High altitude heliophiles in Argentina

Bodega DiamAndes, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

As seen on WineAlign – A masterclass across Argentina

For the malbec, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, cabernet franc, criolla, torrontés and chardonnay of Argentina the present day vernacular promoted by the party line tells us “altitude defines a singular type of wine.” Most of the country’s wine lands are located on soils perched at impressive heights, at least with respect to sea level. To the naked eye the vineyards of Mendoza are of a perfect design to act as a collective poster child for a flat earth society manifesto, but looks are deceiving. The gentle climb from that province’s eponymous city centre at 750 meters above sea level to the rain shadow wall of the Andes Mountains is a subtle gradation that transfers vineyard elevations up to and exceeding well over 1,000 further metres. Say what you will about Mendoza’s absence of switchback ridges tracking rolling or angled foothills. Solar radiation is very real here and the effect of elevation on grape growing is a highly critical component of viticultural matters.

Joaquin Superman @hidalgojoaquin offers #CndsInArg a dissertation on high altitude terroir @winesofarg ~ @aldosvinoteca

It was only weeks ago that I had the favourable and fortuitous opportunity to travel around with the team at Wines of Argentina. Ontario’s WOFA representative Liz Luzza introduced me to her Quebec counterpart Marilyne Demandre. Together we were joined by Mark Bradbury, Bar Manager at The Bicycle Thief, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Yann Janvier, Le Sommelier Moderne in Montreal, Michael Mizzi, Co-Owner and Alexander Raphael, Bar Manager AMA Always, Toronto and Paul Madden, Director of Purchasing, Crowfoot Wines & Spirits, Calgary, Alberta for a group traverse across the South American country. We were led with the guidance of WOFA’s exceptional on the ground team; Soledad Juncosa, Sofia Brazzolotto, Paula Valle, Analia Lucero and Romina Ruiz. We did not make Lionel Messi’s acquaintance but we did experience first hand in Caminito and at the Buenos Aires Aeroparque Jorge Newbery the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final. I can only begin to explain the cacophony of roars when goals were scored during the intense rivalry between Boca Juniors and River Plate. The November trip took in Buenos Aires (including Recoleta Cemetery), Mendoza City, Luján de Cuyo (Agrelo), the Uco Valley (Gualtallary and Tupungato) and Salta Province (Cafayate and Calchaqui Valley). The journey will always be considered as a masterclass across Argentina because that is precisely what it was.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

It began at a Buenos Aires institution, Aldos Restorán & Vinoteca for a dissertation on high altitude terroir through the savant Argentine eyes of Joaquin “Superman” Hidalgo. Joaquin did more than merely explain the effect of altitude and solar radiation, he also poured an extraordinary cross-section of the country’s malbec from Jujuy to Patagonia, Tucuman-Catamarca to Gualtallary-Tupungato, Uco Valley.  In the Palermo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires we convened at that city’s most coveted mecca for beef consumption, the exulted Don Julio Parilla, where we were schooled on the wines of Familia Schroeder and Patagonia. Later that night it was a wholly unexpected, antithetical and epiphanic tasting of white, pink and orange in Mendoza at Azafrán Resto with principals from Chakana Wines, Alpamanta and Ernesto Catena’s Domaine Alma Negra.

#tastingroom writing #tastingnotes @bodegadiamandes ~ #valledeuco #cdnsinarg @winesofarg

A visit to Finca Decero opened the window to the Agrelo advantage along with the wines tasted belonging to Alta Vista, Altos Los HormigasArgento, Susana Balbo and Trapiche. This was followed by a stop at Vicentin/Sottano. At Bodega Luigi Bosca it was head winemaker Pablo Cúneo who unlocked some secrets hidden inside the soils of Luján de Cuyo, with help from pours by Bodega CasarenaBodegas Navarro CorreasFinca Las MorasMascota Vineyards, Pascual Toso and Vina Cobos. Then we entered the Tupungato, Uco Valley portal at Domaine Bousquet along with the wines of Bodega Andeluna, Bodega Atamisque, Bodegas Bianchi, Familia Zuccardi and Finca Sophenia. The incomprehensible wall of beauty provided by the snow-covered Andes acted as the backdrop to the al fresco tasting room at Bodega Diam Andes. It was here that we gained a deeper understanding of the mountain connection to Clos de los Siete and Vista Flores-Valle de Uco wines. The wines of Bodega Piedra NegraCasa de Uco, Masi Tupungato and Bodega Salentein helped usher these sub-appellative Mendoza wines into the light.

Salads in Argentina are exceptional

Before heading north we were met at our Mendoza hotel by Viña Cobos winemkaer Andres Vignoni for a seminar and tasting of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. As a general rule cabernet franc is planted in dry Argentine climates, in Winkler Zones 11 and 111. It has nicely adapted to high altitudes (900m+) and its prominence began spreading after 1990, especially in Luján de Cuyo where 34 per cent of the country’s vines are grown. The varietal boom has really swelled in the last 18 years. Studies show that its best maturity is at 1000-1200m, with hot spots being at Los Arboles, San Pablo, Gualtallary, Agrelo, La Consulta and Paraje Altamira. The country’s third most planted red grape variety is cabernet sauvignon, historically raised in a “Bordeaux meets Rioja school,” with long barrel aging and traditionally grown in Maipu and Luján de Cuyo. The varietal has migrated to cooler spots, where greater freshness is being chosen ahead of over maturation, not to mention less/smaller use of new barrels. Sub-zone favourites are Las Compuertas, Perdriel, Agrelo, Cruz de Piedra, Gualtallary, La Consulta, Paraje Altamira, Cafayate and Santa Maria.

Godello post masterclass on cabernet sauvignon and franc with Viña Cobos winemkaer Andres Vignoni

From Ciudad de Mendoza Airpark we shuffled off to Salta, destination Cafayate. The drive took us though the desert monuments of Quebrada de las Conchas. The next day there was a fast, furious and fascinating look at Cafayate and Valle Calchaqui high altitude terroirs through the Donald Hess Bodega Colome and Bodega Amalaya lens. At Bodega El Esteco was walked beneath the 70 year-old criolla and torrontés vines. In the afternoon heat of Cafayate’s 30-plus degree early Spring sun we walked the limestone rocky desert moonscape of Piattelli Vineyards with proprietor John Malinski. A visit to Cafayate and the Valles Calchaquies would have been incomplete without a Bad Brothers Wine Experience. My understanding of Argentina’s fringe, edgy and extreme high altitude wines was confused until I met Agustín Linús and his Sunal malbec. Terruños de extrema indeed.

Snowy Andes backdrop makes Godello happy ~ snap (c) @marylinedemandre

One of the highest vineyards in Argentina is in Salta Province, 1,200 kms north of Mendoza. It is called Altura Máxima and it sits perched at 3,100 meters above sea level. Whaaat? It is one of the most extreme vineyards in the country, but not the only one. There are 20 or more, carved out of desert sand and rock where terroir is made up of climate, soil and in these extreme locations, the machinations of man. Climate is highly variable so rainfall and heliophany (the energy of the sun reaching the soil) and temperature are the most important factors. So when we speak of climate in Argentina we have to attach the altitude to the problem. The equation is always modified by the effects of altitude. Not to mention atmospheric pressure. Altitude in relation to temperature. For every 155m of linear rise, in temperate zones the average temperature of a point on the map drops by one degree. This effect is called vertical thermal gradient and the cause is due to atmospheric pressure. And then, with every 1,000m of linear rise, solar radiation increases by 15 per cent. In order to be more resistant to light, the plants produce more polyphenols. There is a proven relationship between UVB and a higher concentration of polyphenols and abdisic acid. In the end it’s a matter of cool climates with a great intensity of sun. Stress conditions at 1,500m or higher results in lower yields, high polyphenols, higher acidity and ultimately a marked variance of character. Explains Joaquin Hidalgo, “mastering the terroir is a challenge that involves another way of managing the vineyard.”

