Love in the time of a pandemic: Marchesi di Barolo

Trying to find birth year wines has been a fruitless and frustrating search and I’ve been at it for 20 years. That and the current situation in Italy is one of the major reasons why my December trip to Piemonte was more than successful, it was in fact a sign. On that I’ll get to in a moment because there is something more profound, a sentiment that struck as most significant in the moment and even more so in a retrospective look back. The hospitality and the outright determination to go to extreme lengths for the purpose of making personal connections is what drives the Piedmontese mentality. I made six appointments over three days in advance of that trip and all six producers wrote back saying they would be delighted to receive me though each were compromised by the pulls of events and commitments that would make it difficult to be there when I arrived. After the three-day tour was done, all six had found a way; Barbara Sandrone, Marina Marcarino, Milena, Francesca and Isidoro Vaira, Chiara and Giorgio Boschis, Angelo Gaja, Anna and Valentina Abbona.

Abbona Sandwich; Anna, Godello, Valentina

Related – Pull up a chair with Angelo Gaja in Barbaresco

I first met the Abbona family in July of 2017. It was Anna Abbona’s birthday and in their dining room that night Ernesto opened a 1958 at the ripe old age of 58 (though it would turn 59 later that year). Simply stated, in the words of the Abbona family, “a special evening, special friends, special vintage.” That is their story, of generosity, open arms and always, love. I don’t really know how they do it, always on and very present, but they do, for everyone, all around the world and especially in their home. As I stood in the cellar on December 1st, 2019 they proved me right again when out of nowhere Valentina appeared, straight from Rome, en route to another pressing appointment, to spend some time talking and sharing the Marchesi di Barolo spirit.

Wine transport in the 19th Century

Related – Barolo’s Sister and Brother Boschis

As the incumbent owners of the historic Barolo estate the Abbona family takes their custodianship very seriously. Researching and studying its history and provenance is at the fore of their concern. While running through the ideology of present day elévage we pause to consider such a construct. The “babies” are still fermented in concrete vats but many of the wines now begin their journey in stainless steel. Concrete is used for holding wines going back a few vintages and for those that have already seen their assemblage. Which brings us to the new barrel concept, which is a really quite an old one, dating back to the time of the last Marchesa, Giulia Vittorina Falletti Colbert. The wood of this barrel is modelled like the shape of a river boat or canoe, meant for wine to travel downstream and used exclusively back in the 1800s. The idea of the Botti della Marchesa has been resurrected and is now used for special cuvées.

“Botti della Marchesa,” the Marchesa’s Barrel

Related – November 30th in Piemonte: Sandrone and Punset

One more bit of information to share. The Marchesi di Falletti was considered historically to be the first to cultivate nebbiolo at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1895 Pietro Abbona joined his father’s vineyard not far from Barolo Castle and eventually purchased the historic cellars from the Falletti family. Four and five generations later; Ernesto, Anna, Valentina and Davide.

Related – Gone Vajra in Piemonte

The Abbona family has been running the historic cellars of the Marchesi di Barolo since 1929 which means we have entered the decade that will culminate in their 100th anniversary as proprietors of the most important estate. I’ve been to a party in their home and so I can only imagine what that celebration will be like. Long ahead of that event of the century will be the celebration that takes place when Italy and the world are set free from the disaster that has gripped, stymied and ravaged so many families. You can count on the Abbonas to be there when the day arrives, to open their doors and arms, to have loved in the time of and surely to love after the pandemic.

While in the tiny hamlet of Castiglione Falletto I wandered into Le Mura di San Rocco, the Enoteca run by Dario Destefanis. I noted many old vintages but nothing from 1966. I inquired with Dario and he said if I were to come back a day or two later he would pull some from his cellar and procure them for me. I did return and he sold them at the cost of a current vintage. They were ostensibly a gift, from the Marchesi, through the purchaser who stored them for five decades in perfect provenance and then bequeathed them to Dario. The Abbona family had a hand in this transaction, however unknowingly and for that and to them I will always be thankful. The Marchesa and the Marchesi di Falletti. The connection is not lost on me.

So much joy to make a return visit to Marchesi di Barolo in the village of Barolo. To taste so many wines and to be offered the special vintage of 1990. Grazie to the Abbona family and to Laura. Until next time. So many notes and memories are now ready to be shared. These are the lucky 13 wines tasted that day in December.

Marchesi Di Barolo Bric Amiel 2018, Langhe DOC, Piedmont, Italy

A blend of arneis, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc created by siblings Valentina and Davide Abbona. Top of the slope and honey because the Bric is a place where the bees liked to hang around. Only the fourth incarnation of this simple, refreshing and crisp white. Honey will be a part of this zesty lemon and lime wine’s near future. That much I think is guaranteed. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Arneis 2018, Roero DOC, Piedmont, Italy

No longer the white to draw the birds away from munching away on the nebbiolo here is arneis richer than many and of a proper mineral equality. There is something peach salty about this direct expression. Impressively seamless in its fruit to acid construct. A well made white of next level proportion. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Bossèt 2017, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC, Piedmont, Italy

A dolcetto that combs and brings the best of two worlds, the joy of drinking young and fresh but also a modicum of structure that will make for some added interest in a few years time. That’s noted by the white peppery tone at the back, not wood induced but just the true nature of a grape grown in a specific place. Quite heady for dolcetto with the body of knowable finesse. This dolcetto will win over a whole new category of consumers. They only need to get into the game. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Pieragal 2017, Barbera d’Alba DOC, Piedmont, Italy (485904, $40.95)

Planted straight across the road from the winery in a block that was always nebbiolo but financial frugality is not always put first. The game elevated in this barbera is a structural one and also one dictated by weight, but also density. French barriques does the work and the fruit obliges. A swirl of vanilla and dark berries whelm the ease so the indicative ideals say wait and then wait again a while longer. Barbera structured is a specifically splendored thing. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barbaresco Riserva DOCG 2014, Piedmont, Italy

Only Slavonian cask and no French wood for nebbiolo in Barbaresco form. The vineyards are classically parochial “terre bianche,” white calcareous soils so prevalent around the appellation. The fruit is well developed and rustically edgy, a purple fruit compote with some dried elements. One of those wise nebbiolo that has reached an advanced level of it’s ilk and yet is wise enough to know how to pause there going forward for an equally comfortable period of time. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barbaresco DOCG Serragrilli 2018, Piedmont, Italy

Serragrilli is the fresher and more approachable nebbiolo in Barbaresco clothing with easier tannins and yet still the classicism of Barbaresco ability. A note of liquorice and tar, plus the roses (candied and dried) of nebbiolo fame. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo La Tradizione Barolo DOCG 2015, Piedmont, Italy (168179, $43.95)

The most generous nebbiolo from arguably the more generous of vintages is all about fruit, in ability, compatibility and respectability. Fully ripened in two respects with intoxicating phenols stealing the proverbial aromatic show. Perfectly reasoned, seasoned and effectuated nebbiolo. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barolo DOCG Del Comune Di Barolo 2014, Piedmont, Italy ($72.00)

A return to some thoughts that make us think of older ways and remind of tradition that can never be forgotten. That’s the savoury quality of this cool vintage Barolo, a nebbiolo that speaks a truth many have left for dead. You can count on the Abbona family to let a vintage and its vineyard fruit talk the talk of a vernacular that can’t help but be uttered. Wild and shearing acids keep the fruit at bay, with laurel and whey, in an herbal-cool mention. The fruit will come back and emerge unscathed in a few year’s time. The fine tannin has spoken of that guarantee. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barolo DOCG Coste di Rose 2014, Piedmont, Italy

Surely the most delicate and fragile of the three cru Baroli from the Marchesi and the one to treat with nurture over nature. The fineness of all parts known and unknown are genuine, honest and even a bit naïve but it’s also precocious beyond its years. The vintage asks quite a lot from such a nebbiolo usually reared in delicasse so expect some dried fruit and so many roses. More rose petals than you can count at a Marquesa’s wedding. From an Arenaria sandstone site up from Bussia aged one-third in barriques and two-thirds in large Slavonian oak casks. Drink 2022-2035.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barolo DOCG Cannubi 2014, Piedmont, Italy ($84.95)

A soil structure somewhere between Coste di Rose and Sarmassa, marking the Barolo twain with a breath of fresh air and plenty of grip into structure. The second Cru nebbiolo Barolo is the bed that’s not too hard and not too soft, the one the tired and weary travveller would surely choose to lay down for a rest. Fruit is richer and more dense than Coste di Rose but ethereal as compared to Sarmassa. Of the three this Cannubi carries the most pronounced acidity and one to usher the fruit across two decades, plus the one we are leaving now. Like the others it rests in one-third French barriques and two-thirds in large Slavonian oak casks. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barolo DOCG Sarmassa 2014, Piedmont, Italy (337048, $84.95)

Stony soils with large calcareous rocks in a sun-trapping amphitheatre is the locale that forms the near-feral and quasi-animale Sarmassa Cru nebbiolo. Very impressive bone structure and far more elegance than Sarmassa likely to probably puts inside its pockets. The acidity is one of great fashion and taste. The complexity of pronouncement is exceptional for 2014 so expect decades of transformation to bely any negative press about this vintage. Sarmassa will prove every naysayer wrong. Patience will speak to this truth. As with both the Coste di Rose and Cannubi this bigger Barolo spends its rest in one-third in French barriques and two-thirds in large Slavonian Grandi Botti. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted December 2019

Marchesi Di Barolo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2011, Piedmont, Italy

Persistently impossible in its youthful state of ’11 grace and if nothing else were said that might just be enough. There’s an affinity with what we expect Sarmassa to smell like, with rich, grippy tones and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and desire. Showing the dark wood tones of the time and a high edgy quotient of an acid-tannin spectrum. So warming, baking spiced matched by cool herbal aperitíf and balanced at a higher perch of precipice. Still a tannic beast, yet unrelenting and clearly level-headed enough to intuit more time will be needed to enter a state of Riserva grace. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted December 2019

Unexpected late in the year taste of nearly 30 year-old nebbiolo was one of 19 in ’19 that blew my mind

Antiche Cantine Dei Marchesi Di Barolo 1990, Barolo Riserva, Piedmont, Italy

A grande dame or marchesa in the parlance of these woods, a nebbiolo of persistence, resilience and strength of character. Initiates contact with the past and a contract with tradition by way of the things that matter most. Family for one, roots dug into the earth second and the vineyard’s tongue, if it were able to speak. The overall gist in the parlance is heard and even understood although the dialect is hard to decipher if you are not of this place. This 1990 is found to be of high though level tempered energy and then with an ear, a nose and a soul so close to the earth. Smells like the soils amalgamated, preserved and demonstrated through the tempered liquor of a wise old 29 year-old nebbiolo. So much more than a piece of the past, this is an auguri gathering of storytelling, kin, culture and DNA. You must pay thanks for a chance to taste a thing such as this. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Pull up a chair with Angelo Gaja in Barbaresco

Gaja and Godello

On the first of December the morning light hits the tiny hamlet of Barbaresco with such dazzling clarity you have to squint to look out at any distance. Coupled with a cloudless sky, a patient and necessary visual adjustment will take in the Tanaro River and the Roero beyond. The vast Langhe expanse comes into perfect view, subtly emerging in layers of topography and incremental hue. The river runs through, Tanarus as it was known in ancient times, Tane or Tani in Piedmontese language, dividing line snaking through Langhe lands, plural form of langa, “a long, low-lying hill.” The origin is likely Celtic, combining the words bascule and tunga or lunga, “a moveable bridge, balance or seesaw” and “a narrow spit of land jutting out into the water or sea.” These moments, thoughts and considerations prepare one in advance of walking through the portal into the world of Gaja.

