Harvest in South America is entering its final days, with Argentina’s Vendimia Festival, the annual wine harvest festival, finishing at the end of the first week of March. Which means right now tons and tons of delicious Malbec, Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and more are making the anticipated transformation from juice to alcohol, from grape to wine. In 2010 Argentina’s national government declared wine as the country’s national liquor.
Jump for the beauty of South American reds.
Though Chile and Argentina were both settled by Spain, with records of Vitis vinifera vine cuttings brought by Spanish conquistadors in the 1500’s, the real stars of both regions come from French varietals, Malbec in Argentina and Carmenere in Chile, along with other Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc which thrive in South America’s fertile, mineral rich soil of clay and limestone present throughout both countries. South American wines are bold, powerful, statement wines meant to be enjoyed while feasting at an Asado or barbecue of beef, sausage, pork, lamb and any other meat cooked on a parrilla, or open fire grill. As Spring weather begs for an outdoor barbecue, before we get too hot here in Dallas, consider opening one or two of these delicious wines from South America with your grilled steaks, ribs or lamb chop dinner. A few selections were sent for editorial consideration.
My favorite winemaker in Argentina is Walter Bressia. I sing his praise often, but it is always very well deserved. Bressia wine is known for quality, and for having a delicate touch with big, bold red wines, and understanding how to blend different varietals to create balance and structure in his wines. Bressia Profundo blends 50% Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah creating a concentrated wine filled with Morello cherry and black plum, with hints of smoke, leather and touches of dark chocolate and espresso.
Another star on the Argentine front is Nicolas Audebert, winemaker for Cheval des Andes. I met with Nicolas a few weeks ago when he was in town with the Moet Hennessy wine tour and he is as charming and handsome, as he is talented in his craft, creating silky, sexy wine with personality. Cheval des Andes was created as a joint venture between Argentina’s Terrazas de los Andes and premier Bordeaux Chateau, Cheval Blanc, with the goal to creat the best blend of Malbec with other Bordeaux varietals in Argentina, and with the help of Cheval Blanc winemaker Pierre Lurton.
2006 Cheval des Andes blends Malbec from 83 year old, ungrafted vines (as Argentina escaped the phylloxera devastation) with 45 year old Cabernet Sauvignon vines and a touch of Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, which is then aged 18 months in new French oak followed by another year in the bottle. The result – a complex, structured and balanced wine with a velvety texture, lengthy finish and great character.
Laura Catena had a vision to create high quality, small production, old vineyard wine in Argentina at a time when mostly bulk wine was produced. Daughter of Nicolas Catena who transformed their family winery Catena Zapata into a successful winery in Argentina moving away from bulk wine to creating higher quality wines for the 100+ year old family winery. Laura wanted to take this a step further by creating high quality, small production wines from very old vines. Luca, named for Laura’s oldest son, was created to show the potential of the old vines of Argentina that had traditionally been used for making bulk wine. To do this Laura Catena had to negotiate with farmers and vineyard owners to reduce the size of their crops to produce better wines from 40-50+ year old vineyards scattered throughout Mendoza. Luca Malbec is produced from 46 year old vines in Uco Valley. The 100% Malbec is hand harvested, and aged 16 months in 60% new/40% one year old French oak barrels. This inky purple colored wine is filled with black cherry, black licorice, mocha and spice, with just a touch of floral rose and wild flower aromas on the open, and a long, lingering finishing.
Legendary French winemaker Michel Rolland wanted to create a well priced, high quality Malbec blend in Argentina’s Uco Valley for around $20 a bottle and convinced 6 partners to work with him to make this happen. Clos de los Siete, or vineyard of the seven, celebrates their 8th release with their 2009 Malbec blend combining Old World winemaking techniques with state-of-the-art technology and fantastic New World grapes resulting in a balanced, expressive, concentrated and unfiltered wine highlighting the terroir of Argentina. Black fruit, cocoa, licorice and a touch of smoke fill the palate of the blend of 57% Malbec, 15% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 3% Petit Verdot.
Casa Lapostolle also benefits from the expertise of Michel Rolland, as he is their consulting winemaker with Andrea Leon and Chief Oenologist and Viticulturist Jacques Bergarie. The French style of Casa Lapostolle wines comes directly from its founder, Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, of the Grand Marnier family, who founded Lapostolle in 1994 after arriving from France and realizing the potential Chile’s Colchagua Valley to produce high quality, world class wines. In addition to producing great wine, Lapostolle is committed to sustainable farming and production with organic and biodynamic practices used in all vineyards, and has been awarded the Carbon Neutral delivery status. But really, it is about the wine, and an understanding that ecologically safe practices in the vineyards and winery will produce better wine. And these are beautiful. Perhaps best known for their high quality Clos Apalta blend of Carmenere, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, this is their expression of the land, capturing Chile in the bottle, from 60-100 year old pre-phylloxera vines. Wild yeast fermented and aged for up to 26 months in new French oak this unfined and unfiltered blend is bold, elegant and deeply concentrated with firey red pepper, black cherry, blackberry, smoke and spice. An ideal pairing wine with hearty beef or game dishes, and best when opened for a few hours prior to drinking to let this beautiful wine breathe.