New Piattelli Vineyards planting in the high altitude desert of the Calchaqui Valley

The production and consumption of wine in Argentina dates back to over four hundred years ago when the first specimens of Vitis Vinifera were brought to the Americas by the Spanish colonizers in the early 16th century. Early in the 1900’s, the vineyard area had reached 519,800 acres but between 1982 and 1992 extensive uprooting of vineyards was undertaken and 36 per cent of the existing vineyards were removed. In the early 1990s a new era began for the Argentine wine industry. The arrival of Neoliberalism in the national economy led to the implementation of a model of adjustment and the incorporation of Argentina into the global market. With a population of 42 million inhabitants and a territory that is four times larger than France, Argentina is one of the world’s nature reserves. Privileged with outstanding natural richness and extraordinarily diverse landscapes, Argentina boasts high mountains and plains, lush vegetation and extreme deserts, forests and steppes, glaciers and waterfalls.

Stunning #cafayate morning in the 60-70 year-old #criolla and #torrontes vines @bodegaelesteco in Salta

This wealth of natural ecosystems includes vast, highly productive grape growing regions stretching at the foot of the Andean strip, to the West of the country, from latitude 22° south to latitude 42° south. The cultivated area covers more than 538,071 acres. The vineyard area of Argentina covers 545.737,99 acres (2017). From the total area just 502.895,78 acres are able to vinify. The breakdown is 56 per cent red, 19 white and 25 Rosé. The leading red varieties are malbec (36), bonarda (16), cabernet sauvignon (13) and syrah (10). For whites it is torrontés (25), chardonnay (16), sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc each (5).

Canadians in Argentina at the Devil’s Throat in Salta Province ~ #quebradadelasconchas

Today, despite a skyrocketing national inflation rate, the wine industry continues to thrive. While certainly not immune to the economic crisis, exports are growing and the wines from Argentina are evolving to meet global demands. I tasted upwards of 150 wines in my week spent in Argentina. This report covers 37 wines from 37 producers. These are 37 that struck me as being exceptional, ahead of the curve or simply the perfect sort of examples to speak about climate, soil and of course, altitude.

Mendoza shuffle with some fine examples and cross section of terroirs to represent #winesofargentina ~

Malbec

Bodega Amanecer Andino Malbec Reserva Quebrada De Humahuaca 2017, Tumbaya, Jujuy, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From a new location for growing grapes, at 2,200 metres of altitude, very close to Bolivia. Even if malbec is not necessarily the most interesting varietal to grow at this altitude, it is the most elastic variety and will always work. The pH (3.77), the acidity (6.6 g/L) and the alcohol are all set to high but it does not come across like any other malbec any of us have ever tasted. Full bodied and very fresh, really salty, a malbec so affected by altitude. So bloody interesting. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted November 2018  amanecer.andino  @BodegaAmanecer 

Agustín Lanús Wines Malbec Sunal Ilógico 2017, Tucuman Catamarca, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

The wine is drawn from vineyards in Pucará Salta, Lucaratao Salta, Amaicha del Valle Tucumán and Hualfin Catamarca. Real body and richness, savour and verdancy. The touch is delicately salty, with medium acidity and a constrained power. Really fine balance. The length is forever, a fact proven by an opened bottle showing exemplary freshness a full eight days later. Everything in Argentina might claim to be drawn away from high altitude but this from Agustín Lanús at 2,800m plus is the real deal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted twice, November and December 2018  agustinlanuswines  @agustin_lanus  Agustín Lanús  

Tinto Negro Vineyard 1955 Malbec 2013, La Consulta, San Carlos, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, B.C. $81.99, WineAlign)

The most important factor in Altamira is not the altitude but the soil. It’s at 1000m but from the cooler, southern part of the Uco Valley. Very high pH (3.8) and well-managing acidity. This wine has it all; great fruit, savour, sweet viscosity, freshness, acidity and structure. Not to mention fine tannins and polyphenolic textural beauty. A high altitude and a place that keeps its cold air. Forget about how much oak and what the alcohol may be. The clay and the cool factor keep it all real. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  bodegatintonegro  thewinesyndicate    @winesyndicate  @thewinesyndicate

Catena Zapata Malbec Adrianna Vineyard River Stones 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (132340, $95.59, WineAlign)

In a line up that includes malbec from all walks of Mendoza life as well as some extreme altitude northern examples this is the first wine with a somewhat reductive quality, locked in freshness and very high acidity. It’s a wine of exceptional qualities. There is a highly intellectual and sensory balance executed through perfectly ripe fruit, that fine acidity and even more fineness in tannins. A beautifully linear wine that can come full circle if need be. This is a malbec that creates moisture in your mouth, never drying or taking anything away. A wine that is changing the way we are dealing with the idea of different terroirs in Argentina. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  catenawines  lauracatenamd  noble_estates  @CatenaMalbec  @LauraCatena  @Noble_Estates  @bodegacatenazapata  @NobleEstates

Luigi Bosca Terroir Los Miradores Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (132340, $32.95, WineAlign)

From 70 year-old vines in Valle de Uco with lowest of low yields so that one vine does not even function to produce a whole bottle. From the same genetic cutting materials, massal selection of the DOC malbec, but with obvious concentration and specificity. So much more floral, of a baking spice and a fruit intensity that truly is the bomb. An implosive wine with modesty, purity and a 40 per cent oak housing. Big and balanced with great structure and tannins that invoke seven senses. Put some aside and we’ll have some further discussions in 10 years. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaluigibosca  fwmcan  @LuigiBoscaBodeg  @FWMCan  @BodegaLuigiBosca  @FWMCan

Domaine Bousquet Malbec 2018, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (160952, $13.95, WineAlign)

Draws fruit from Paraje Altamira and Gualtallary, no oak, simply in stainless. Fresh and equally savoury, relative concentration and simple in effusive red fruit. Really negligible tannins and a sweet as opposed to astringent finish. Perhaps the best vintage ever for this entry-level malbec. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018   domainebousquet  @domaineBousquet  @DomaineBousquetUSA

Trapiche Malbec Terroir Series Finca Orellana de Escobar Single Vineyard 2012, La Consulta, San Carlos, Mendoza, Argentina (178145, $39.95, WineAlign)

One of several malbecs in the Trapiche portfolio here the collaboration with the grower is exulted in this the 10th years of the Terroir Series. Every year the best three combinations of fruit and grower are chosen to represent the range. Sixty-one year old vineyards deliver minty herbal savour and a chalky liquidity in surround of spicy cherry fruit. Plummy too with ferric purity and big, big structure. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  trapichearg  trapichewines  philippedandurandwines  @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines   @TrapicheArgentinaInt  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Rocio Campoy Morist with Alta Vista’s Alazarine

Alta Vista Malbec Single Vineyard Alizarine 2013, La Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

Of three Alta Vista single-vineyard wines this is 100 per cent malbec and one of the richest, deeply textured and chocolate driven examples. From a warm vintage it’s not quite mature, even drying a bit though the fruit seems to just get more dense, intense and leathery. Justified elevation extrapolation makes for a classic malbec with some idiosyncratic Compuertas moments. Smooth, fully rendered and giving everything at this very stage. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaaltavista  hhdwines  @bodegaaltavista  @HHDImports_Wine  @BodegaAltaVista  @HHDImportsInc