Related – One on one with Gaia Gaja

Barbaresco and the Langhe

The new garden

Sonia Franco, personal assistant to Angelo Gaja takes me on a trip back in time. We stand on the small terrace extending out from a northwest facing window with a view of the mountains in the background. Shifting land plates over one another in the Langhe created soils of silt and clay left behind by the ancient salty lakes. This affected the Roero and the Langhe in two very different ways. Irrigation would be pointless and potentially devastating due to erosion in the former because of the poor sandy soils. In the Langhe the limestone acts as a natural sponge, storing snow melt and spring rain to transfer to vine roots for the hotter summer months. Climate change has altered plantings and the view is no longer one of the “family’s garden” because densities have increased to encourage roots to dig deeper into the strata. Even more dramatic is the lack of rain between June 1st and September 30th, unless of course it comes by way of hailstorm and thunderstorm.

Morning in Barbaresco

Gaja works with 100 hectares split between Barolo and Barbaresco. It was Angelo’s father Giovanni who was so smitten with and sold on the latter in particular, especially around Treiso and the eponymous village. He acquired the land in the 1960s, including the three crus; Sorì San Lorenzo, Sorì Tildìn and Costa Russi. The oldest part of the cellar is from the 17th century and the second from the 18th. A great year sees a total production of somewhere between 300,000 and 350,000 bottles.

The Pope of Piemonte

Angelo Gaja has been referred to as “The King of Barbaresco” and for good measure. A man of utmost sincerity and reason, promoter and traveller in tireless work ethic. Producer who has spent the better part of sixty years explaining to anyone who will listen of Barbaresco’s importance while rising to the pinnacle of the local wine producing pantheon. Mr. Gaja’s reputation for storytelling is well-known and his ability to fashion excellence from his homeland is one of the great success stories of the 20th century. No one in Italy has found such intense success at his level nor can there be any question in how he has been raising the bar and floating all surrounding boats. Simply unparalleled in the world of wine. To bestow a moniker that merely encompasses Barbaresco is parochial and short-sighted. Say what you will about titles and honours but truth be told and many of his contemporaries believe it and in fact utter the term aloud. Angelo Gaja is indeed the Pope of Piemonte.

“They are very concerned in Nuits-Saint-Georges to keep an identity of site,” begins Mr. Gaja. He’s in free-form, stream of consciousness mode, just as a one-on-one meeting with him should be imagined. He’s dead serious. “We need to recognize that it belongs to us. I believe that we have in mind a great variety like nebbiolo, but it’s only in the last 15 years that it has been recognized around the world.” While so many look to technology and clean winemaking practices, Gaja looks at climate change as a major factor in quality increases over the last 20 years. “Five of ten vintages in the 60s, 70s and 80s were poor. The two years of 1965 and 1966 were very poor. The climate we have now, the ripening process is much more condensed and so there are less possibilities of problems. Summer heat is raising sugar and alcohol. This is more problematic for Barolo. All of these things are beneficial for late ripening varieties because of more ripeness and maturity but less aggressive tannins.”

The identity of the Langhe

“There is now a perception of Barolo and Barbaresco that was unthinkable 20 years ago. Think about it. Nebbiolo is 7,000 hectares. Cabernet Sauvignon is 350,000. For this reason the scarcity gives it a much better position of identity. In old vineyards you can sense white truffle and hazelnut, connecting it to its area. Also, the protection of the Alps helps to assist in the cultivation of late ripening varieties. If we are able to protect this combination of history and experience we don’t need any tourism. We need an authentic experience.” As for the identity of Barbaresco Gaja insists that “we have to protect medium-bodied wines and keeping a kind of balance.” Still believing that the work done in the cellar is just as important as the identity created in the vineyard, Angelo wonders aloud what will happen for the next 15-20 years as a result of further climate change. When asked directly if he is concerned “of course I am,” is the response. “In the past there was thick fog, like milk. What has happened to the fog?” Also less rain and more tourists. Perhaps what has transpired in the first half of 2020 will see a return of the fog.

“The perception is less risk,” he explains with regards to producers thinking that times are better. “That’s a mistake. We are in a time of climate change. That’s a big word.” If what has happened in the last four months is any harbinger than the overall problems are bigger than ever. It was the vintages of 2002 and 2003 that opened Angelo Gaja’s eyes and forced him to open his mind. “We have to modify our habits,” is not something new for Gaja but something he has been doing for decades, often 15-20 years ahead of everyone else. In the mid to late 2000s he hired ten scientific consultants in the fields of entomology, chemistry, agronomy, meteorology, etc., etc. to conduct a two decade study on soil, climate, parasites and pests. They have found that where once these natural disturbances attacked the vines one month a season it can now be as much as six months at a time. Doubling down are dramatic weather events and now viral assaults on humans. Time to hire an epidemiologist as well.

Better wines?

“If we have made better wines from better grapes I cannot say but what we have learned can be very useful for the future. The final goal can be recuperation and resilience for the grapes. A natural defence.” Ultimately the goal is what Gaja refers to as Gramló, a fantasy name in a special language that brings together notions and in contribution from French, German, Italian and dialectical Piedmontese. It’s operatic and means “clarity” but with no real words as its source. Gramló is what we all want to achieve but we have to take risks, be ahead of the curve and never stop looking, listening and learning. Trust Angelo Gaja to lead the way and that his children Gaia, Rossana and Giovanni will take the torch and do the same.

We all have wine tasting experiences that result in a-ha moments, revelations and epiphanies. At the outset of that first week of December I had such a moment because of a conversation. A long chat with Mr. Angelo Gaja. Mr. Gaja’s foresight to look and plan 15-20 years ahead means that both problems and successes are faced even before they have come. If you want to talk about climate change, do so with Angelo Gaja. If you would like to taste autorevole nebbiolo, go straight to Sorī San Lorenzo and Sorì Tildìn. On that December 1st day in Barbaresco I tasted the following five wines with Sonia Franco and Mr. Gaja.

Gaja Alteni Di Brassica 2017, Langhe DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($199.00)

Snow melt from a proper winter meant promise but there’s no avoiding climate change. Thus warm winds from North Africa saw to the vines anticipating early bloom. But in the flash of an eye the weather crashed and sent the plants reeling. While the challenge was propagated, miraculously the hail was avoided, though not the frost. Then a 36-39 degree summer and 80 days without rain. Major stress. A tiny production that marries Serralunga d’Alba with Barbaresco. The flinty sauvignon blanc relevance here may look Bordelais but is in fact Langhe because of the specificity of the saltiness that lines the fruit. Alteni means “stone walls” and Brassica a fragrant yellow flower. Not salted but running through the veins of the wine. A resilient and philosophically mineral wine structured with concentrated fruit and grape tannin. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Costa Russi 2017, Barbaresco DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($810.00)

Far ahead of harvest the reasons for 2017’s success were varied. Winter snow and its natural irrigation ignited early promise and climate change-influenced high density plantings sent roots down deeper. Warm North African winds, early bloom and a fast crash of the weather put the plants on edge. No hail though yes there was frost. Heat like no other summer and no rain for three and a half months. All added up to low yields and unprecedented stress. Costa Russi is a deeper and furthered wine which means a longer and more mature experience. Drawn from the “sharecropper’s side of the hill” in a lower to mid-slope position but with a different aspect and position (than the sorì) facing the sun. Oh how you feel the marl and the calcaire, surely exaggerated by the heat of the summer. Rich, luxe and intentionally fuller than many because you can’t go against a vintage grain. This Costa Russi follows the natural order of things. The Gaja Barbaresco that remember’s “the family’s garden.” Drink 2025-2040. Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì Tildìn 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($810.00)

Angelo Gaja sees 2016 as a perfect vintage in Barbaresco and the one from which climate change is viewed with great irony in the wink-wink guise of parenthetical thanks. That means the cosmic and astronomical alignment makes for wines that are both pleasant in their youth and also impossibly structured to age. Named for the sunny position of the slope and Mr. Gaja’s grandmother Clotilde. Now the clay and the calcaire have conspired, along with the purchased land of which Clotilde was custodian and in how she pushed her husband to make great wine. The vines are now on average 50 years-old and the composition meeting aspect bring a depth of complexity as poignant as it gets in this tiny part of nebbiolo production. All the flowers, rocks and elements are contained within the interior walls of this gently forceful Langhe red. It mimics the matriarch by the strongest power of suggestion and will not take no for an answer. Perhaps never will. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì San Lorenzo 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($810.00)

Was a perfect vintage and the one from which climate change is viewed with great thanks. That means wines are both pleasant younger and also structured to age. Sorì San Lorenzo like Tildin is the sunny spot facing south, the patron saint and protector of Alba’s Cathedral. Incidentally the church owned this vineyard and Gaja purchased the plot in the 1960s. The vineyard drops directly from the village and its vines average 55 years of age. You feel the wood at this young stage but of course you do. Sorì San Lorenzo carries a connection to the land that is deep into hubris and humus. No disrespect to Tildin but the connection here is formidable, the bond unbreakable. There is no exaggeration in saying that ’16 Sorì San Lorenzo offers up a moment of nebbiolo epiphany, that is takes control of the senses and instills a feeling of comfort, but at the same time an unexplained awe. That is due in fact to the place and no further explanation is required. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sperss 2015, Barolo DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($435.05)

The vintage of 2015 offered weather slightly warmer than 2016 and yet less blocks of structure. Not to mention moving further south by 25 kilometeres into Barolo where it really is just that much warmer. Twelve hectares purchased in 1988 are located in Serralunga d’Alba and Sperss refers to the name of the land. In Piedmontese the word is “nostalgia” and the connection is for Angelo’s father Giovanni and his childhood memories. Marenca-Rivette sub-region of Serralunga and the fruit comes out so red in nature, beautifully chalky and very influenced by the one year in smaller barrels, accentuated further by six months in grandi botti. That is why it is released a year later than the Barbaresci. The texture is silkier in a way while not as transparent but comparisons are fruitless in the end. This nebbiolo stands alone and worthy of its own regal position. Warm and complex, more than intriguing and so age worthy. Drink 2024-2035.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

Godello

Gaja and Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Barolo’s Sister and Brother Boschis

Giorgio and Chiara Boschis

Many have visited E. Pira & Figli’s cellars, tasted and broken bread with sister Chiara and brother Giorgio Boschis. I am certainly not the first nor the 500th but looking back at my visit with the Barolo sorella e fratello team on December 1st now seems to carry more weight than even I could have imagined. When we consider what has happened in Piemonte, up and down Italy and increasingly around the world over these past four months makes the timing all the more special.

Godello and Chiara Boschis

I did in fact have the great fortune to taste and spend more time with Giorgio in January over dinner in Alba during the days of Nebbiolo Prima 2020. There is so much to know, admire and appreciate about these two special Piedmontesi, the level of respect afforded the work they’ve put in and a level of humanity to give meaning to the spiritual endearment “Brother Giorgio and Sister Chiara.” They are part of the integral and collective soul of Piemonte, Barolo, the vineyards they steward and the wines they fashion from lands larger than life.

