conditions—all of which can be found in abundance in Mendoza, Argentina’s prime wine region—Cabernet Sauvignon has emerged as a vital cog in Argentina’s wine industry, offering fans an attractive alternative to Malbec.
Beyond Mendoza, Cabernet Sauvignon is also made in northerly Cafayate and southerly Patagonia, but with less consistent results.
With an overriding style that’s rounder, riper and less spicy and herbal than the Cabernets from neighboring Chile or Bordeaux, Argentine Cabernets can best be compared to those from Napa Valley or Washington State.
Photos by Monica Stevenson
“I believe our country produces some excellent examples of this variety,” says Roberto de la Mota, a partner at Mendel winery and consultant to Piattelli and other wineries that are taking Cabernet seriously.
“It is warmer here than in Chile’s wine valleys, and so we make riper Cabs than Chile,” he says. “In general, I think Chile produces really good Cab, but always more spicy than Argentina.”
De la Mota, one of Argentina’s most prominent winemakers and the son of the legendary winemaker Raul de la Mota, says his country’s Cabernets have greatly improved over the past decade. They’re more balanced today than ever before, he says, largely because wineries are sourcing better grapes.
“My father used to prefer lower zones like Agrelo, saying Cabernet never ripened in the Uco Valley,” says de la Mota. “But my generation, we like places that are about 1,000 meters (just above 3,000 feet) high and a bit cooler.
“I like Perdriel for its stony soils; Agua Amarga, near Tunuyán, for its warmth and round tannins; Altamira in San Carlos for calcareous soils, floral aromas and strong tannins; and Gualtallary in Tupungato, which is similar to Altamira, but gives darker, more powerful wines. These are my favorite places for Cabernet.”
In other words, to find the best Cabernet terroir in Argentina, head south of Mendoza city and its warm satellite regions and toward the higher elevations and crisper air of the Uco Valley.
“It isn’t easy to make great Cabernet (in Argentina),” says de la Mota. “Cab is a wine that must have a good frame, which means good tannic structure. I like Cabs with a black color and fruity aromas. I want to smell blackberries, raspberries, cassis and some spicy hints because I feel fresh notes must be dominant.”
Argentine Cabernets are, for the most part, attractive wines with the ripe fruit flavors and smooth tannins that have made Napa Valley versions so successful. Generally, they also offer better value. Argentina makes some excellent Cabernet Sauvignon for under $25.
92 Finca Perdriel 2010 Colección (Mendoza). Fans of value-worthy Cabernets will swoon over this purple-tinted, lush wine. Black-fruit flavors offer up savory spice notes, while the finish is peppery and toasty. TGIC Importers. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 14.5% Price: $19
92 Riglos 2011 Gran Las Divas Vineyard (Tupungato). Berry and cassis aromas gain complexity from balsam wood, spice and herbal accents. Flavors of berry, cassis, chocolate and herbs finish with fig and licorice notes. Paul Hobbs Imports.
abv: 14% Price: $29
91 Finca El Origen 2011 Gran Reserva (Uco Valley). Cedar, vanilla, tobacco and earthy aromas blend with berry scents. Big but balanced, with flavors of berry, herbs and spice. A peppery, dry finish gives this a classy ending. Carolina Wine Brands USA.
abv: 14.5% Price: $23
91 Sur de Los Andes 2010 Gran Reserva (Mendoza). Berry and cassis aromas are staunch. This is saturated and deep. Flavors of blackberry, cassis, prune and chocolate are ripe, while the finish is mildly herbal and long. W. Direct.
abv: 14.4% Price: $38
91 Terrazas de Los Andes 2010 Single Vineyard Los Aromos (Mendoza). Aromas of black fruits, herbs and purple flowers announce a palate with chewy tannins and forceful acidity. Black-fruit flavors of brambly berry and cassis come with chocolate and spice notes. Moët Hennessy USA. Cellar Selection.
abv: 15% Price: $58
90 Tapiz 2012 Alta Collection (Mendoza). Stout, smoky aromas include berry scents and minerally notes. Jammy blackberry, spice and herbal flavors set up a lightly oaked finish. Vino Del Sol.
abv: 13.9% Price: $20
90 Mascota 2011 La Mascota (Mendoza). Aromas of graphite, lavender, blackberry, licorice and cocoa introduce flavors of toast, chocolate, baking spices and fruitcake. Imported by Saranty Imports. Best Buy.
abv: 14% Price: $15
90 Trapiche 2012 Broquel (Mendoza). Spice, licorice and herbal notes complement red-fruit aromas. A palate with structure and tannic grab brings an avalanche of blackberry, cassis, fig, chocolate and herbal flavors. The Wine Group.
abv: 14% Price: $18
89 Lamadrid 2012 Single Vineyard Reserva (Agrelo). Ripe, concentrated aromas of cassis and prune set up spicy black-fruit flavors. A loamy, meaty-tasting palate is generous and jammy. On the cusp of overripe, it’s a full-flavored fruit bomb. Vino Del Sol.
abv: 13.9% Price: $15
Recent harvests have seen varietal Cabernet Franc becoming more prominent in Argentina. Five years ago, there was barely any Cab Franc being made, but a handful of wineries are now taking the moody Bordeaux variety with a propensity for herbaceous aromas and flavors to new heights.
Why? In most cases, it’s because winemakers are seeking greater diversity. There’s so little Cab Franc planted that it’s included in Wines of Argentina’s “Other Grape” category, behind Tempranillo, Pinot Noir and even Sangiovese.
When done right, Argentine Cabernet Francs are as lush and fruit-forward as the country’s internationally appreciated Malbecs and Cabernet Sauvignons. They are opaque in color, absorb new oak well and deliver big black-fruit flavors and healthy textures.
But to Alejandro Vigil, chief winemaker with Bodega Catena Zapata as well as the artisan label El Enemigo, Cabernet Franc is the most “transparent” of Argentina’s big reds.
“Each particular area produces a completely different wine,” says Vigil. “It can be round and weighty, or it can cut like a knife. It’s also extremely sensitive to human intervention, like Pinot Noir. It’s hard not to leave fingerprints on the wine, and I like that.”
If you can find any of these recommended bottles, try to get your fingerprints on them.
91 El Enemigo 2012 (Mendoza). Aromas of blueberry, blackberry, cured meats and exotic spice make for an ideal whole. Rich and flush in feel, with good acidity and balance, this has an herbal, saucy element accenting core berry flavors. The finish shows coffee, chocolate and grilled-meat notes. Winebow.
abv: 13.9% Price: $30
90 Durigutti 2011 Reserva (Mendoza). Aromas of rubber and black fruits precede vanilla, creamy berry, black plum and cassis flavors. A finish with mocha and smooth tannins confirms the wine’s amiable character. Elixir Wine Group.
abv: 14% Price: $25
88 Verum 2011 Reserva (Alto Valle de Río Negro). Herbal aromas are balanced by fresh red-berry notes. Racy in the mouth, with raspberry, plum and herbal flavors. A note of olive and leafy green rises up on the finish of this cool-climate, Patagonian Cab Franc. Vino Del Sol.
abv: 14% Price: $29
- 1Going from Good to Great
- 2Argentina’s Top Cabernet Sauvignons
- 3Best Value Cabernet Sauvignons
- 4A Budding Star?
- 5Recommended Cabernet Francs