Argento Malbec Single Vineyard 2016, Paraje Altamira, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $24.00, WineAlign)

Argento terroir exploration is from Finca Las Cerezas, “the cherries” and lo and behold, it’s really that fruit incarnate. A reductive malbec to be sure and so very fresh, from a soil rich in limestone which tells us something about the speciality of this nook in Paraje Altamira. The red fruit receives a lightning strike from the cool stone touch and there is a salty vein that lifts the cherry up and into a whole other realm. Really quite beautiful this charming little number. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaargento  profilewinegroup  @BodegaArgento  @ProfileWineGrp  @bodegaargento  @ProfileWineGroup

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (366005, $22.95, WineAlign)

Three quarters of the terroir malbec is aged in concrete with the fourth in 3000L French foudres. The total aging time is 24 months, the last six of which were in bottle before release. Here is the smooth malbec with balancing and defining sour acids on edge and uplifting. The fruit is nicely integrated into this structure with a fine set of tannins to grant some pretty good potential. Wait a year and let the magic happen. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  altoslashormigas  @ALHmalbec  @ALTOSLASHORMIGASWINERY

Casa De Uco Malbec Vineyard Selection 2015, Los Chacayes, Tunuyán, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Considered their top expression from calcareous rocky soils this is the third incarnation of a malbec with some differences, turns and twists. Winemaking choices of 20-30 per cent whole bunch and partial carbonic macerations are extended to most of the chosen lots. You can feel the firm grip of the layered tannins on fresh, reductive and candy shell fruit. Concrete initiates the balance, there is no new oak to distract and enough acidity to keep it vibrant. There is a combination of energy and finesse on this malbec standing up to be noticed and counted. It’s both solid and expressive, real, emotive and truly curious. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  casadeuco  @CasadeUco  @CasadeUco

Extreme altitude malbec of Bodega Colomé

Bodega Colomé Malbec Lote Especial Colomé 2016, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

Takes what is established by brother La Brava (and then El Arenal) and amplifies ideal. Now up to an altitude of 2,300m the dichotomous relationship between thermal amplitude and diurnal variegation is magnified, which can only mean more hyperbole. More concentration of fruit in equal extraction but with the extra 600 meters of altitude the tones are higher, the fruit more variegated and with a dried component out of the idea of some desiccation at harvest. It also seems saltier and the structure different, tighter and strung like a racket with ready to fray tension. One of the wildest malbec rides on the planet. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted November 2018  bodegacolome  liffordgram  @BodegaColome  @LiffordON  @bodegacolome  @liffordwineandspirits

A flock of producers gather to educate on the multiplicity of munificent Mendoza ~

Syrah and Red Blends

Bodega Finca las Moras Gran Syrah 2015, San Juan, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From the three main valleys of San Juan; Tulum, Zonda and Pedernal at altitudes of 650, 800 and 1300 meters above sea level. Ripeness from the lower valleys meets peppery spice and herbology of the highest, with freshness lying somewhere in between. The effects of diurnal temperature swings and thermal radiation pile one on top of another for a highly variegated yet mostly seamless syrah. The queen mother of San Juan syrahs with plenty of swagger. It shouts floral rose then switches into bohemian rhapsodies of musky, ferrous and hematic waves. Really meaty and intense with major chord, mood and tempo swings. “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  fincalasmoras  @FincaLasMoras  @fincalasmoraswineryCA

Finca Decero The Owl & The Dust Devil Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The multi-level, purposed and floral flight of fancy red blend. A mix of real facts and a story; near equal parts malbec and cabernet sauvignon, with petit verdot and tannat. Must contain at least 30 per cent of the last two outlier varietals and in the end this completes the estate style, of big, smooth, polished reds that are completed through micro-vinifications of many single-vineyard blocks. More tannin and grip here. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

DiamAndes Gran Reserve Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (295063, $32.95, WineAlign)

The signature red of the estate this is three quarters malbec to one quarter cabernet sauvignon set for 18 months in 100 per cent French oak, 50 per cent new. To say this is lush and ambitious would be an understatement but there is no questioning the quality of the agriculture, the fruit and the use of deep pockets technology. There is also humility within this classic modernism though not yet a true indication of soul. The fineness and the precision are so apparent which leads to believe that the human element noted will mean the epiphanies are coming soon. So much potential to become one of Argentina’s great red blends. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  bodegadiamandes  maitredechai_ca    @maitredechai  @diamandes  Francis Dubé  

Salentein Numina Spirit Vineyard Gran Corte 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (543405, $35.00, WineAlign)

The goal for Salentein’s Gran Corte “is to produce a wine with the grapes from the first vineyards planted in 1996” and so only these find there way into the Numina line. The blend in 2015 is malbec (68 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (12), cabernet franc (8), merlot (7) and petit verdot (5). It’s a true Bordelais five varietal ideal albeit with malbec at the fore. It see 16 months in total though 10 are go it alone and then six all housed all together. This quintuples down on the rich liqueur, all in spice and hyperbole of violet florals. Though currently liquid chalky and slightly gritty you can imagine the integration especially because the oak use is not new. A really nice wine on the road to becoming something fine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  salenteinbodega  azureau  @BodegaSalentein  @azureau  @BodegasSalentein  @BodegasSalentein

Bodega Atamisque Assemblage 2015, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (483032, $45.95, WineAlign)

The blend of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot is fruit drawn from sites between 1,100 ands 1,300m and sees 14 months in 100 per cent new French oak. This being a wine made by forcing square pegs into one round hole in what amounts to an all for nothing, all in one treatment. It’s really something to note that despite all this the fact remains that red fruit abounds, fresh and pure with an accent of spice but no real overdo of make-up. There is elongated grace and generosity, like a Rhône blend with charming warmth and a fine smoulder. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaatamisque  #MCOwines    Bodega Atamisque

Masi Tupungato Corbec 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

A blend of 70 per cent corvina with malbec treated to upwards of 25 per cent appassimento for 20 days. Spends 18 months in French oak. All about the baking spices, the unbounded limits of glycerin texture and specifically cinnamon all over the back pages. So rich and a ringer like no other for the Veneto motherland. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  masitupungato  masicanada  @MrAmaroneMasi  @MasiWineExperience  

Clos De Los Siete 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (622571, $23.95, WineAlign)

This was tasted side by side by each with the 2013 and the 2006 so quite fortuitous in terms of relativity and imagination. The blend in ’15 is high in malbec predominance (68 per cent), with merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petit verdot. Four wineries made contributions to this vintage (of a possible seven) and as per the dictum it’s a blend of blends created by Michel Rolland. It’s Rolland’s inceptive imagination that brought this special project into the Uco Valley landscape and though the assemblage can be up to seven-fold the possibility to age for a value-priced wine is quite impressive. This ’15 is richly endowed and structured, chalky and just plain excellent. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted November 2018  closdelossiete  philippedandurandwines  @closdelossiete  @Dandurandwines   @closdelossiete  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Tasting through the Uco Valley

Cabernet Franc

Zuccardi Cabernet Franc Polígonos 2017, San Pablo, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Polígonos exploration is a many vineyard sided affair and the altitude is significant at 1,300m from San Pablo in Valle de Uco, Mendoza. A relatively early pick preserves nigh high acidity and the alcohol is beautifully restrained. Just a hint of dusty, pyrazine edgy fruitiness drives the machine and keeps this pulsing with terrific energy. Both food amenability and aging potential here are excellent. If it’s verdant that’s a compliment to local character. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  zuccardivalledeuco  szuccardi  dionysuswines  @ZuccardiWines  @FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @ZuccardiValleDeUco  @DionysusWinesTO