Godello and Giorgio Boschis in Alba, January 2020

Going back to the 1700s the Pirras were from Sardegna and the name morphed into Pirra. Then in more recent times Pira. In 1980 the legendary Gigi Pira, owner of E. Pira passed away. With no heirs to carry on a request for assistance was made to the Boschis-Borgogno family. Chiara Boschis’ father Franco purchased the cantina and vineyards and made the wines for a spell. She finished studies in Turin, cut her teeth working at Rivetti and took over Pira. This was by now long after the winery was established and present in the village of Barolo, in what Chiara refers to as the “Golden Ages” that begun in the 1850s. After Phylloxera ravaged the vineyards and did away with prosperity the youth left and the old remained, including Franco, one of the very few. Fast forward to the new golden times and Chiara Boschis becomes one of the “Barolo Boys,” a rat pack moniker bestowed on young nebbiolo toting winemakers, including Elio Altare, Giorgio Rivetti, Roberto Voerzio, Elio Grasso, Lorenzo Accomasso, Alessandro and Bruno Ceretto, Beppe and Marta Rinalidi, Beppe Caviola and Marc de Grazia. The lone woman? Chiara Boschis.

Chiara the pioneer was the scrappiest of the scrappy winemakers, carrying the Pira torch through the growth period of the late 80s and into the 90s, in a time when the collective plan involved “improving quality and the attention of the international markets.” She worked to reduce production, clean the cellars, install new wood and equipment and most important, the vinification of single crus. She started with Cannubi and Terlo, then in 2010 registered a “fantasy name” to make a cru assemblage. The new equipment refined the wines and practicing cellar hygiene led to the elimination of the dirty smells.

Giorgio Boschis

Robert Parker came to Alba in the 90s and announced the wines as too rustic. A light shone in the minds of the youngest winemakers who knew what had to be done. There were only 30 wineries in the area after the second world war, now there are more than 600. Boschis has always avoided the temptations. “We didn’t want to become the California winemaker. The pride of our roots took us to a much higher level and now it’s fancy to be traditional, even if so few are truly family anymore. The fact is we really just wanted to have clean wines.”

Chiara Boschis

Chiara has always farmed organic and was finally certified in 2010, the year Giorgio joined hands. Together they purchased more vineyard space in the areas of Monforte and Serralunga. Cannubi and Mosconi are the two crus and they also produce their assemblage Via Nuova from several significant plots like Terlo and Liste in the commune of Barolo; Gabutti and Baudana in Serralunga d’Alba; Ravera from Monforte and Mosconi in Monforte d’Alba. Total farmed is 11 hectares producing 35-40 thousand bottles. Generally speaking the barrel program is one-third each new, one year and two years old wood of half and half barriques and botti. The exception is Mosconi which sees more barriques because, “it’s so much fruit.”

These are the five wines tasted with Chiara in the cantina plus one more with Giorgio in Alba.

E. Pira & Figli Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2018, Piedmont, Italy ($30.95)

In the words of Chiara Boschis. “For me the dolcetto is part of my background, my history, the memories of the family.” Now listen closely to this dolcetto because a challenge will bring the best out of a winemaker and her wines. “This is the dolcetto that i like, fresh, fruity, drinking well.” The fruit comes from three plots in Monforte; Le Coste, Mosconi and Ravera. Not for aging, lacking structure but certainly not lacking in elegance and pleasure. Finishes with a white peppery kick. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

E. Pira & Figli Barbera d’Alba DOC 2017, Piedmont, Italy ($43.95)

More potential than dolcetto and here the triangular travelling from flowers, through spice and into avid acidity makes this real, honest, true and long. One year in barrel (old only) and fruit drawn out of vineyards in Mosconi, Ravera (Monforte) and the lower, south facing part of Gabutti (Serralunga). Refreshing and so perfectly aligned, plus essentially designed to handle olive oil in every incantation, especially meats cooked and fried in the fats of the area. Only 4,000-5,000 bottles produced. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted December 2019

E. Pira & Figli Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2017, Piedmont, Italy ($50.95)

Now into nebbiolo that is highly floral from one dedicated vineyard in Le Coste, of “bello” respect. High-level nebbiolo factor, traditional and extreme clarity. If most of the Barolo were drawn, executed and nurtured to prepare themselves to be this elegant than all would command full and utter attention. So pretty and wise, so joyous to be with. Clearly the vineyard is to thank. Might as well be Barolo? Nah, that misses the point. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2019

E. Pira & Figli Barolo DOCG Via Nuova 2016, Piedmont, Italy

Via Nuova is the assemblage, the house wine, Vigna della Casa and a wine of all encompassing perfume. A mix of finesse and structure. Also textured with a charming glycerin and experiential moments in thyme. There is much pride and dreaming hope for 2016, with great aging potential. The tannins creep up, take hold and remain, secured and bonded. That’s nebbiolo grip and persistence incarnate. Drink 2023-2035.  Tasted December 2019

E. Pira & Figli Barolo DOCG Mosconi 2016, Piedmont, Italy

Why is Mosconi so special. “Why is anyone more beautiful than the other?” Nature. A connection to Domenico Clerico and when Chiara had a chance to join this plot she jumped. The flowers come at you in waves. The fruit is everywhere and all is stored inside, kept safe, comforted and comfortable. South facing below the village and again it just must be the place that brings this level of joy, elegance and structure. There are 25-30 years of life ahead for this 2016. So glad Chiara became a part of la squadra Mosconi. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted December 2019

E. Pira & Figli Barolo DOCG Mosconi 2015, Piedmont, Italy

Mosconi is simply Mosconi, exquisite, powerful, elegant and grippy. Mosconi in the hands of Chiara Boschis in possession of so much 2015 fruit (though when is it void in such a regard) and so more barriques to less botti ratio increases the textural component. Mosconi comes at you in waves, oscillations there of and with swaths of Rothko tactility. Paints Barolo red in incremental minutia through all the advancing warmth that can be coalesced in one bottle of nebbiolo. Generosity incarnate and the one to drink whilst you wait for 10s, 11s, 12s and especially 16s. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

Godello

Giorgio and Chiara Boschis

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November 30th in Piemonte: Sandrone and Punset

In quieter, happier and still innocent times there were days when you could freely take a Saturday morning drive down the A33 from Asti, skirt past Alba and into the sleepy environs of Castiglione Falletto. On that last sunny one of November I did just that to pay a visit with Barbara Sandrone. Later that day I moved north to Barbaresco to do the same with Marina Marcarino at Azienda Agricola Biologica Punset. I am thinking of them both and their families at this most challenging time of the past 75 years. Their estates are so very different and yet both Barbara and Marina are two of Piemonte’s strongest women, fearless in their pursuit of excellence, integrity and their respective family’s dreams to tell exacting stories of very specific places.

With Marina Marcarino

Sandrone in found south down the slope and slightly to the west of the tiny hamlet of Castiglione Falletto, also the name of the commune in the Province of Cuneo. The town of Barolo is further afield south down SP3 Via Alba. Barbara’s family wines are made by her father Luciano, pioneer, founder and visionary, along with her uncle Luca. Luciano founded the winery in 1978 after working at Borgogno and being the cellar master in charge at Marchesi di Barolo. One of the winery’s most progressive concepts is actually a retro one. They concern Barolo that are neither selections nor Riserva but rather of intuition, “to free nebbiolo’s innate resistance to time.” Sibi et Paucis, “a few who are the favoured,” in that a small percentage of the three seminal nebbolo bottlings are held and stored in the winery’s cellar. “The harmony of wine expressed through passion and patience” is Sandrone’s credo and it is the Valmaggiore, plus Le Vigne and Aleste Barolo that are released six, 10 and 10 years forward (respectively) to supply restaurants with a desire to sell old vintages, but don’t necessarily have the space to store them. Here are the five wines I tasted that morning at Sandrone. Thank you Barbara and I hope you and your family are well.

With Barbara Sandrone

Sandrone

Sandrone Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2018 ($29.95)

The keys to the dolcetto city are granted when fruit, freshness and high level acidity coordinate as they do in bringing 10 different plot expressions together from Monforte and Barolo. High level excitability in control and though it has a short life expectancy (three to four years) there is charm and there is balance. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2019

Sandrone Barbera d’Alba DOC 2018 ($44.95)

From the area very close to Grasso at the top of the hill at 450m. Dark black cherry and weight from a hot vintage and so the wind and the aerification up at this great Langhe height has kept the wine fresh and breezy. Works well to accede and succeed going forward. Crisp for barbera d’alba. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2019

Sandrone Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC Valmaggiore 2017 ($59.95)

Comes from sandy soils in Roero, the youngest and more openly friendly of the three brothers, along with Le Vigne and Aleste. One year in tonneaux and one year in bottle. Chalky and largely chunky but always the acidity and the charm. Solid as it can possibly get for the appellation, a mid-term traveller with everything under control. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Saturday morning @sandroneluciano on a perfectly November Piedmontese day. Grazie Barbara. Yours, your father’s and your family’s wines take care to do what’s good and beautiful and right.

Sandrone Barolo DOCG Le Vigne 2015 ($159.95)

A formidable construct forms the outline and strengthens the bones of Sandrone’s Le Vigne. This nebbiolo strikes the heart with what just seems like the crux-filling soul of these nebbioli standing at its own attention with intention and promise. The inner sanctum of succulence and intentionally high-strung parts moves the dial in the direction of forever with time-stopping ability. There seems no way forward now while at the same time the earth revolves because you just know it does. But you can’t feel it. What you can feel is yourself breathing and Le Vigne is teaching you through the moment. Drink 2023-2035.  Tasted November 2019

Sandrone Barolo DOCG Aleste 2015 ($179.95)

Aleste goes deeper and more introspectively into the clay and limestone with this uncanny ability and intuitiveness to mimic its compact terroir. You can imagine the nebbiolo here softening in cold, wet months and hardening when dry and warm. The tannic structure is not that of Le Vigne and in a way (if I can be allowed to say) there is more Luciano Sandrone’s youth years in Aleste and more morbido times of wisdom in Le Vigne. There can be no reason to consume cases of Aleste any earlier than the age of 10, or even 15. It’s packed so tight and without holes in its armour for to ensure longevity with the greatest Baroli and that includes the most historical, traditional and famous. What a moment this wine gives and will bring to those who make one their own. Drink 2025-2040.  Tasted November 2019

Azienda Agricola Biologica Punset

After a brief stop for lunch in Castiglione Falletto I made my way back up the Autostrada, took the SP3 Barbaresco off-ramp, crossed over the Tanaro, turned towards Castagnole Lanze and headed for Neive. In the hills above the village is Azienda Agricola Biologica Punset. The literal meaning is “beautiful hill” or “peak,” a name derived from dialectical Piedmontese legend which tells of this nickname given by the Count of Neive. Punset is run by fifth generation winemaker Marina Marcarino, organic instrumentalist, agricultural trailblazer and arguably the Langhe’s greatest disco dancer. Marcarino made a decision to farm organically in the 80s when commercialism, conventionalism and conservatism were the rampant norm. She was the witch of Barbaresco, feared and surely admired though many did not yet understand the breadth of her powers.

Today’s world of natural wine has got nothing on Marina Marcarino. She was into the match long before today’s winemakers were even out of huggies. Marina explains what her wishes are going forward. “What I would like for the future? Being able to communicate my experience as an example of personal achievement to the new generations, spurring them to get into the game.” Never before have philosophies like this meant so much. Most recently Marcarino has devoted an incredible amount of time and effort as President of the L’Associazione Produttori Vini Albesi. Dear Marina, I trust you are staying positive through these troubling months and I have an important request. When we all come through this, please save the next dance for me. These are the nine wines tasted with Marina on that day in late November.

