Top 10 Mendoza Wines
The recession that began in 2008 on Wall Street and spread like wildfire across the globe forced many wineries to confront reality and cut sales projections.
Argentina thrived, however, buoyed by a spike in the popularity of its signature grape, Malbec. The country experienced the most significant period of success since its immigrant-led wine industry first went commercial in the late 19th century.
During 2008–10, the peak years of the recession, Argentina experienced double-digit annual growth in its wine exports. The main reason: the wines offered both value and high quality, and Malbec fast became a beloved commodity on the world wine market.
Today, however, growth has plateaued, as some of the concerns that wineries expressed during the boom times have proved accurate.
Five years ago, Argentinean wineries were riding high as much of the world struggled. Now, Argentina can no longer bank on importers taking more and more of its wine, primarily Malbec. Call it the ebb and flow of the fickle wine market.
In June 2010, Alberto Arizu Jr., the former president of the Wines of Argentina trade association, sounded a warning alarm: “Achieving growth is sometimes easier than maintaining the status one has obtained. We have to be aware that the consumer is always looking for the next new thing. We want to avoid being today’s success story and then tomorrow’s old news.”
Arizu made those comments in the heart of Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, within sight of the Avenida 9 de Julio’s dozen lanes of buzzing traffic. At the time, it seemed like the perfect metaphor for the state of the country’s wine.
The jacaranda-lined Champs Élysées of Buenos Aires is a sight to behold, a source of national pride even, but only if traffic flows freely. Much like the roadway, if the country’s wine market suffered from congestion, might the good times screech to a halt? Could Argentina revert back to where it was in the 1990s: a misunderstood and largely ignored backwater?
A resolute “no” is the consensus answer throughout Mendoza, if there is such a thing as total accord in a region with hundreds of wineries of every dimension, size, focus and quality level. The region’s Andes-influenced, high-desert terroir, vastly improved winery infrastructure and top-notch talent are influential enough that things should at least hold steady.
STANDING BEHIND THE BRAND
By and large, winery owners and winemakers express confidence about the quality of what they are putting in the bottle, especially their Malbecs and red blends. Pricing remains favorable compared to other wine-producing countries, they point out, and quality wines populate all product ranges, from the under-$15 category to the middle and prestige tiers.
If there remains an underlying fear, it’s that Argentina could be branded a one-trick pony, as Malbec has become the country’s lifeblood. Thus, it’s vital that Argentina and its major wine-producing regions, including Mendoza, Patagonia, Salta and San Juan, maintains its status as the world’s leading Malbec producer.
Everyone wants to know what to drink now, but with a sea of Malbec on the shelves, it’s increasingly difficult to navigate your favorite wine shop.
The four most recent vintages on the market—2009 through 2012—are all very good to excellent by Argentine standards. The 2011 vintage is considered the weakest of the four, due to frost and hail issues. The 2009 was the warmest year, producing ripe wines that are ready to drink upon purchase.
The take on 2010 was that it was a cooler year, but not as chilly as 2011, while 2012 has been hailed as an excellent year, with ideal conditions and balanced wines. Here’s your guide to our top 10 Mendoza Malbecs and Malbec-based blends.
Uco Valley vs. Primera Zona
With about 80% of Argentina’s wine production coming from Mendoza, and with Malbec the driving force behind the industry, fans of the variety should understand the terroir in Mendoza’s two key subzones.
The Uco Valley has emerged as Mendoza’s Côte d’Or. It starts about 40 miles south of Mendoza city and extends for 50 miles down to San Carlos.
In recent years, many wineries have been buying property, sourcing grapes and planting vineyards from Tupungato down to El Cepillo near San Carlos to capture the valley’s fresh, crisp style of Malbec.
The keys to Uco’s quality are its higher elevation compared to central Mendoza, and its rockier soils, due to the valley’s closer proximity to the Andes.
In comparison to the Uco Valley, it’s tempting to grow a bit bored with the wines from the so-called Primera Zona—the warm subregions of central Mendoza surrounding the town Luján de Cuyo.