Trivento Cabernet Franc Golden Reserve Black Edition 2017, Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Made by winemaker Germán Di Césare there is a respect for land (alluvial, sand and some lime) but also for varietal. It’s well-endowed, juicy, plummy and full flavoured though it’s oaky tendencies are quietly respectful as well. The tone of the wine hums and resonates with ambience in complete control. It’s really quite fine and just about to enter its perfectly integrated, resolved and balanced window. High acidity example and wouldn’t hurt to settle for just a few more months. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  triventoarg  triventoarg  #escaladewines  @Trivento   @TriventoArg  @TriventoCanada

Bodega Andeluna Cabernet Franc Pasionado 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $54.99, WineAlign)

Classic Uco terroir at high altitude (1,300m) that mixes alluvial soils with sand, limestone and here loam make for a pretty subtle rendition in terms of cabernet franc. That’s especially true when you consider the small vessels used (225L barrels) and much of it new. You feel the wood in vanilla and berry coulis, a bit of spice and liquified graphite. Quite a molten flow this cabernet franc and with demanding quality in its tannins. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaandeluna  stemwinegroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @StemWineGroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @stemwine

Zuccardi, Andeluna, Sophenia and Bianchi

Cabernet Sauvignon

Familia Schroeder Cabernet Sauvignon Saurus 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

Schroeder is a Paul Hobbs Patagonia outpost and across the board they are truly smooth, cool and polished wines. Tasted after the pinot noir and malbec we see by now the consistency of style and with great evidence. Big time ripe and dark varietal fruit, salumi accents, all in, no holds barred and a cool factor with texture times purity. It finds its way through the ooze to act linear and come out quite elegant. In the end it warms and brings much comfort, finishing with a rendering and lingering spice. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  schroederwines  @SchroederWines  @stemaren  @BodegaFamiliaSchroeder 

Tasting at Sottano

Sottano Reserva De Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (324707, $24.95, WineAlign)

Sottano’s cabernet sauvignon exhibits less of an oak influence or exaggeration, especially not a hinderance or a matter of make up. Smells like cabernet sauvignon with loads of ribena and black currant on top of each other and then the oak really takes over. Half of the grapes are estate and the other half Altamira in Uco Valley. Not so much a terroir investigation as it is a thing of Mendozan assemblage. It’s far from elegant but it is creamy smooth and velvety, if not the best wine thus far in the portfolio. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  bodegasottano  @bodegasottano  @bodega.sottano

Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon Signature 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (260919, $19.95, WineAlign)

From a wet year but locales with good exposure and drainage fared quite well. Regardless here is a rich, grippy and powerful cabernet sauvignon (with five per cent franc), of high natural acidity and cumulative depth. The parcels are Uco Valley and Los Arboles just below Gaultallary. Chocolate is cut by a rocky streak from fruit grown over a dry river bed with stones, quite the opposite from Agrelo. It’s a veritable expression of a unique set of alluvial and stony soils. Excellent work to bring out a sense of place. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  susanabalbowines  profilewinegroup  @sbalbowines  @ProfileWineGrp  @SusanaBalboWines  Susana Balbo  @ProfileWineGroup

Sophenia Cabernet Sauvignon Synthesis 2014, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

A wine made by Julia Hulupczok and Matiás Michelini. From a wild vineyard upwards of 1,300m where ripening is a challenge and tannins can be formidable. There’s a greenness to be sure and yet also a subtle grace about it. A different structure, impossibly dichotic and surely one you would not have found in Argentina just 10 years ago. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted November 2018  fincasophenia  @FincaSophenia  @Juliahilux  @FincaSopheniaWines  Julia Halupczok

Masterclasses on cabernet sauvignon and franc with Viña Cobos winemaker Andreas Vignoni

Viña Cobos Bramare Cabernet Sauvignon Marchiori Estate 2015Perdriel, Luján de Cuyo, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $119.00, WineAlign)

At 1,000m few other cabernet wines out of Valle de Uco will deliver such concentration and polish. It’s also huge in acidity, grippy tannin and overall structure. Almost two-thirds new oak is used and the fortunate thing is really the highest quality fruit able to withstand this woody onslaught. Deep soils work hard for vines less than 25 years old, the upper strata built of clay-loam to sandy-loam and the substrata of river-washed cobbles and round stones. It was an early ripening vintage with harvest temperatures above the historical record. Not surprising to receive such a massive, not so much brooding but more like a swagger of attitude in a cabernet that can go the distance. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  vina.cobos  awsmwest  @VinaCobos  @AuthenticWineON  @vinacobos  @awsmon

Bodega Casarena Cabernet Sauvignon Owen’s Vineyard 2015, Luján De Cuyo, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (578062, $44.95, WineAlign)

Casarena’s Owen’s Vineyard is their special place, the key piece to this sector of the Luján De Cuyo puzzle. It’s importance is quite particular for the Napa Valley like repositioning of (Bourgogne) chardonnay and (Bordeaux) cabernet sauvignon. It’s a dry micro-climate with intense solar exposure and though not “mountain” fruit per se the wines draw upon matters of heliophany dictated by elevation. The Italian pergola-styled planted vines are old, some laid down as far back as 85 years in time. This approximately $30 US wine is a stunner, bloody beautiful in the darkest of Morello cherry red fruit that seems to macerate in its own liqueur. It is indeed reductive which only accentuates its freshness and there is a bountiful amount of acidity in support. Honest, apasionado, vehemente and intenso. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  bodegacasarena  noble_estates  @BodegaCasarena  @Noble_Estates  @BodegaCasarena  @NobleEstates

Filete at Luigi Bosca

Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon Alta Barrancas Vineyards 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (441907, $32.95, WineAlign)

Alta is a huge cabernet sauvignon needing air, still very reductive in a hard protective shell sort of intense way. There can be no argument about these aggressive or rustic tannins needing time to integrate and settle. All the structural components are part of the note taking and note to self to add to the Mendoza cabernet sauvignon discussion. This example may not be the first but it does sit at the lead in terms of showing a real cool, minty herbal streak and a distinct amaro finish. Big, big wine with plenty of upside. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  pascualtoso  eurovintage  @PascualToso  @Eurovintage  @pascualtosowinesargentina  @Eurovintage

The next @winesofarg is naturally skin-contact orange, rosé and white. Pure, nervy, crystal examples of great interest from @chakanawines @alpamanta and @domainealmanegra

White, Orange and Rosé

Domaine Alma Negra Blanco Producción Limitada 2017, Vino Argentino, Bebida Nacional, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From Ernesto Catena this is the second secret blend, a naranja vintage of the hide and seek, now you see a vino blanco, now an orange wine behind the mask. Maximum 500 cases are produced of this truly flexible white-ish orange, as it should be, as anyone’s guess and at the winemaker’s whimsy. “This comes from a place where you move away from knowing everything before you ever made a wine” explains Josefina Alessio on Ernesto’s behalf.  It’s meant to shake foundations and commit to things with blind and innocent intent. It’s a precocious orange, clean, pure, crisp and matter of fact. Smells like honey the drizzled over a tart slice of peach. The telling of varietal is kept hush but my money is on the likes of chardonnay, perhaps pinot gris and/or some torrontés. Nine months on skins, six in old barrels. Clarity and dumb luck precision with a pineapple dole of citrus, always in balance. Can’t believe it’s neither reductive nor oxidative and virtually tannin free. A 15 euro ex-cellar beauty. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  domainealmanegra  noble_estates    @Noble_Estates   @ernestocatenavineyards  @NobleEstates