Punset Neh! Langhe Bianco DOC 2018 ($18.95)

Ne’? is the “Piedmontese” way of ending a sentence, like ‘eh in Canada. A 50-50 arneis and favortita mix, salt missive over fruit and extremely fresh. The aperitíf white that connects dialectal territory with those in the diaspora that want a taste. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Neh! Langhe Rosso DOC 2017 ($18.95)

Mainly dolcetto (70 per cent) with barbera and nebbiolo. Not much of the latter but necessary to widen the expression of the Langhe. Here it’s an explanation point, not a question, as in a confirmation of the exclamatory Piedmontese expression. Bright red amalgamated fruit with proper acidity and the ability to work alongside anyone and all. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Arneis Langhe DOC 2018 ($26.95)

The gastronomic DOC Langhe with 100 per cent arneis and right from the top you can tell the difference. Not just the increase in limestone mineral push but also texture and even structure. Liquid salty wave, creamy without abandoning roots and reason. Lingers longer than most arneis and you’re very pleased to have it hang about. Besides it’s more a winter white than a summer one. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Dolcetto d’Alba Langhe DOC 2017 ($21.95)

The luxuriously natural dolcetto, richly phenolic and rustic, lactic and reasonably so. A pure varietal expression, true to place and to form. Great fruit and essential first course red. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Barbera d’Alba DOC 2018 ($24.95)

From two vineyards, one planted in 1996 and one in 2003. Rich and spicy with some of the varieties’ greatest clarity. Very few comes across with this sort of red fruit. Maintains the fragrance and the “frankness” of the variety. No French oak, no confiture. “It’s the easiest wine for us because we do nothing,“ shrugs Marina Marcarino, expect for picking at the right times and pressing gently. That and cement. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2017 ($31.95)

From the tiniest production made from the youngest vines from times when there is more vegetation and verticality for health. This practice started about 20 years ago, which harks to a very specific pruning system and because Guyot is tough on the vines. They are nurtured like the children they are and the results are in the natural order of things and in the personality of this genuine Langhe. It’s volatile you should know. It’s also biodynamic, dynamic and beautiful. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2014 (302786, $66.95)

Very traditional nebbiolo coming from the southeast part of Marina Marcarino’s vineyards, very steep, the rock bed 8m deep. Classic nebbiolo with classic tannins, 40 days on skin, softly removed. Slavonian 2500L and no less than two years refining time, 14 months of that in the wood. Emits a not to be missed scent of menthol and faint herbs mixed with fennocchio, It’s the vineyard talking and though we would want to there’s nothing more to specifically name, so just chalk it up to memories created, of another time and in this same place. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2019

Punset Barbaresco DOCG Basarin 2013 (302786, $66.95)

If 2014 in general was not considered a great vintage it might as well have been so here, of mild temperatures and not so wet. Fresh and excitedly savoury with a mint-vegetative note but it matters little because this ’13 is different and was built with bigger structure, not the power of some and many, though surely these never are. The aroma is very similar and so we deduce that this is what Punset Barbaresco smells exactly like. Something growing in the vineyard, or maybe something deep and well within the ground, or even in the air. It’s just what it smells like. An aroma divine. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2019

An afternoon tasting through the Neive wines of Italy’s first organic wine producer. Marina Marcarino began her impassioned and unwavering journey in 1982 ~ Shout out to @nicholaspearcewines for getting these gems to Ontario.

Punset Barbaresco DOCG Campo Quadro Riserva 2012 ($71.95)

A cru Barbaresco, meaning squared, and the place is just like a painting. Carries a double entendre and as Marina Marcarino explains, there “probably is a third meaning that we don’t know.” Take in the math of 12,000 square metres and 12,000 bottles of wine produced, making use of 70 per cent of the potential. Different aromatics than the very traditional, non-Riserva Barbaresco, deeper and richer, more sweet red fruit and less savour. A bigger vintage, with a similar fermentation and aged in French barriques and botti. Some spice for sure, with 36 wood aging a major part of the profile, followed by 36 further months in bottle. Great structure, wild ride, all in total control. Drink 2022-2033.  Tasted November 2019

Good to go!

godello

Castiglione Falletto from Via Alba

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Gone Vajra in Piemonte

Stained Glass Window by Padre Costantino Ruggeri and Vajra’s Inox Tanks

Head west from the village of Barolo, climb the SP3 up to 400 metres above sea level and you will arrive in Vergne, the highest village of the regal Piedmontese appellation. This is where the most forward thinking, visionary and traditionally romantic estate of G. D. Vajra is found. Vajra is the house that Aldo and Milena Vaira built, are in the continued process of building (literally) and produce wines along with their children, Francesca, Giuseppe and Isidoro. On a recent December 2019 trip to Piemonte I drove down the A33 from Asti through Alba, skirted Barolo up the SP3 to spend a few hours with Isidoro and Francesca Vaira on a soggy Sunday morning. Vajra’s wines have been trending big time, gaining ground, rising in prominence and spreading fast. I knew it was time to find out why things have gone Vajra.

Family, roots and vineyards. Having talked and tasted with Francesca and Isidoro @vajra_barolo there can be no doubt many words and feelings will follow. Their’s is a story of resilience and constant renewal.

If you engage in obsessive study or even share a casual interest in religious iconography and emblematic ordnance then the term Vajra will no doubt be recognizable. Vajra, a symbolic ritual tool or object used in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism to represent the unyielding power of spirit. Vajra, the symbol of the Vajrayāna school of Buddhism, a type of club with a ribbed spherical head, the “diamond thunderbolt.” The family may not adhere to the far eastern credo or for that matter even mention any possibility of connection, but a listen to their story and a study of their life’s work can be looked at in the emblematic light of ideals relating to indestructibility and irresistible force. An explanation is forthcoming and in due course.

Dude’s getting married next week. No wonder Isidoro Vaira is a happy man.

It’s only one week before his wedding and Isidoro generously takes the time to meet. He begins with a winter’s tale, extolling the virtues of snow cover, which incidentally arrived to the slopes in December and early January, then subsequently disappeared for the remainder of the mild 2020 winter. The Piedmontese saying goes like this. Sotto la neve, il pane, orunder the snow, the bread.” Snow is better than water because it holds more oxygen and encourages the plants to draw more nutrients from the soil. This is an example of generational knowledge because as Isidoro reminds us, when you spend time with your father and the elders “you learn the importance of nature.”

sotto la neve, il pane

under the snow, the bread

Aldo Vaira began this six decades old journey in 1970 with a 0.3 hectare plot at Bricco Viole. The first vintage was 1972, of no ripeness and fruit sold away. He thought “with this money I don’t pay for my work,” and so began to bottle for himself. By 1986 Aldo was farming seven hectares but on the 29th of May the storm of the century killed everything, save for 300 bottles worth of fruit. He was in his mid-30s, with one child already born and two more to come over the next four years. It was what we call the point of calling it quits or forging ahead with no turning back. Milena stepped up, in fortitude, conviction and an ultimatum issued to her husband. Aldo responded, made a life decision and ploughed ahead.

The Vairas began anew, hailstorms occurring five to seven times each decade be damned and dug their heels into the Vergne terra firma.  With experience as a teacher and having built a winery Aldo became affectionately known as Dutur, a dialectical Piedmontese term of endearment which could allude to the word doctor but also as a part of the Italian word for producer, or produttore. Francesca tells me that 1986 is the vintage form which “you could have (or begin) your dream, by being resilient, persistent and move forward.” She shrugs. “It had to be a priority.” And so from 1986 on the Viaras completely changed direction and course.

Thirty-three years have beget great success. Francesca explains the impetuses for how her family goes about their lives. “What we have learned from our parents is not just life and to make wine but a social motivation to have the life of the people. Imagine a life without these things; music, art, books and wine. It’s not possible.” The goal is to make connections. “We need to make wine to make people happy. Our prices are very democratic.” There are always new considerations, like the “diversification of risk” and it has become the ingrained philosophy, in terms of wines and varieties but also the idea of a two-month long picking time. Always diversity, all the time. One step inside the winery and the light shines in. The stained glass windows that adorn the fermentation room are a reflection of everything that is embodied by the Vajra oeuvre.

They hang in their stark and prolate ways as a severe yet arrant contrast to the line of steel tanks below. When Aldo and Milena went to visit the artist at Canepanova Convent in Pavia he answered the door dressed as a Franciscan Monk with a blue hat. A crazy man in a crazy beautiful studio. Padre Costantino Ruggeri was in fact a real monk, ordained a priest in 1951 by Cardinal Schuster in the Cathedral of Milan. That meeting yielded no conclusion for a commission, or so thought the Vairas, that is until the Father showed up with the first installation, in 1989. He was given no instruction or direction. The rest as they say is history and the works are nothing short of magnificent. They succeed, in Ruggeri’s words, “in that moment of light and mystery the stained glass window captures (the infinite) and introduces it naturally into the temple, as a total dimension that is divine as well as human.” The metal that holds the glass is effected a piombo, aplomb, vertical, exact. No two pieces are the same.

What congruence links a Ruggeri stained glass to other masterpieces of art? Gazing upon the padre’s windows elicits a feeling of consonance and beauty is easy to find. They are arranged exactly as they should be, that much is clear. Their power is felt because of their interaction with their cold and utilitarian surroundings. They hold our gaze and work together with us, inexplicably and without reservation. Their universal appeal transfers energy, pivots, solicits our personal and singular nature so that we share in their consonant form.

On June 24th 2007, his last sculptural work representing “Franciacorta’s Facets” was presented in Adro, his birthplace. On the following day, June 25th 2007, Costantino died at the hospital of Merate, near the convent of Sabbianello, where he had spent the last weeks of his life. The spirit of his work carries on at Vajra where 160 different fermentations are carried out because explains Francesca “harvest is the only time of year when you can really learn. If you have to ask for permission then you are not a true artist.” Just like Father Costantino who created without asking.

“Always think of the cherry. The grapes will follow,” reminds Isidoro. Organics. Methodologies. Patience. Picking decisions are made day by day, by brother Giuseppe and by Aldo. For them 2018 was a great nebbiolo vintage, of cold nights and warm days with humidity. The high risk of rainstorms at harvest made for some sleepless nights and the weather was tough on the skins of the grapes. So 100 pickers were employed, to ensure quality but Vajra’s altitude and attitude makes them one of the last to pick so the harvesters were available. They finished on October 22nd and in 2019 on the 23rd. 

On that day in December Francesca poured seven of her family’s wines, including riesling, dolcetto, freisa, barbera and nebbiolo. These are my notes.

