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Argentina 2013 – Wines More Than Worth Your While

Malbec fans should invite over a few thirsty friends and prepare to clear out some space in the cellar

…because the 2013 releases from Argentine producers are going to be well worth buying in bulk.

Growing grapes in South America is not an easy task, and coaxing great vintages year after year means working with a difficult terrain and unpredictable weather cycle that can lead even experienced producers half way towards a nervous breakdown. Wine country in Argentina sits to the east of the Andes, where the afternoon shadows cast by the mountaintops and intermittent rain clouds keeps the scorching heat from singeing the vines.Argentine_wine_regions While Chile to the west gets cool breezes off the Atlantic Ocean, Argentina has the hot, dry Zonda winds that roll down off the mountain. Summer often means temperatures well over 100°F, leading experienced producers to plant at higher elevations. Altitude means hot, sunny days but cool nights, which in turn leads to wines that are more complex, rich, and fruity, with plenty of acidity – in an ideal world and vintage, at least.

Luckily for wine drinkers the world over, 2013 in Argentina was indeed ideal. When wine regions across the Northern Hemisphere were celebrating (or mourning) their post-harvest hauls, bud break was just occurring down south. Spring in Argentina was temperate, typical, and average in all the best ways, meaning no scary late-winter frosts to stunt growth. The vines flowered on schedule and the fruit set without interruption, meaning plenty of high-quality grapes nestled in big, beautiful clusters. The weather was warm through December, January, and the first half of February, and even when things began to shift mid-month, mild days and chilly nights kept the grapes from ripening too fast. There was about 19% more rain overall than is usually expected, but much of it was early in the season before flowering, which caused other vegetation to grow, creating sort of a canopy effect that helped to shield immature from the elements.

Veraison, that magical time when grapes begin to ripen and shift color, came early, but thoughts of an early harvest were diminished by cool spells that continued late into the season. A few hail storms floated through, but the damage was minimal and isolated. Harvest may have been a little postponed, with many winemakers picking up to two weeks later than normal, but the results were worth the wait; not only was yield higher (early estimates from the National Institute of Viticulture put the harvest in Mendoza, one of Argentina’s biggest and most internationally recognizable regions, up a whopping 26% from the previous year), but so was the quality of the grapes, two circumstances that do not always go hand in hand. True, higher yield can and often does mean less concentration, but these wines are more than making up for that with a flavor profile that is otherwise mouthwateringly juicy and fresh.

Mild weather and a prolonged season means wines with a gorgeous expression of fruit, plenty of acidity, and an elegance that isn’t always present in wines from hotter regions. Balance is a high-value word in the wine industry, and there’s tons of balance in these wines. In contrast to vintages that suffered through hot summers, these wines are characteristic of fruit that grew and ripened steadily, keeping tannins refined and alcohol low.

The word “boring” in the wine world is often uttered with a curled upper lip and a slight shudder of the shoulders, and certainly isn’t used to describe the kind of wine that makes you reach for a second bottle – or even a second glass, but when talking about a region’s weather cycles and the impact it has on a particular vintage, boring can be beautiful. For Argentine producers, who had to exhibit extraordinary patience dealing with an extra-long season and weather that seemed to tease growers at almost every turn, the lack of crop-threatening hail storms and other cataclysmic events is just the kind of ho-hum year that legends are made of.

Tasting Recommondations


2011 Bodegas Caro Amancaya Gran Reserva Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon, $18 – Amancaya is the product of collaboration between Bordeaux royalty, in the form of Domaines Barons de Rothschild, and local legend Nicolas Catena. The blend runs about 40-60% Malbec with the balance made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, and ages a mere 12 months in 20% new oak barrels. The result is an agile wine that is gothic red color with ripe, succulent red and purple fruit balanced out with a hint of mint and eucalyptus, vanilla, and slightly bittersweet mocha. The cedar is subtle and the tannins mellow, making for a moderate and pleasantly memorable finish.


2010 Vina Cobos Bramare Malbec, Marchiori Vineyard, $95


– Almost black cherry in color with impressive legs, this wine follows through on its promising appearance with a nose full of blackberries and figs, chocolate, espresso, smoke, and a light dusting of baking spices. There’s an intriguing minerality on the palate that is almost reminiscent of gunpowder and lead, adding to the complexity and balance that winemaker Paul Hobbs, who is the brains behind Vina Cobos’s operation, is known for. Bramare is a fairly hot wine at 15.3% alcohol and that’s evident in the finish, but thanks to the velvety tannins that cloak the warmth as it swirls over the palate, it isn’t excessive or unpleasant.


2010 Pascual Toso Torrontes, $10

– Poor Torrontes has had a rough go of it. The grape is too often either ignored or maligned, but bottles like this one will go a long way towards dispelling the myth that Torrontes is lacking in character and appeal. True, some bottles are completely forgettable, but the Toso is packed with the aroma of sun-warmed white flowers, juicy and refreshing stone fruit, the slight bitter edge of oily orange rind, and enough minerality and white pepper at the end to put some pep in your palate. As it ages, it’ll continue to round out and reflect more buttery, caramel tones, but that may be a fun evolution to track.


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