Chakana Estate Selection Torrontés Naranja Edicion Limitada 2018, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This literal orange torrontés from only free run juice spent seven months on skins in 500L barrels. No additions, including sulphur but “we’re not interested in saying this is a natural wine,” insists winemaker Gabriel Bloise. “Because we’re not interested in the natural movement, but it is our pleasure.” Floral spice is a factor of “maceratión prolongada” as is the green melon, pomello and caviar. Takes torrontés to an entirely new level, in so many positive ways, with a salve, plenty of tannin and notice me character. Kudos for the exploration, for a team that’s clearly on to something and a winemaker acting on techniques that clearly float his boat. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  chakanawines  oeno2  @chakanawines  @oenophilia1  @bodegachakana  

Alpamanta Rosé Syrah Breva 2018, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

To call this a Rosé is to miss the point methinks. “In 2017 we decided to approach a new philosophy of wines,” explains Ukranian/Austrian/Dane/Argentine Managing Partner & CEO Andrej Razumovsky. It’s a perfectly lithe red wine made through the use of syrah picked real early direct to ferment in cement eggs for 11 months. The complete absence of second pressed grapes speaks not only to the method but also the teacher. “It goes well with intestines and seafood,” says Andrej. Now at a whopping 1,600 bottles made, which is in fact a great increase from the first vintage. Number two was a rainy one so six or seven months was not a sufficient amount of time to get this to its happy place. Pear, lemon and grapefruit are anti-red fruit notes but give it a good agitation to stave off reduction and then the wine just bursts with strawberry, fine bitters and endless aromatics imagined. It’s destined for danger and deliciousness because you really feel that you are drinking something that is alive. Not just from acidity, but like power breakfast juice that you would die for every morning. Killer stuff. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  alpamanta  rogersandcompanywines  @Alpamanta  @rogcowines   @alpamanta  @rogcowines

Navarro Correas Chardonnay Gran Reserva Alegoria 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

From Agrelo the Alegoria is chardonnay with true blue reduction and real apple bite. Spent six months in first and second use oak, now nicely aged with lemon-lime and orange zestiness. Toasty and quite wild from an ambient yeast ferment and shockingly crazy good. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  bodeganavarrocorreas  @BodegaNavarroCorreas

Bodega Piedra Negra Pinot Gris Reserve Vino Organico 2017, Los Chacayes, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

New to the François Lurton portfolio and for the market is this pinot gris in classic older world mode. It’s really fine, spirited and with a creaminess that is suggestive of experimentation. There is some oak treatment but also some time spent in concrete egg. With no compromise to acidity there is a lieu-dit specificity and completeness so that it expresses fruit in a wholly different way than grigio and all other white wines in Argentina. Kudos to Lurton for going the distance and spending some cash on a product to separate itself from the pack. It’s a pinot gris we want to drink but also one to watch for not too distant sidesteps into something changed. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegapiedranegra  @BgaPiedraNegra  @BPNvdu

Bodega El Esteco Torrontés Old Vines 1945 2018, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From the original plantings of torrontés, as far back as 1945 but mostly vines in the 60-70 year old range. As saline and diamond sandy as it is floral but just as expressive as any. Very direct, linear, again that salty component which you could call mineral but also full-fleshy like Rhône varietal wines in new world climes. Could pass for high acidity driven whites from California or Washington state. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaelesteco  #mondiaalliance  @ElEstecoWines  @Mondia_Alliance  @elestecowines  @mondiaalliance

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Torrontés 2018, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

Trained at Piattelli in Pergola, the ancient Mediterranean varietal is protected from direct sunlight and thrives in this desert where herbs of every imaginable kind grow wild and the aridity meets elevation and solar radiation. Piattelli’s is quite high in dry extract and concentration, ripeness and a maintained necessary acidity. This is the icon wine of the estate and few equal its magic in this vintage. It’s fresh, crunchy, crisp and explodes with tropical fruit. Bodes well for the ’18 reds. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  piattellivineyardsarg  piattellivineyardsusa  @piattelliusa  @PiattelliVineyardsARG  @PiattelliVineyardsUSA

La Mascota Chardonnay Unánime 2017, Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

Grown at 1,300m “the pet” chardonnay is given a name meaning “unanimous” meaning it’s a wine from and for people who all feel the same way. The wine was raised 50/50 in concrete egg and large (500-1000m) oak foudres. It’s a very tannic chardonnay, with a salve texture, spice and lemon-vanilla molten creaminess. Plenty of texture and bite, not over the top but certainly ambitious to quite successful. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  mascotavineyards  univinscanada  @UNIVINS  @MascotaVineyards  @UnivinsCanada

Good to go!

godello

Bodega DiamAndes, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

VINTAGES preview April 1st

When you see one grand cru you’ve seen another grand cru #nierstein #rheinhessen #rhein

Globe-trekking critics, be a fool for value, plug in to musical Ontario and align with new world pioneers

as seen on WineAlign

Last Thursday I flew home from Germany after attending Prowein 2017, a massive wine fair in Düsseldorf that has to be seen to be believed. Picture nine immense convention halls each the size, depth and breadth of a Canadian football field, connected to one another and circling a courtyard like hangars in surround of incoming and outgoing flights at a major airport. The sheer quantity of human power and logistical planning required to facilitate and execute such a congress is in fact not unlike what happens every day at Frankfurt International. There may not be 100,000 employed to run Prowein, but at least that many wine stems are engaged.

It’s also hard to believe that this time yesterday I was standing on the crest of the red sandstone Grand Cru Neirstein vineyards overlooking the Rhein River. In advance of my trip to Germany I had the chance to taste through next weekend’s VINTAGES April 1st release and you will be pleased to find no shortage of quality wines under $20, many of which will solve your in advance of Easter needs. A token pinot noir with an anything but token twist and two hopping chardonnays are included for classic holiday food and wine association but I dig deeper into soils, varietal diversification and terroir for holiday pairing perfection.

There is no secret that Spain and Portugal sit at or near the pinnacle of Ontario consumer go to picks in the genre occupied by bargain reds. While the two recommendations below will certainly pair well with a feast of festive proportions, they also resurrect some grape varieties you might not automatically consider. Alentejo in Portugal and Castilla Y Léon in Spain offer great opportunities to discover local, endemic, world-class red wines. This early spring Ontario cold snap will soon be a thing of 2017’s winter past so I would suggest to get that BBQ tune-up completed because these wines are perfect foils for anything you can throw on the grill.

Travelling brings us together with the leaders and pioneers of fast-tracking and emerging wine regions and it is the global nature of this industry that through their own travels, they are brought to us. In September of 2015 I had the great fortune to spend a night and better part of a day with South Africa’s Ken Forrester. You will have noticed that Western Cape chenin blanc has taken the world by value storm over the last three to four years. There are several reasons for the varietal explosion, two of which are geology and climate. The third worth mentioning is Ken Forrester himself. When I tasted with Ken in Stellenbosch we travelled through half a dozen or more blocks, plots, vineyards and stylistically framed steen. Each and every year his Old Vines Reserve passes through VINTAGES. It is perfectly consistent and sets the benchmark for inexpensive and excellent South African chenin blanc genius.

Nicolás Zapata Catena and his daughter Dr. Laura Catena have pioneered similar if even deeper industry-leading work in Mendoza, Argentina. The father-daughter dream team have crafted terroir-focused Malbec and other well suited to time and place varietal wines. Over the past few years the Catena brand has expanded their portfolio by narrowing their focus into micro-terroirs in highly specific spots all over Mendoza. It’s not just Catena that has taken this brilliant South American approach to branding and this April 1st VINTAGES release is chock full of such precise varietal wines. Though I of course would be thrilled to offer up credit to the power brokers and buyers that be I’m not sure I’d give in to the idea that the grouping was executed with any preconceived plan. The patterning, by coincidence or not is nevertheless highly welcomed and I’m pleased to share these wines with you.