G.D. Vajra Riesling Pétracine 2018, Langhe DOC ($55.95)

The law changed to be able to plant in 1985 and a new opportunity arose in 2018 for a vineyard with sandy soil beneath the clay. Going back the first planting came from a Geisenheim clonal selection and planted at the top of the hill above the cru Fossati. The second vineyard is from Marcel Deiss clonal selection material, just outside the Barolo production area. Here a combination of the two, and the first wine that got together was 2011. There’s weight, energy and balance to this riesling and it is so very real. Remarkable verve and youthful freshness and the impression of great aridity. It is in fact quite dry. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Coste & Fossati 2018, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC ($31.95)

From two old cru Barolo vineyards, Coste di Vergne and Fossati, close by to one another at the top of their shared hill. De-stemmed and crushed separately, of vines 40 years in age. If there is dolcetto that carries the structure to age you best believe this is the one. Tannic in its youth, a house with the potential to grow roses in one year and then violets in another. Modern and grounded, better with fresh eggs and delicate proteins, certainly the romantic tartufo Piemondtese. Already teasing something floral but still in a shell and cast under a spell. Wait two years or more. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba DOC 2017 ($31.95)

Like the dolcetto, barbera is drawn off of two vineyards with tow soil types, from Bricco delle Viole and in Serralunga d’Alba, Bricco Bertone. An east-west expression, at once rich and luxurious and then inward, implosive and almost intolerant. Could only be barbera with its sweet fruit and dark berry compote but it’s a variety that needs time, it needs the bottle and then, the glass. Somehow bright through all the dark fruit, like the singular stained glass that allows light to shine in.  Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Kyè 2015, Freisa Langhe DOC ($60.95)

Like the French “C’est qui?” this dialectical freisa is actually two syllables, key-eh, and you cannot define this wine with anything or any other freisa. Darker, woolly and a bit of wild, feral and animale beauty. Like somewhere between red Sancerre and Faugères but bigger, more power and also more control. Herbaceous, iron-clad and hematic. Mimics blood-red preparations of proteins; duck breasts, rack of lamb, venison. Also Rhône-ish and laying somewhere between barbera and nebbiolo. Make your head spin with comparisons when none are correct. There is evidence of climatic cut and biodynamic preparations. Earthy, rich and poignant. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2018 ($34.95)

The Baroli are made from vines minimum 10 years old and the younger vines are used for this Langhe, which includes fruit from Bricco Bertone just outside the territory. Creeps up with its structure, nothing powerful or demanding but nebbiolo architecture nonetheless. Cherries, pencil lead and mountain herbs. Keeps the vineyard faith and accumulates even as it opens which tells us it is also youthfully closed. The potential is two years and thence forth. Tasted from two bottles opened a day apart, the first ready and willing, the second yes at first and then making a request for time. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Coste Di Rose 2015 ($101.95)

A very sandy decomposed peculiar site and soil type rich in Arenaria (sandstone) with the presence of sandstone rocks of quite decent size. The first vintage is this 2015 and from vines 30 years old going up the hill from Bussia. Delivers very pretty fruit of sneaky structure and intent. The rose floral gift of a vineyard, part apposite and part complimentary to Bricco delle Viole. It’s a ventilated place translating to a great freshness in the wine. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted December 2019

G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG Bricco delle Viole 2015 ($113.95)

An about face in style and character with more dimensions accessed and so many aromatics acquiesced. Vines are 40-80 years old and the handling involves a diversification of treatments; longer maceration and fermentation, up to 45-60 days. A tight, compact and fine-grained construct with so much taken from the beneficial skins and the assistance of a submerged cap (a merso) during that fermentation (in stainless steel), followed by at least 24 months in large casks, some 25hL and some 50 hL. Some tonneaux but just as an addendum. Such a tactile nebbiolo, fruit of presence and intricacy out of a Cru that is felt as much as it is nosed or tasted. It’s not just a matter of nebbiolo and Barolo but a thing of great importance, mainly tradition and family. Drink 2023-2034.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

Stained Glass and Inox Tanks

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Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

1964

Tout vient à son heure pour qui sait attendre, wrote Clément Marot, Renaissance poet. Everything comes at its appointed time. From Cahors to Turin. War, peace, hate, love, fruit, acid and tannin. Wine is all about the pauses and the balances. At its core the value is in that feeling of things being natural and equal. That’s the way it should be. When you drink you enjoy what you have, without competition. One sensation after another. You feel like you have more, even if you have less. Like consomée with just a chop of vegetables.

Welcome to Godello’s annual list of the most conspicuous, head-turning and psychotropic moments, better known as his 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019. Godello first initiated the concept for a year-end culminating evaluation in 2012 though did not actually coin the phrase until publishing his 14 mind-blowing wines of 2014. Call it the sixth or the eighth but who really cares because the wines are the crux and the heart of the matter.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

Hard to know how many wines he actually tasted in 2019 but the best guesstimate would be 2,500 because that is how many reviews have been posted to WineAlign in this calendar year. A couple hundred were for wines tasted in 2018 but the editing and posting of at least that many for wines tasted in 2019 have yet to become permanent. So the number is pretty close, one way or another.

There were at least a few dozen stellar and jaw-dropping wines that should of, could of, would of made this list. For every one chosen another was left behind for no reason other than necessity and its relationship to the mother of invention. These images exhibited are but a few that had every reason to be one of 19’s 19.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

With thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, please be encouraged and read on. Godello’s 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019.

AB Wines Opçāo Avesso “A” Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal

From winemaker/oenologist António Sousa’s personal label (with partner Bernardo) and a vineyard planted in 2003, in Amarante. These are avesso grapes just a few years away from what António considers the optimum age, when they reach 18 years, 10 years older than the age from which they begin to deliver excellence. This A is in position A, from a perfect vantage point out of a very good vintage. This is the role model and exemplar for avesso, from a project that began in 2016, with all the adjunct components in line; lemon, lime, orange, ripe acidity, juicy nature and just a minor creamy, fleshy and boozy happiness. Great balance. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Tocai Friulano Collio DOC 1997, Friuli, Italy

So remarkable, from the old messaging in the riesling/tocai bottle, stricken from the consorzio record. This is now a wine bottled in Bordeaux style but this look back 20-plus years shows freshness, spirit and only the beginnings of secondary character. Gassy and lemon intense, a near-perfect example of what was and could be, of how aged whites of Collio can keep freshness and the saltiness of place. All thjis and without crazy acidity. That is the conundrum and the magic of Collio. The persistence is romanticism incarnate with fruit oozing out of pores in great remain. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Goisot Gulhem Et Jean Hugues 2015, Côtes D’auxerre AOC, Bourgogne, France ($36.00)

A soil of kimmeridgian and marl, of white and blue, with great layering of fruit and that is in fact what you feel from Gondonne. There is something rich and overtly expressive here and while it’s anything but simple it could be imagined that so many consumers would understand this chardonnay, love it and want to drink it with abandon. That said the structure, goût de terroir and joie de vivre are just exceptional. The wood and the land just melt right in. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted November 2019

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2007, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa

These Helderberg vines would have been 33 years of age at the time and to think the wine would have cost $10 or so. Now 12 years later we’re graced with this hyperbole of toast, smoulder, lit paraffin and the edge of saffron honey. It’s hard to believe and this the from the tier-two, non-selected grapes at the back of the line behind a Forrester wine like the FMC. Nothing less than incredible. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted October 2019

Ornellaia Bianco 2016, IGT Toscana Bianco, Tuscany, Italy

The Bianco was first introduced in 2013, following fast forward to the original 1980s and 1990s work with Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia. That project had been abandoned because says Axel Heinz “stylistically it just wasn’t right.” That wine was mainly sauvignon blanc on one of Ornellaia’s great vineyard sites. What was wanted was something more than a varietal wine and a new age of finding vineyard sites that were more than merely good for white wine. That means making use of northern slopes and those blocks favourable to whites, including the use of (indigenous) vermentino and viognier. The practice had already been proven with success by colleagues. Bianco is the alter ego to the Rosso, priced as such “and reflects the spirit of Ornellaia, but it had to build itself up to that premium level. We intend to make one of the great white wines of the world,” explains Heinz. That may sound like bragging swagger but the reality is that experience, acumen and especially confidence breed the truth. I Bianci are aged for 12-15 months in (30 per cent new) barriques before bottling. I do dare you to find a wine that smells anything like this Bianco. They are flowers unnamed or perhaps not yet discovered. The flinty reductiveness is also truly and wholly unique. Though the way sauvignon is raised and the place are surely not the same, the Bordeaux styling and sensibility of affinities are more than uncanny and even served by purpose. The vintage brings great maturity, fruitiness and salinity. Fruit presence under the spell of fleur de sel. Nothing but a brilliant combination. Says Heinz without equivocation, “it’s a benchmark for us, ’16 that is.” Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted March 2019

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2017, AOC Bourgogne, France

The couverture is all encompassing acting as a full sheathing tapestry in surround of a fruit core of sheer concentration and yet as a whole so understated. It’s hard to imagine more coaxing and less pronouncement. Relatively speaking there’s no estate equal to what has happened here. Great mineral crash into life and love, into fruit and impossible acidity. A magnificent chardonnay with 25 years of life ahead. Drink 2021-2039.  Tasted September 2019

Adelsheim Pinot Noir Boulder Bluff 2015, Chehalem Mountains AVA, Oregon

From a steep, southwest facing site and picked really early, especially in the warm 2015 vintage. Again the confluence of vineyard conflagration of more than one soil type leads to an estate stylistic but let’s face it one that is bent into shape by focus and precision. There is great generosity and freshness, again in spite of or despite the hot vintage. More floral from this bluff and bigger, albeit finer quality signature tannin from this neighbourhood, with more thanks to basaltic blocks. Long ageing surely ahead with fruit turning to bramble, at times. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted April 2019

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso DOC Vigna Vico Pre Phylloxera 2015, Sicily, Italy

The litheness of this nerello mascalese from Mount Etna off of 100-plus years of age pre-phylloxera vines cannot be over-stated or overstressed. The light, ethereal beauty of this wine may very well transport you to a place, to a vacuum within a bubble that is a hidden world inside a biodome. Few words are available when a wine speaks to you such as this Vico does to me at this time. This impossibility of such fruit concentration is also implausibly understated, as are the tannins and the acidity, yet all align and intertwine along a perfectly rendered line. You recognize the automatic brilliance, for the people and from the place. You just know it when you taste it. If you can find this wine, if you ever get the chance to purchase a bottle or two, you owe it to yourself to act, for you and for anyone you might happen to share it with. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2019

Donnafugata Mille E Una Notte 1996, DOC Contessa Entellina, Sicily, Italy

An arch classic from Sicilia sud Occidentale and more specifically Tenuta Contessa Entellina. Of the oldest wines this is one of the highest tonality, not unlike older and older schooled nebbiolo from Barbaresco, in a queen’s throne sort of way. There is siply no way to argue that this wine did not deserve to be aged this way and to be waited on for such a moment of appreciation. Age worthy and load management indeed, with every resolution hoped for and expected. Brilliance and a benchmark, with a half decade of life still ahead. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOC La Bogliona 1996, Piedmont, Italy

At 23 years you just have to launch yourself headfirst into the blood orange. That this piece of barbera wow factor happened before the year 2000 is the thing, especially because climate was very different. Rain fell often and slowly through the year, as opposed to the deluges of globally disaster-orchestrated today. Higher acidity simply speaking and this of the great lean, salty and direct-fitted pieces of barbera composure. Still fresh with dried fruits and low alcohol (at 13.0 per cent declared) but who knows which way the marketing directed labelling in those days? More than a lovely look back. Educational, instructional, cerebral and mind-bending from the lesser appreciated Piedmontese sector. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

Maison Roche De Bellene Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2012, AOC Bourgogne, France

Do not adjust your set. The vintage brought everything to the table and while the foreground presents a picture crystalline and transparent the entirety of the frame is frozen clear. As for the aromatics this teases a meaty cure like few other and teases as if by the ambience of a cave, restricted of access, hiding what lurks, hangs and excites. Crunchy to say the least, layered to say more and complex to speak the ultimate truth. Magnifique and still twenty years away from the beginning of the end. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted September 2019