But don’t overlook Mendoza’s most traditional winemaking area. It offers gems like 100-year-old vineyards in Lunlunta, stony alluvial soils in Vistalba and Perdriel, and the Mendoza River, which draws in cooling winds.
Taste the full-bodied lushness and power of wines from Viña Cobos, Mendel, Cheval des Andes, Terrazas de los Andes and Bodega Vistalba, among others. Chances are good that you will see that both the Uco Valley and the Primera Zona have plenty to offer.
94 O. Fournier 2010 Malbec (Uco Valley)
Extremely ripe on the nose, with raisin, fig and minerally richness that’s far from regular. The palate is huge and mouthfilling, while flavors of raisin, brown sugar, mocha and coffee come to a long finish that’s the definition of dark and brooding. Drink through 2020. The Country Vintner. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 15% Price: $90
94 Viña Cobos 2011 Bramare Marchiori Vineyard Malbec (Perdriel)
Aromas of fine oak and pencil lead augment blackberry and baked plum scents. Smooth, round and rich, with flavors of tea, savory spices and black fruits. Ripe but not too heavy on the finish. Drink through 2019. Paul Hobbs Imports. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 14.7% Price: $95
93 Cheval des Andes 2009 Red Wine (Mendoza)
Toasty, minty and true to form, this Malbec-Cabernet blend is heady stuff with hard tannins and plenty of ripeness. Blackberry, coffee, chocolate and herbal flavors are aggressive yet harmonious, while the finish is black and muscular in nature. With such tough tannins, this needs another three years minimum to settle—best after 2017. Moët Hennessy USA. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.5% Price: $89
Trapiche 2010 Finca Ambrosia Terroir Series Single Vineyard Malbec (Mendoza); $50, 93 points.
Concentrated and deep, with aromas of wood smoke, lemon peel, blackberry and tar. It’s layered and plush, while flavors of wild berry, dark spices, coffee and mocha finish with a blast of chocolate and nutmeg. Drink through 2018. The Wine Group. Editors’ Choice.
Norton 2011 Privada (Mendoza); $26, 93 points.
This Bordeaux-style blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon displays qualities beyond its price point. Smoky on the nose, with charcoal, minerality and toast capping crusty berry aromas. The palate is ripe and healthy in feel, with baked blackberry flavors smothered in toasty oak. Drink through 2018. TGIC Importers. Editors’ Choice.
Alta Vista 2011 Temis Single Vineyard Malbec (Uco Valley); $50, 92 points.
Heady stuff, with aromas of blackberry and boysenberry. The palate feels concentrated and rich, while jammy black-fruit flavors finish tight and with structure. Drink through 2018. Kobrand.
Riglos 2011 Gran Las Divas Vineyard Malbec (Tupungato); $35, 92 points.
A full-throttle wine with huge aromas of blackberry and cassis. Flavors of oak-based vanilla and coconut sit on top of berry fruit, while chocolate cake and coconut are the key flavors on a large, lusty finish. Drink through 2018. Paul Hobbs Imports.
92 Vistalba 2010 Corte A (Mendoza); $70, 92 points.
Big fruit, dry wood, bacon and balsamic notes create an alluring bouquet. Full tannins support cassis and berry flavors, and more than enough oak. This is lightly herbal, powerful and saucy on the finish. 60% Malbec, 30% Bonarda and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; drink through 2018. Blends Inc.
Zuccardi 2010 Aluvional (La Consulta); $90, 92 points.
Oak-based scents of plastic and rubber give way to minerality and stony aromas of cassis and plum. In the mouth, this is wide, jammy, fleshy and chewy. Flavors of earthy, loamy black fruits and licorice pick up herb, spice and anise flavors on a forward-leaning finish. Drink through 2020. Winesellers Ltd. Cellar Selection.
Trivento 2010 Eolo (Luján de Cuyo); $79, 91 points.
This Malbec-led blend is jammy on the nose, with oak and extracted berry aromas. In the mouth, there’s a level of freshness offset by heavy fruit. Flavors of berry and plum finish with spice, pepper and chocolaty richness. Drink through 2018. Excelsior Wines.
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