The Ontario presence is strong, as it should be, on the heels of a terrific Taste Ontario that was as promising as it was not surprisingly expected. Stratus hits the riesling mark with Wildass abandon, Flat Rock plays its annual MTV chardonnay tune and Thirty Bench does a varietal two-step that may just blow your mind. We should all be thankful for our local talent and in constant awe of Ontario’s wine ability to step out of its comfort zone, consistently improve on what it already does best and find ways to re-invent the wheel.

With the incantevole @chianticlassico hills fading from view, thank you #toscana #anteprime2017 #anteprimeditoscana #chianticlassico #vinonobiledimontepulciano #brunellodimontalcino

Speaking of Ontario, David Lawrason and I are still reeling from three days spent with an impressive Canadian ambassadorship contingent stationed in Düsseldorf’s Messe Prowein centre, sent there to spread the cool climate wine gospel to the world. The enthusiastic demands on our collective time were great. We will expand on the success of Canada’s presence on this important world stage in the coming weeks. John and Sara have also been on the road, globetrotting to the far reaches of the wine diaspora. It’s getting hard to track who might be where at any given time but in the first three months of 2017 we’ve had at least California, Oregon, Uruguay, Chianti Classico, Montepulciano, Montalcino, Lazio, The Ahr Valley, The Rheinhessen and every corner of New Zealand covered.

Through the course of our travels we are granted the opportunity to meet producers and winemakers, taste their wines and we often come across exciting products not seen before in Ontario. These discoveries are becoming increasingly important because the agents in Ontario receive an assisted head start on finding new wines. With the WineAlign Exchange inching closer and closer to bringing the reality of expert curation to wine buying and purchasing in Ontario, the connections we forge to these values and gems may soon see to finding their way into your cellars and your glass.

Godello’s Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES April 1st:

Musical Ontario

Stratus Vineyards Riesling Wildass 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (129700, $16.95, WineAlign)

It’s really hard to say whether Stratus Vineyards’ J.L Groux is more adept as a varietal impresario or as a master of assemblage so we’ll just call it a tie. Here into the riesling game he goes in the mere mortal affordable Wildass range and in 2015 he plays a smart varietal tune. You’ve just got to get some Wildass.  @StratusWines

Flat Rock Chardonnay Unplugged 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (68015, $16.95, WineAlign)

The record keeps playing in rotation and the string remains unbroken with yet another quality vintage for the unoaked from Flat Rock. The crunchy apple and righteous waves of pertinence make this perennial best buy a required spin without any wonder why.  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd  @wine_gems

Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Double Noir 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (493973, $18.95, WineAlign)

The nomenclature is just so perfectly chosen and as you will find, this is a seamless joint between pinot and gamay noir. Double Noir performs the passe tout grains oeuvre from Ontario in combining two expatriate Burgundy grapes. I’ve long ago agreed these two make anything but strange bedfellows and the two grapes work seamlessly in Emma Garner’s new and idealistic red. Well done Thirty Bench. Pass the two grapes over, SVP.  @ThirtyBench

Align with new world pioneers

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (231282, $17.95, WineAlign)

Reserve is a funny term for wines like this because it speaks to the idea that it should be put aside fore further use. I don’t think that is Ken Forrester’s plan and here he once again raises his old vines game with the 2016 chenin blanc. Stellenbosch continues to dole out some of the planet’s most striking and finest whites with chenin blanc at the centre of it’s value universe. With major thanks to Ken Forrester.  @KFwines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA  @Noble_Estates

In Situ Reserva Carmenère 2015, Aconcagua Valley, Chile (37952, $16.95, WineAlign)

In case you were wondering too, “In Situ is crafted from grapes that ripen on steep slopes alongside mysterious rock drawings from ages past.” The only expansion on that bit of ambiguity I can share is the purity and clarity levels of carmenère are fully explained in this Reserva. Another fine BBQ wine for April flowers and showers.  @InSituWine  @WinesOfChile_CA  @WinesofChile

Echeverria Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Edition 2011, Central Valley, Chile (389221, $24.95, WineAlign)

Though labeled as cabernet sauvignon the Limited Edition is generously supported by syrah and carmenère, resulting in a layered and grossly rich red blend. The individual varieties don’t really stake any obvious claim and while their integration is not exactly seamless, the layering back and forth over one another does work some Central Valley magic. Complexity wins points.  @VinaEcheverria  @LiffordON  @WinesOfChile_CA  @WinesofChile

Catena Malbec Appellation Paraje 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (492413, $22.95, WineAlign)

Last November Dr. Laura Catena told a small Ontario press audience “it’s a fact. Different soils give different flavours.” The WineAlign team had previously sat down with winemaker Ernesto Badja for a full-on, wide-scale investigation into a climat-precise and compendious look at the proselytism of Catena culture. Paraje Altamira was one of these such looks into single-vineyard terroir.  @CatenaMalbec  @LauraCatena  @Noble_Estates  @ArgentinaWineCA  @winesofarg

Trapiche Malbec Perfiles Calcareous 2015, Mendoza, Argentina (482083, $18.95, WineAlign)

The savvy marketed Trapiche foray into soil matters with malbec divines the intention that calcaire (calcareo) brings speciality to these Uco Valley vines. It’s not a huge stretch to sense some limestone in this malbec’s make-up and I am wholly impressed by its countenance, its continuity from nose to tail and yes, its mineral feeling. So glad Trapiche is onside. @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines  @ArgentinaWineCA  @winesofarg

The best of the rest

Paulo Laureano Reserve Tinto 2014, Vidigueira, DOC Alentejo, Portugal (488775, $19.95, WineAlign)

From the still somewhat unheralded and rising to stardom Alentejo the grape expectation here from vidigueira is no shrinking Reserve. This would make for a curious consumer side step into something different but at the same time so obvious and comfortable. At this price you can’t afford to do neither.    @winesportugalCA  @wines_portugal  @Nicholaspearce_

Senorio de la Antigua Mencía 2012, IGP Castilla y Léon, Spain (481549, $13.95, WineAlign)

Some solid and in some circles, very old estate vines (30-50 years) in Villafranca del Bierzo gift mencia for a pittance. Rarely does a $14 old world red give so much for so little. Great round acidity and length off the cuff of a vibrant tune. Simply great value. One of the best you will find all year.  @WinesofSpainSL  @Wines_fromSpain

Groth Chardonnay Hillview Vineyard 2014, Napa Valley, California (225672, $57.95, WineAlign)

From a 44-acre Yountville vineyard founded in 1982 and (mostly) re-planted in 1996. This is a perfect and prime example of all the right directions Napa Chardonnay has taken in the last 10 years, with kudos to Suzanne Groth for embracing the ideal, from restraint, for elegance and in balance.  @GrothWines  @suzgroth  @CalifWines_CA  @CalifWines_US  @NapaVintners  @TheVine_RobGroh

Dutschke Shiraz GHR Neigbours 2013, Lyndoch, Barossa Valley, South Australia (247296, $26.95, WineAlign)

You just have to let go and find the fun in this Gods Hill Road shiraz, a wine of deep-rooted flavour. The utter deliciousness and unctuousness of Barossa is capitulated and catapulted into Lyndoch space. To say that charred meats hot of the grill would work perfectly right now would be utterly correct. To see this age for up to 10 years and eke out more elegance is also true. I would suggest endeavouring in both.  @DutschkeWines  @Wine_Australia