Domaine De La Pousse D’or Pommard Premier Cru Les Jarollières 1964, Appellation Pommard Controlée, Bourgogne, France

Calling this 55 year-old Bourgogne Premier Cru a piece of history is not enough to do justice because family, lineage and the passing of the generational torch beyond domaine lines are everything that matters. Nicolas Potel pulled this one out of thin air and not merely by a human ability to disappear and reappear. No, Nico chose the way of disapparating and then apparating (in the wizard sense of “apparition,” a magical form of teleportation). His father Gérard’s ’64 was in his hands and a great big, merde-eating grin was posted all across his face. Les Jarollières is a 1.44 ha plot of marl and calcaire and even today half of the plantings are those that were fitted in 1925 and 1962. It was Gérard Potel who resurrected Domaine de la Pousse d’Or to its glory and in 1964 he acquired the domaine through a marriage to the then owner’s niece. Along with Henri Boillot this cru has been famous being meaty, earthy and owning an ability for supernatural integration. This 1964 had taken all that, everything and more, left nothing in the vineyard and had now become the epitome of the ethereal. The fruit was fully intact, so bloody strawberry, still with lightning quick reflexes and able to pour fresh glasses of spirit and energy over the course of a full hour. The experience was a once in a lifetime type, a shared moment and the kind to create a banked memory that will always be generous when a good one is needed. Thank you Nico. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

 

I Fabbri Chianti Classico DOCG 2000, Tuscany, Italy

At the time it was labeled as an (Annata) Chianti Classico though it was really Riserva. Yes it has evolved but 18-plus years should have moved it much further along. Carries a spice like the exoticism in resemblance to 2006 but this is something other. Still some very fine, present and notable acidity. Amazing purity, honesty, luck, circumstance, place and gentile personality. The sapidity is there again and the age ability nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Volpaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Il Puro 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($150.00)

Il Puro takes her purity to another level in 2015 with fruit so silky fine and chalky tannins integrated into liquid even finer than that fine. The accumulation is just impressive and the charm meeting grace even more so than that. The Mascheroni-Stianti family has really found a stride in this GS to explain why it exists and how it can make many people happy. The structure here will take this through two or three decades of unfolding. There is a house record to prove it, ironically regardless and in spite of the bottle’s name. This is sangiovese. Drink 2023-2037.  Tasted February 2019

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2010, Tuscany, Italy

“A muscle vintage, of huge character,” tells Lorenzo Magnelli. The name of the wine is Diecianni to tell us that Lorenzo’s Riserva is not released until the 10th year. Brings about all the complexities that come from such an extended elévage. Tobacco, savour, forest floor, frutta di bosco and frutto secco but don’t be succumbing to depths and sottosuolo because the freshness persists. A wine so wise beyond its years, like its maker. Sure you can release a Riserva one year after Annata but when it has been protected and taken care of for you then it presents as it was intended to. We are thankful for the triage and the investment on our behalf. The fruit persists with great natural sweetness out of 2010. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted October 2019

Conti Costanti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Colle Al Matrichese 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Andrea Costanti is convinced this is a great vintage. “One of the best.” The weather was perfect following a beneficial cold winter. The harvest was early but not compromisingly so and it saw no hurdles, obstacles or intendments. The barrel use is bigger, older and wiser. This is the sort of concentrated Costanti that speaks to the 2019 philosophy, of acidity, ripeness and balance. Time on skins was about a month (including two weeks of fermentation and oxidation introducing délestage) and no protective sulphur. There is a control in this sangiovese, a powerful restraint but more than that, more so a calm, but not before storm. Finesse, grip and beauty, like a statue of a stag, in a courtyard, lit by moonlight. Tannins are all pervasive, fully stated, yet to feel a necessity for attack. They will and we will retreat, Then we will advance, with caution, further to find full pleasure for two decades. At the very minimum. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted February 2019

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Vecchia 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($177.00)

Planted in 1968 and from a warm vintage all the way to the end, into October. Riccardo Campinoti is smiling wryly, knowingly and confidently after he pours and begins to speak of it. “The longer you waited the riper it became” and the healthy grapes allowed for hanging to mid-October. Deeper and of more sponge-soaked earth in the old vines with a higher tone juxtaposed against the depth drawn by long vine roots. The aromatic complexities run, jump and ride off the proverbial charts and you may find yourself drunk and mystified just from the smells. Once you gain palate entry you are hooked and then you climb in, headfirst, unencumbered, no strings attached. A tour de force beloved of sangiovese, Montalcino and old vines. Vigna Vecchia is the epitome of a true structured wine, one which does not grow old, despite the passage of time. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2019

Antiche Cantine Dei Marchesi Di Barolo 1990, Barolo Riserva, Piemonte, Italy

A grande dame or marchesa in the parlance of these woods, a nebbiolo of persistence, resilience and strength of character. Initiates contact with the past and a contract with tradition by way of the things that matter most. Family for one, roots dug into the earth second and the vineyard’s tongue, if it were able to speak. The overall gist in the parlance is heard and even understood although the dialect is hard to decipher if you are not of this place. This 1990 is found to be of high though level tempered energy and then with an ear, a nose and a soul so close to the earth. Smells like the soils amalgamated, preserved and demonstrated through the tempered liquor of a wise old 29 year-old nebbiolo. So much more than a piece of the past, this is an auguri gathering of storytelling, kin, culture and DNA. You must pay thanks for a chance to taste a thing such as this. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì Tildìn 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piemonte, Italy ($810.00)

Angelo Gaja sees 2016 as a perfect vintage in Barbaresco and the one from which climate change is viewed with great irony in the wink-wink guise of parenthetical thanks. That means the cosmic and astronomical alignment makes for wines that are both pleasant in their youth and also impossibly structured to age. Named for the sunny position of the slope and Mr. Gaja’s grandmother Clotilde. Now the clay and the calcaire have conspired, along with the purchased land of which Clotilde was custodian and in how she pushed her husband to make great wine. The vines are now on average 50 years-old and the composition meeting aspect bring a depth of complexity as poignant as it gets in this tiny part of nebbiolo production. All the flowers, rocks and elements are contained within the interior walls of this gently forceful Langhe red. It mimics the matriarch by the strongest power of suggestion and will not take no for an answer. Perhaps never will. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

1964

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Making tracks in Argentina

Where there’s smoke there’s Godello

Deeper varietal discussion about Argentina’s terroir diversity, 128 images and 118 more wines reviewed

As first seen on WineAlign

Old torrontés vineyards at El Esteco, Cafayate Valley, Salta

A November 2018 journey to Argentina did so much more than simply introduce me to that great country’s wines. That trip was a bold reminder that travelling to the source is precisely how we leave our preconceptions behind and allow for new education to change and alter our thoughts. The people behind the product are the real story and meeting so many of Argentina’s amazing people has transubstantiated my personal Wines of Argentina psyche. I hope for your wine sake you all will find the opportunity to experience what I have, but failing that many have taken part in a short term solution. 

The author in Cafayate, Salta, Argentina

Related – High altitude heliophiles in Argentina

Not too long ago I published that article about a trip that was indeed exactly what the title says. A Masterclass across Argentina. Visits to Mendoza and Salta helped me to gain a deeper understanding of solar radiation and high altitude wines. WineAlign has now finalized the WineAlign Exchange Argentine Wine Masterclass 12-pack. Those who have not made immediate plans to travel to Argentina they have instead signed up to have that country’s remarkable wines come to them instead.

Baby pork, apple, pineapple, Azafrán, Mendoza

In November I had the favourable and fortuitous opportunity to travel around with the team at Wines of Argentina and now WineAlign has teamed up with WOFA to bring 12 carefully curated wines to the Ontario consumer. The box holds 12 archetypal examples (malbec and much more), selected in unanimous accord by the WineAlign crü of critics, through tastings in Argentina and at our offices. Quality in all regions of Argentina has never been higher so the pool from which to pick was deep and wide. This is the invitation to taste the diversity of high-altitude vineyards.

El Esteco, Cafayate Valley, Salta Province

For those who see Argentina as a unilateral place of malbec, malbec and more malbec, think again. New plantations from 1200m to 2200m have characterized the need to qualify the variegate and highly diverse terroirs of Mendoza. There are now more than 1,000 hectares of cabernet franc and 18,000-plus of cabernet sauvignon. Yes there are 42,000 of malbec but that’s two-thirds and not necessarily increasing. Wouldn’t you have thought that number to be much greater? I certainly did. WOFA Educator Joaquin Hidalgo calls it “big noise from some nuts,” which loosely translates to “don’t believe everything you read or hear.” In fact 85 per cent of malbec is grown in Mendoza and there are great ulterior terroirs out there. The key is to seek and create new styles of malbec. Notes Hidalgo, “if we use the variety to create terroir diversity it will be a great benefit.”

Canadians, Tupungato and the Andes

Only 2,249 of 21,000 plantable hectares in Guatallary are full with vines. Huge potential is still out there but water/irrigation is a limiting factor.  As are ants (again, who knew?) and the foxes who chew through irrigation lines. So farmers put out water to satiate them. They must also deal with the Zonda, hot and dry winds that often come off of the eastern slopes of the Andes. Through all these challenges there is more and more talk about moving to an elegant way of producing wines. “Argentina can produce better wine. The more you talk about oak not being the thing to notice the more its shows how oaky the wines really are. The idea is to offer fruity, not so oaky wines.”

Beef tartar, egg yolk, pickles, soy, Azafrán, Mendoza

Conversations with winemakers, agriculturalists, estate directors and export managers bred a consistency of attitude and expectation across the country. And yet each encounter meant and led to something different. Dinner with Winemaker Gabriel Bloise of Chakana, Josefina Alessio of Ernesto Catena and Andrej Razumovsky of Alpamanta focused on alternative varietals, new, innovative and alternative winemaking styles. Razumovsky talked about the rains of 2016 and how harvest was three full weeks late. “Everyone was nervous,” tells Andrej, “with so much rot but the yields were so low and yet the grapes we picked were so healthy.” Strike another notch for organic and biodynamic grape growing.

Enjoying a Salta in Salta

In Agrelo Finca Decero has predicated it’s success on a massive single vineyard called Remolinos but smaller production projects are the new norm. It has lead to growing cabernet franc (plus tannat and syrah) and the recent addition of larger barrels is leading to wines of more florals ands overall complexities. “We’re trying to separate what we perceive is different,” explains CEO Juan Marcó. “This means increased micro-vinifications of specific blocks and plots as part of the larger single-vineyard.” Decero “from nothing” also has 15 hectares of planted petit verdot, which accounts for at least five if not close to 10 per cent of the total in Argentina.

Ani Lucero and Marilyn Demandre, WOFA

In Cafayate, Salta Province it is the Amalaya/Colomé agriculturalists, winemakers and oenologists, (including Jorge Noguera. Thibaut Delmotte, Rafael Racedo and Javier Grané) who know about the “expectation of a miracle,” especially with respect to finding water, but for here, the miracle is to be able to grow grapes and make wine. The prized vineyard El Adrenal literally means “sunny place.” and its altitude brings the sun direct to the vines. El Esteco’s Agriculturalist Rosario and Winemaker Alejandro Pepa showed us sun-kissed criolla and torrontés vines vines of 70 years or more. The moonscape of Piattelli Vineyards is where John and Arlene Malinski’s team produces exceptionally concentrated wines out of the desert; Agriculturalist Santiago Acosta, Winemakers Valeria Antolín and Javier Saldaño, Consulting Oenologist Roberto de la Mota.