Glaetzer Shiraz Bishop 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia (627869, $39.95, WineAlign)

Ben Glaetzer’s incredible value Heartland cabernet sauvignon from this same release is not to be missed but I’ve chosen to focus on his flagship shiraz. From son Ben in ode to mother Judith, Bishop the maternal maiden name is the rock of the estate’s Barossa Valley reds. Bishop is a serious wine to be sure and this really leaves so much behind in the mouth long after it’s been sipped.  @GlaetzerWines  @Wine_Australia  @TheVine_RobGroh

Louis Moreau Chablis Domaine de Biéville 2015, Burgundy, France (106161, $27.95, WineAlign)

Just last week I stood in Moreau’s booth at Prowein and I talked with Frédérique Chamoy. She noted how excited buyers are about the 2015 Chablis. If you were ever to take the kimmeridgian plunge this quintessential Moreau and this vintage are the place to start, Pure, classic mineral Chablis with more fruit than I’ve ever seen.  @MoreauLouis1  @vinsdechablis  

Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva 2013, DOCG Tuscany, Italy (260802, $36.95, WineAlign)

Brancaia goes all in to exploit sangiovese and the for broke style solicits some patience to wait out in extra time. Though 16 months in barrel is nothing to call nothing it is not the wood that dominates these gregarious 2013 grapes. With time this swirls into a grosso sangiovese like liqueur with plums, cherries and spice. Really Riserva in style but not of the recent past, more like the older ways but translated to modern times.  @CasaBrancaia  @chianticlassico  @ChiantiClassUSA  @Noble_Estates

La Lecciaia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010, DOCG Tuscany, Italy (241307, $69.95, WineAlign)

From the giving 2010 vintage and so beautifully so gifted here with La Lecciaia’s 2010 Riserva. Sangiovese that rests in such an ethereal nether-land will evolve with decades long grace. Classic would be one way of looking at it, heart-warming another and it’s remarkably ready to drink.      

It’s been a whirlwind of a start to 2017 and I am personally glad to be home, for now, even if it’s only for a short time. After all, there are too many wine discoveries out there and if were to let them pass me by I would not be Godello. So before too long I will head back out on the road, join the fairs, searches, digs and bring some love back home. As for now it is the April 1st release that deserves our full attention. Sara will bring best buys and new finds next week. Looking forward to April 15th David and John will return with your first in line VINTAGES picks. Until then, good luck with the hunt, have a Happy Easter and an equally happy Passover.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Quick link to Michael’s WineAlign Mix

Catena out of the bag

inclined-to-think-this-block-has-the-best-microbes-catenamalbec-lauracatenamd-noble_estates-perfectname-adriannavineyard-vinodeparcela-mundusbacillusterrae-catenazapata-winesofargentina-mend

Inclined to think this block has the best microbes @CatenaMalbec @LauraCatenamd @Noble_Estates #perfectname #adriannavineyard #vinodeparcela #mundusbacillusterrae #catenazapata #winesofargentina #mendoza #gualtallary #tupungato

Argentina’s Bodega Catena Zapata is in the throes of self-professed “Three Revolutions.” The first was inspired by Napa Valley, a grand success story that convinced Nicolás Catena Zapata to pursue the consciousness of emulation. He made the decision to plant, cultivate and produce high quality cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. He infused his high-end domestic red with malbec, initiating a long history for this wine and a technique many others would follow. The old Italian traditions were eschewed for the Calif-French style. Catena has long since brought that wine to the world. The first revolution has been realized.

The development of extreme high altitude vineyards are at the crux of Catena’s second revolution. “When we talk about making a high altitude blend, we are actually taking about making a high altitude family of blends,” says Dr. Laura Catena, by way of introduction to a small faction of Toronto media. Plant selections and cuttings are employed with geneology and lineage. “To me climate has always been defined by latitude. Altitude is an entirely separate component. It’s a fact. Different soils give different flavours. I think the explanation lies in the microbes. Terroir needs to be redefined with these elements.”

Which leads to the third revolution, the current obsession defined by vinous archaeology, as if the Catena team are searching for fossils and signs of ancient life in the soil of their Adrianna Vineyard. They are in fact looking for diversity, variance and permutations, what viticulturists like to call micro-terroir. They are seeking to prove a French theory which attributes 100 per cent wine quality to terroir. Research is the mode de vie and who better to lead the revolution than the Harvard University-educated, biologist and physician Dr. Laura Catena. She and Head Winemaker Alejandro Vigil, along with Fernando Buscema and Vineyard Manager Luis Reginato have created the “Catena Institute of Wine.” What treasures they unearth will unlock the secret to the third “vineyard lot” revolution.

good-morning-lauracatenamd-vinodeparcela-altitudewines-appellationwines

Good morning @lauracatenamd #vinodeparcela #altitudewines #appellationwines

Their website reads “Leña Restaurante by Chef Anthony Walsh is an all-day dining destination, inspired by South American cooking, located at the corner of Yonge and Richmond.” Truer time-gastronomy continuum words are rarely spoken. We arrived early to meet Dr. Laura Catena, listened with great intent as she led us through nine appellation series and Adrianna Vineyard wines and then moved on to lunch. If ducking out early to catch an overseas flight were not an obstacle it would have added up to the better part of an all-day affair. I would have had no problem with that.

We are blessed in Toronto, this close-knit wine community of ours, with access to a never-ending flow of great wine. We are also graced by exceptional humans, wine purveyors, men and women who have assumed the thankless task of procuring the finest available products from around the globe, against all odds beneath the shadow of the world’s most tyrannical liquor system. Hats off to them.

tuna

Leña Restaurante’s Charcoal Bluefin Tuna, baked garlic potato, rapini, mojama, tomato

On November 9th Craig de Blois, Richard Dittmar and Mark Coster of Noble Estates, three smarter than your average bear, stand up guys played chaperone to Argentina’s Dr. Laura Catena in Toronto for this media tasting and trade lunch. We journalists and sommeliers are all well-versed in the Catena portfolio. My WineAlign colleagues and I had recently sat down with winemaker Ernesto Badja for a full-on, wide-scale investigation into a large section of the portfolio. This extraordinary and climat-precise sit-down went much further, deep into the soil for a compendious look at the proselytism of Catena culture.

Much of the discourse with Dr. Laura Catena during this visit focused on the science of soil, of microbes, bacteria and block by block vineyard investigations. I would expand further but I’ll just have to ask you to read the tasting notes below. Each of the very specific wines poured by Dr. Catena is driven by a particular block or a structured pyramid of amalgamated plots and the notes must speak to the science behind each expression. No more questions here. Just read the notes.

catena-appellation

Catena Vista Flores 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

The humidity of Vista Flores (where there is much more rainfall) makes for another level of compression and density in malbec. A very floral red, from violets and roses, mixed in with deep, dark fruit. The tannins are sous vide and subterranean, throaty, tobacco-laced and rigid. Gifts a soft peppery bite, fine dust, even finer tang, minty meets calcari feel. The purpose here is to elevate Catena’s cabernet sauvignon and malbec essentials into more curious consumer territory. Value here is strong and purposed so there is nothing to fear. Single vineyards are not always commercially sustainable but single terroirs are so much more likely so. This is the epitome of that concept for malbec in Mendoza. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June and November 2016

Catena Paraje Altamira Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

Paraje Altamira refers to something that is distant, far away, separated, a terroir where plots and places are dotted, separated by one another by some distance. Here Catena procures the flesh of the land with a malbec that delves deeper into earth and clay and procures a fuller, riper rich berry that goes to blue and boys. Though the tones of aromatic intensity and acidity are elevated, the ceiling is finite and the malbec juice is brilliantly protected. The earthy, material funk is all in, in surround and prevalent even as it finishes with the effects of great soil structure variegations. There is modern nebbiolo meets South African schisty syrah from mineral, smoked meat and smoulder in here. It’s got tartare running through its blood. Wow. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June and November 2016

Catena San Carlos Cabernet Franc 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here in 2014 the single terroir series cabernet franc by Catena heads in the right direction with elevated aromatic tones, so different than the malbec. Well enough aside and beyond just location, it seems San Carlos accentuates the acidity and the herbal conditioning to fruit, making it taste more like plum and pomegranate than berries. The barrel weighs yet does trod lightly on the ripe red fruit. There is great persistence in its gait, with additional black fruit from currants and berries. The pyrazines are low to almost noon-discernible. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted June and November 2016

Catena Agrelo Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

The aromatics fly from this four vineyard blend, more than the malbecs and certainly with haute plaisir as compared to the cabernet franc. The far-reaching amalgamation comes by way of La Pirámide Vineyard in the Agrelo district of Luján de Cuyo, Domingo Vineyard in the Villa Bastías district of Tupungato, Nicasia Vineyard located in Altamira in the La Consulta district of San Carlos and the high-altitude Adrianna Vineyard in the Gualtallary district of Tupungato. Travels well beyond fruit into florals and a sense of one another’s cumulative soil. What happens in Agrelo’s soils reacts with cabernet sauvignon or rather it allows (or encourages) these vines to draw something other. Something that is deep into a richness of tang, not an elevated acidity but a round and circuitous one. Balance is unearthed (literally) and this wine is extremely fresh, in fact it’s bloody delicious. A bit dusty and a few drops of bitters fall into it late so there is a minor sense of char and tar. Lingers like cabernet can and should. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted November 2016

"Bones sinking like stones, all that we fall for." @LauraCatenamd we live in a beautiful world when #chardonnay does this, and that #adriannavineyard #catenawines #bodegacatenazapata #gualtallary #tupungato #mendoza #vinodeparcela #whitebones #whitestones

“Bones sinking like stones, all that we fall for.” @LauraCatenamd we live in a beautiful world when #chardonnay does this, and that #adriannavineyard #catenawines #bodegacatenazapata #gualtallary #tupungato #mendoza #vinodeparcela #whitebones #whitestones

Bodega Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay White Stones 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $81.00, WineAlign)

The White Stones chardonnay from the altitude-aromatic-accelerating Adrianna Vineyard is part of Catena’s third revolution, in concert to understanding soil, led by Laura Catena, beginning here. From Laura’s passion for “parcelas,” micro-level soil locations, going back to an investigation that began in 2000. In a locale above a dried riverbed, leaving big rocks, limestone, sand and more rocks in various locations, with the use of 70 parcel bits per hectare showing what is where. Stones on the soil’s surface help to facilitate and create a micro-climate of warm days and very cold nights. From the outset it has to be said that no chardonnay from the southern hemisphere has ever intimated Burgundy as one smell and one taste as here it has done. It is noted as an impression deeply internalized from this single parcel within the vineyard. There are sticks and stones in elegant lines, subtle, demurred white flower aromas, lime-creamy fruit, petals and rock. A wow mouthfeel and flavour intensity. Wild-eyed acidity. All this could not have been laid clear, or bare, a year ago. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted November 2016

Bodega Catena Zapata Chardonnay Adrianna Vineyard White Bones 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $110.00, WineAlign)

The flip side of the Adrianna Vineyard is the antithetical White Bones, also part of Laura Catena’s third revolution, investigating and culling acuity from soil through the breakdown of the “parcelas.” These micro-level soil locations were first dissected in 2000 for the purpose of deconstructing Adrianna’s block-by-block diversity. The Bones necessarily draws from the ancient riverbed below, from its single parcel limestone, sand and rocks within the vineyard, though it seems quite deferential to the White Stones. It’s somehow fleshier and corporeal, of similar sticks but less stones. More bones, like an arm outstretched from the crackling skin of the roasting bird or swine. More gastronomy in that sense, less cool-climate and limestone a mere twinkle, not a shard or karst stuck like a needle into that arm. But the palate returns to join the stones with citrus and intensity. Chardonnay of concentration and balance with the soil crumbling like bones, shells and fossils into what is best described as Chablis. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted November 2016

chicken-soup

Leña Restaurante’s Mushroom and Lentil Soup, roasted chicken, swiss chard, lemon

Nicolás Catena Zapata 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (396960, $110.00, WineAlign)

The epiphany came after Jacques Lurton told Nicolás Catena “your cabernet sauvignon reminds me of the Languedoc.” So Nicolás went back to Argentina and planted at 5,000 feet of elevation. History changed. So the coolest (others insisted “you will never ripen at this altitude”) site produces this dry, dusty, intense cabernet sauvignon, the kind you can’t deny is possessive of powers unable to resist oozing dark black currants, chocolate and spice. Try musing about holes on the palate and if you find one it’s black into which once entered reveals no exit point. The back is very chocolate driven, of dark cacao, bitterless and strong. Note the balanced intervals of structure by fine-line drawn architecture and see where this will travel. For 10 more years until the fruit begins to dry and shrivel to further intensify. The mind’s obsession keeps returning back to the middle palate that drives the machine. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted November 2016

Catena Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae Malbec Vino De Parcela 2012, Mendoza (Agent, $130.00, WineAlign)

Catena’s Adrianna has clearly emerged as its most important vineyard and its biological dissolution is spurred by Laura Catena’s medical state of being and an unpropitious thirst for viticultural, micro-level knowledge. The analogical thinking machine delves deep into soil locations from an investigation that began in 2000. This section of Adrianna draws aridity and subtlety (as opposed to power) from the subterranean riverbed, leaving the big rock and heavy clay impart to others. From this single parcel within the vineyard the surprisingly attenuated and reserved character creates a new order for malbec, from Catena and the single-vineyard entablature. Quite pretty, floral and less volatile than not just Catena’s way but Mendoza malbec as a thing. A natural cure in the flavour profile tends to salumi and comes late. But even more respect is awarded because the overall personality is achieved without shrouding, sheathing or smouldering. It’s a very transparent malbec of extreme clarity, engaging and inviting. Singular actually. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted November 2016

Catena Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec 2011, Mendoza (Agent, $325.00, WineAlign)

In this extremely specific malbec from a diagnosed block of the Adrianna Vineyard we are graced with the micro-science of wine. And if you feel that using the name of an aerobic bacteria in the nomenclature is an odd choice, consider the mind of Dr. Laura Catena and her biological approach to viticulture. If we can understand and differentiate the microbes in the soil we can make better wine. It’s as simple as that. When wine is broken down to the biological level is becomes something entirely different and this is the road travelled by the Mundus Bacillus. Catena’s usage of 70 parcel pits per hectare has unearthed this single parcel within the vineyard, again completely different and the pinpointed microbial discussion initiates right here. The soil stakes a claim for this malbec only, certainly not in any way that tends to funk but surely as an impresario of soil. Talk about eugenics in the MBT because that science is compelling and can be related to in this wine. It can offer keys towards improving genetic quality of the vinous population. Here we are faced with rich and dusty, a mean streak of malbec intensity made elegant by earthly microbes. This section draws parallels to the (chardonnay) White Bones soil from which there transfers an excess of dry extract and tannin. Patience please for a malbec that will be long lived. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2016

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