With the Women of WOFA in Mendoza

I tasted upwards of 150 wines in my week spent in Argentina. That first report covered 37 wines from 37 producers. They were the 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. The following 118 tasting notes expand on so much of what Argentina does best. Crafting quality wines at high altitudes, from Patagonia to Mendoza and Salta.

Melon soup, prawns, cucumber, Azafrán, Mendoza

Sparkling Wines

Chakana Vino Espumante Nuna Vineyard NV, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This biodynamic Brut is a chardonnay-sauvignon, 60-40 split of ambient yeasts and natural acidities. A dry Brut at 4 g/L dosage made in the Charmat Method. Full and I mean full mousse effect, light on the sweet sweats and a nectarine, peach and pear profile. Creamy character and so good alongside melon soup with cucumber and prawns. It seems so perfectly arid and right in balance. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  chakanawines  oeno2   @chakanawines  @oenophilia1  @bodegachakana  @ConnexionOenophilia

Josefina Alessio, Alma Negra and Ernesto Catena Wines

Domaine Alma Negra Brut Nature NV, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A traditional method Rosé and while Josefina Alessio insists “we don’t confess on grape varieties,” this is in fact a pinot noir and malbec sparkler of eight to as much as 16 months on lees. The grapes comes from uncertified biodynamic vineyards in the production zones of Vistaflores, Tunuyán, Mendoza (3,608 feet) and Gualtallary, Tupungato, Mendoza (4,265 feet). An implosive bubble, all about energy and a side-step, two-step into texture. Raspberry is everywhere, as if it could be nerello mascalese sidling up to malbec. Low pH and just about dry adds up to red fruit, lime and overall zest. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  domainealmanegra   Alma Negra  Ernesto Catena Vineyards

Quebrada de las Conchas

Amalaya Brut Nature, Valle De Cafayate, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

A charmat method sparkling wine made from riesling (80 per cent) plus torrontés. A fizz of cloudy demure and a leesy funk directed by the warm climate at 1,750m in sand near La Mercedes. Also smells of lime doused guava and orange blossoms from the torrontés. Simple with notable sweetness, creamy and just tart enough to offer balanced fun. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaamalaya  hesscollection  liffordgram  @AmalayaBodega  @HessCollection  @LiffordON  @bodegaamalaya @hesscollection  @liffordwineandspirits

Canadians in Tupungato

Whites

Familia Schroeder Alpataco Chardonnay 2018, Patagonia, Argentina (629428, $16.95, WineAlign)

No oak, only stainless steel and all cool, southern Argentina climate in this Paul Hobbs Patagonia outpost chardonnay. Fresh and green apple delicious, simple and crisp. Really crisp. Like a bite into an edgy tart nectarine with slight green note. Beautifully salty and grippy, like Petit Chablis. Would be just perfect to kick back with a half dozen oysters. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  schroederwines   @SchroederWines  Familia Schroeder

Andrej Razumovsky, Alpamanta

Alpamanta Breva Estate Chardonnay 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This is biodynamic produced chardonnay that saw 13 months in oak foudres after a slow fermentation, no malo and then, no filtration. “Typical of the  area,” says Austrian born Andrej Razumovsky and yet his run is a mere 2,000 bottles. From a vintage where “it rained like Europe,” 1200mm, six times the norm. High acidity is the result, very dramatic but all the while propping up and celebrating fruit. Rich, viscous and forward, full of pulse and energy. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  alpamanta  rogersandcompanywines  @Alpamanta  @rogcowines  @alpamanta  @rogcowines

Carla Castorina, Trapiche

Trapiche Chardonnay Costa & Pampa 2016, Chapadmal, Buenos Aires, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Costa & Pampa is Trapiche’s south Atlantic foray into a new appellation down on the coast southeast of Buenos Aires. Their chardonnay is a rich, youthful, precocious and grippy one, crisp and guaranteed to sell you on quality and possibility. Terrific first look. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  trapichearg  trapichewines  philippedandurandwines  @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines   @TrapicheArgentinaInt  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Fish at Luigi Bosca

Casarena Chardonnay Owen’s Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From Agrelo down south of Luján de Cuyo and next to Casarena’s other single vineyards, Lauren and Naoki. Owen’s is named after a grandchild, one of four. Nice and properly reductive, the work her from winemaker Leandro Azin shows a learned ambition, a nod to Bourgogne and a grounding in greater Mendoza chardonnay need. It’s a tart, angular and yet fleshy chardonnay, urgent and delicious, welling in grape tannin, extract and acidity. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Federico Landrone, Andeluna and Damian Rubin, Bodega Bianchi

Andeluna 1300 Chardonnay 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $16.99, WineAlign)

Represents and sets the imagination free to accept the Andean rain shadow, masl manifesto “vines touching the sky.” An fresh, crisp, clean and cool unoaked chardonnay of exceptional clarity and superb value. Apple bite with a similar note by pear from a soil-climate-altitude driven white with purity and finally, acidity. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Snacks at Domaine Bousquet

Familia Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (232702, $18.95, WineAlign)

Zuccardi’s Tupungato chardonnay is a best of both worlds effort, from Gualtallary and El Peral, one giving the sun and the other layering over with freshness. Ferments done up all in concrete then the usage of some older (third and fourth use) barrels. Feel the fruit and the acidity as interchangeable parts plus a true sense of varietal purity. Very orchard apple, taut and pretty, polished and petit, as in Chablis. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Snacks

Famiglia Bianchi Chardonnay 2017, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina (1461, $18.95, WineAlign)

A 50-50 stainless steel-barrel raised chardonnay with as much bite as any. Reductive and creamy with bitters and crackling acidity. The oak is very present, not so much in texture but certainly in palate character. Tart and finishing with further bitters. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Boys at Finca Decero

Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (384339, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sees four to six months of barrel and plenty of lees stirring. Tells the truth to say it’s all about texture so that it separates itself from a sea full of achromatic torrontés. The idea is to tame and temper both the terpenes and the florals. It succeeds in this regard and is in delivery of a very viscous wine. Still floral but very textural. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Colomé Estate Torrontés 2018, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (357913, $15.95, WineAlign)

There is no substitution for altitude and temperature fluctuations to manage the balance in torrontés. Yes it’s floral but also driven by tonic, white fruit and acidity. It’s also fleshy and creamy from fruit like guava and peach but the aridity and altitude dry this into a fierce creature home from a hot climate. Better than ever, with more concentration from the vintage. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  bodegacolome  hesscollection  liffordgram  @BodegaColome  @HessCollection  @LiffordON @bodegacolome  @hesscollection  @liffordwineandspirits

Winemaker Ramiro Balliro, Bodega DiamAndes

Bodega DiamAndes de Uco Viognier 2017, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (SAQ 11963806, $23.35, WineAlign)

Thirty percent of the French oak used is new on fruit from the foothills of the Andes at 1100m. Warm alcohol on the nose and the intensity of a white flower distillate. Very vanilla, a minor heed of oak spice and more dry extract than many, viognier or otherwise. “Blue girls come in every size, some are wise and some otherwise, they got pretty blue eyes.” The genesis of Uco Valley viognier in solar radiated ripples and minor bitters rippling effect. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegadiamandes  maitredechai_ca    @maitredechai  @diamandes  Francis Dubé

Domaine Bousquet

Atamisque Serbal Viognier 2018, Tupungato, Valle Du Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A viognier high on citrus and notable for tangerine though curiously more about flavour than aromatics. Sharp, tangy and calcareously salty with proper sour edging and plenty of energy at the entry level. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Crudo, Domaine Bousquet

Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Particularly fresh and vibrant expression with some energy created by residual CO2 still pulsing in the bottle. Quality acidity encapsulates a wealth of fruit from apples through peaches. Mild pungency and ultimately a right proper way of expressing sauvignon blanc. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  domainebousquet  @domaineBousquet  @DomaineBousquetUSA

Bousquet, Tupungato

Salentein Sauvignon Blanc Portillo 2018, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Described as fashioned through the matter of “nieve carbonica,” carbonic snow, to prevent oxidation, like using dry ice on garganega to protect and preserve freshness. Quite fresh in fact right here, pure and precise. Somewhat stoic even for a wine that believe it or not was first produced in 2009. Where is this in our market? Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  salenteinbodega  azureau  @BodegaSalentein  @azureau  @BodegasSalentein  @BodegasSalentein

Empanadas at Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Del Alma White Blend 2018, Wine of Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

“From the soul,” which is a base of chardonnay (30 per cent) blended with sauvignon blanc (30) viognier (20) and riesling (20). Some carbonic pulse to this metallic and simple blend of extreme freshness. Really good acids, melon flavours and a true tang at the finish. Citrus tablet and pears too. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaluigibosca  fwmcan  @LuigiBoscaBodeg  @FWMCan  @BodegaLuigiBosca  @FWMCan

Empanada, Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Amalaya Blanco De Corte 2013, Valle De Cafayate, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

The signature, entry-level white blend is torrontés (85 per cent) with riesling. When you think about torrontés as being one of the most floral white grapes this is exactly what you expect. The riesling manages the potpourri with a splash of stone, acidity and ultimately freshness. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Caminito, Buenos Aires

Fincas Las Moras Sea Creatures Lady Blanc (De Blancs) 2018, San Juan, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A curious concoction of trebbiano, chenin blanc and viognier from Tulum in the lower valley of San Juan. White flowers and white fruit fill the air while citrus and grape spirit flavour bring high favour to the fresh and crunchy spirit. Also some verdancy and in the end really likeable. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

A toast in Cafayate

Casa De Uco El Salvaje Blend De Blancs 2017, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

A three-pronged blend and élévage from sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and torrontés raised with concrete, oak and steel ferments. Sweet fruit in layers, quite floral and triply aromatic, easy, balanced and with resdiual sugar mitigated by near equal acidity. The new appellative Uco Valley blend. Peak effect. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  casadeuco  @CasadeUco  @CasadeUco

Snacks at Bodega DiamAndes

Masi Tupungato Passo Blanco 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

The connective tissue is altitude at 1,100m to tie pinot gris (60 per cent) with torrontés done up with some dried grape appassimento styling. High ion dry extract, creeping up there in glycerin and though low in acidity it’s quite rich, stylish and persistent. Drink 2018-2019. Tasted November 2018  masitupungato  masicanada  @MrAmaroneMasi  @MasiWineExperience  

Jamon at Bosca

Luigi Bosca A Rosé Is A Rosé Is A Rosé 2018, Wine of Argentina (553032, $19.95, WineAlign)

Drawn from Maipu, 60 per cent pinot noir with (40) pinot gris. Lithe, rusty, low in alcohol, tangy and fresh. Very citrus, very vin gris, very serviceable and lovely in its saltiness. Solid. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

BBQ at El Esteco

El Esteco Blanc de Noirs 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A table wine raised 50-50 in concrete eggs and stainless steel, Rosé by nature, freshness wholly preserved and tannins very much apart of the mix. Ever bearing for strawberries and with a real lemon citrus bend. The dry extract-tannic effort is more than notable. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Malbec

Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Malbec 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (379313, $34.95, WineAlign)

A malbec from which only the highly concentrated dry-skin maceration is sent straight to 225L barrels for fermentation. The time was a precise one, eight months plus one week and taken out on November 22nd. The Hobbsian obsession of full out expression is on full display, with fruit bombing the senses in hyper-real layers of bright intensity. Locked in, big, bountiful and moving. Gets in and attacks the olfactory nerves with purpose, like smelling salts, as only Patagonian malbec can do. A truly polished wine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

With Rocío Campoy Morist, Alta Vista and Carla Castorina, Trapiche

Trapiche Medalla Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (547869, $17.00, WineAlign)

This grippy middle tier Uco malbec is rich in chocolate and spice supplied by generous oak and 40-plus year-old vines. Earth is the catalyst for character a bit scorched and also lending a particular brand of Mendoza funk. Certainly malbec of a combined wisdom and personality to separate itself from other high-volume lots. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Fuego Blanco Malbec Flintstone 2016, Do Valle Del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

More or less at 1,500m and 800 kms south of Salta from the extreme climate of San Juan, here’s a brooding, able-bodied and highly hematic malbec. The glass is a bit reductive-effluent so work with it but it’s really quite stubborn and an earthy-worthy malbec with a bit of green meets paratrophic funk. Lower alcohol, pH and acidity, higher learning and curiosity.Then again it’s 70 per cent fermented in concrete egg so that explains quite a bit. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  fuegoblancowines  Fuego Blanco

Don Julio, Buenos Aires

Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo Reserva Malbec 2017, San Patricio Del Chañar, Neuquen, Patagonia, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

A warm location, even in Patagonia, low in altitude. At 350m and a wine that explains why malbec is planted everywhere, because it’s one that matches latitude and altitude to climate. Moderate alcohol and acidity comes explosively out of high pH and the overall feeling of sweet fruit, more fruit and all fruit. A very familiar and comforting red. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  findelmundowines  @BodFinDelMundo  Bodega Del Fin del Mundo

Caminito, Buenos Aires

Lamadrid Single Vineyard Gran Reserva Malbec 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (375485, $25.95, WineAlign)

Middle of the numbers road in every way, alcohol, acidity and pH. MOR in so many stylistic and emotional response respects. It’s sweetly fruity, somewhat salty, full, rich, thick and perched comfortably in balance right on the median line. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  lamadridwines  @LamadridEstate  Lamadrid Estate Wines

Beef tartar, egg yolk, pickles, soy, Azafrán, Mendoza

Hector Durigutti HD Reserva Malbec 2016, Paraje Altamira, San Carlos, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (322735, $34.95, WineAlign)

From a 1955 planted vineyard at 1,150m. Rich but also salty, really giving you the feeling of ripeness and elasticity. It’s made in just a minor reductive way that supports the fruit and then in terms of tannin goes through this chalky texture influx for structure. So very interesting. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  hectordurigutti  duriguttiwinemakers  @HectorDurigutti  @DuriguttiWines  Hector Durigutti  DURIGUTTI Winemakers 

The boys of Ama Always, Michael Mizzi and Alexander Raphael

Finca Decero Malbec Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (195677, $25.99, WineAlign)

From the vineyard of mini whirlwinds that twirl on a site where many of these little gusts of air stir up the bare earth into dancing spiral forms. More floral than both the syrah and the cabernet sauvignon. Violets certainly come to mind. Smooth and the flavour is almost candied rose petal with oak integration providing a finishing spice. Very smooth wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Bodegas Sottano Malbec Classico 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

“The idea of this line of varietal wines is drinkability, to maintain freshness and fruitiness,” explains Christian Magnenat. Sottano’s is simple, correct malbec, of dark red fruit, balanced, drawn from many disparate, moving and amalgamated vineyard parts. From here, Agrelo, Uco Valey and others. Slightly astringent finish. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegasottano  @bodegasottano  @bodega.sottano

Roasted rabbit, bacon, black radish, Azafrán, Mendoza

Vicentin Blend de Malbecs 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (299735, $19.95, WineAlign)

The core wine of Vicentin, it’s dark, hematic and so very sheathed in many barrels of all shapes, sizes and origins. Full and completely structured malbec constructed out of 60 per cent (on average) new barrels. Again the palate takes it to a better place, namely because of texture and then the concentration takes over with some bitters on the finish. Yes it surely is a power pumped wine. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Mark Bradbury

Vicentin Colosso V 2015, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

This 100 per cent malbec is all resinous oak, soupy umami aromas and syrupy flavours. Cedar, rosemary, tobacco and really high toned acidity. It’s kind of akin to a Chuck Wagner meets Rioja with plenty of residual sugar. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bodegas Sottano Malbec Judas 2015, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

A blend of malbecs that was a single-vineyard wine. Quite resinous and sinewy, of great depth, some violet florality and much ado about high-toned acidity meeting deep woody notes. Once again more astringency but balanced by the smooth consistency. Clearly a step up in ambition and quality. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Beef at Bosca

Luigi Bosca La Linda Private Selection Old Vines Malbec 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The PS or Private Selection puts a focus on young wines of fresh fruit character. From the oldest vines (35 years-old) in La Linda, the highest area of Luján de Cuyo. A smoky, charred, grilled herbs and garriga multiplicity in character. It’s true Criolla plant garrique, bushy and fragrant with dark raspberry fruit, juicy acidity and spicy bite. All in balance. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bosca Empanadas

Luigi Bosca Malbec DOC 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (452672, $18.95, WineAlign)

The DOC was established in 1989 and this icon of a malbec was first produced in 1991. From Luján de Cuyo fruit, remarkably rich and emblematic for the whole of Mendoza Province. Just what you expect, need and could ever want without an ounce of pretence or ambition. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Tortilla at Bosca

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

Yann Janvier – snap (c) @marylinedemandre

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

Flank Steak, Domaine Bousquet

Domaine Bousquet Malbec Grande Reserve Vino Orgánico 2015, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The top tier malbec is a full barrel seasoned one though no new oak, with five per cent each cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah blended in. Reduction and spice are dominant but true blue black fruit layers, lingers and lurks. High-toned overview above and beyond the cimmerian aspect so it’s just a matter of time before the slope adjusts and the fruit takes control. Violets meet deep savour with mid-term age probability a real opportunity. Quite taut and spicy, a true testament to mixing fruit from Tupungato and Guatallary. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Julianne Pons, Bodega DiamAndes

Bodega DiamAndes de Uco Malbec 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (404145, $23.25, WineAlign)

Harvested between March 18th and April 16th, this style of malbec is certainly gone for broke in 30 per cent new French oak for 12 months. There is less savour and more sweetness in both the fruit and the tannins and while it’s certainly the typical and the archetypal for the Uco Valley, it’s not quite as complex as the cabernet. It’s splitting hairs to say so but to be honest this is the wine to drink now and for three to five years while the cabernet and its great structure will go longer. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Beef, Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Amalaya Malbec 2017, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $19.99, WineAlign)

The flagship red in the Amalaya/Donald Hess property in Salta from high altitude in the northern Calchaquí Valley is a rich and concentrated wine heading towards these eastern foothills of the Andes mountain range. Dominated by malbec with cabernet sauvignon (10 per cent) and (5) petit verdot. Rich, succinct and driven by solar radiated concentration. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

With Marilyne Demandre, WOFA Canada in Salta Province

Colomé Malbec Lote Especial La Brava 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $29.99, WineAlign)

From a mainly sandy soil with small gravel pebbles at 1,700m and one of three site specific Colomé malbec investigations. The combination of flavour concentration and saltiness is exceptional in a wine fully equipped with solar radiation, acidity preserving temperature fluctuations and altitude enlivening libido. The combination of fruit layering and tannic structure is nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Smelling the Garrigue at Amalaya

Colomé Malbec Lote Especial El Arenal 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (575290, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vineyard here is at 2,600m and the first vineyard purchased by Donald Hess, in a place and at an altitude that did not yet exist in Argentina. So the question is what does an added 300m (and 900 as compared to La Brava) bring to malbec? The answer is simply more of everything but especially concentration. This is smoother and more silk-textured, with less high-tonality and more Napa like consistency. It’s certainly the richest and most consumer friendly. Drink 2019-2024.  Last tasted November 2018

El Arenal is the pinpointed location for Colomé’s deep, dark and delicious malbec, especially for the Calchaquí-Salta locale. A warmth by vintage and richness by extraction has matched the saltiness of the air and the aridity of the place. The lengthy finish is notable and fruit persevering. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Quebrada de las Conchas

Colomé Estate Malbec 2016, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (477315, $24.95, WineAlign)

The Estate gathering draws from all three Lote Especial vineyards (La Brava, Colomé and El Arenal) plus fruit from Altura Maxima at 3,100. Bring them all together and the broadest expression with the middle ground concentration and the fullest texture is realized. It’s a cooler, more savoury malbec with a balance of richness and high tonality. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Canadians at Tres Cruces

Bodega Colomé Malbec Autentico 2017, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This malbec is drawn from 2,300m of altitude and the vineyard of oldest vineyards raised with no oak, only stainless steel. The idea is “the typical malbec from the Valle de Calchaquí.” The vineyards are pre-phylloxera and the wine is naked to the world, fresh and floral, salty, tangy, tart and quite intense. It’s even more rugged and rustic than expected but rich and full of possibilities. Peppery too in a reductive meets carbonic way. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Steaks at Don Julio

Colomé Malbec Altura Maxima 2015, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From the Donald Hess farm purchased in 2005, with plantings between 3,000 and 3,200m of altitude. The extreme nature of this (and some of Argentina’s) highest of estate vineyards means frost and hail are very much apart of the challenge. And when you taste it side by each with the three Lote Especial malbecs you see that it is something very different indeed. The floral aspect is dramatic and the flavours the most intense. The saltiness and high tonality are off the charts. This will age for two decades without pause. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2018

El Esteco

El Esteco Malbec 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From two terroirs, Punco and Cafayate, aged in second and third passage oak barrels. Like blackberries and Yerba Seca, a native savoury brushy herb that grows in this cactus populated desert. So reminds of sage pointed reds from the Okanagan Valley, albeit with more brine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaelesteco  philippedandurandwines  @ElEstecoWines  @Dandurandwines  @elestecowines  @VinsPhilippeDandurand  

With John Malinski, Piattelli Vineyards

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Malbec 2017, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Malbec at 6,000 feet on a gentle rising slope in Cafayate is aged for nine months in only American barrels. Few malbec are clothed with as much barrel class in a Rioja way as this and no French is used, namely because of cost in a much larger production wine. The oak is done to bury the pyrazines and it works like a charm. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

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

Piattelli Vineyards Gran Reserve Malbec 2016, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

In this version of Piatelli’s high altitude malbec the components are all bigger, stringer, faster and of specs where pH, alcohol, glycerin and also acidity are all elevated. The Grand Reserve sees both American and French oak and for 13 months time. The Spanish connection, whether it be Ribera del Duero or Montsant is evident in polish, silky texture, vanilla and liquid graphite. Very sweet black cherry, pencil shavings and even a note of cigar. Chalky, earthy finish. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Clásico 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Approximately 20 per cent of the fruit comes from the Uco Valley with the yeoman’s work provided by vines grown in Luján de Cuyo. What the house considers as a good vintage with a great 2018 looming on the horizon. At present a bit peppery-rubber stamped reductive so truly a baby with grip and concentrated liqueur. Strange in how it reminds of Western Cape syrah and ultimately solicits an expression of wow. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  altoslashormigas  @ALHmalbec  @ALTOSLASHORMIGASWINERY

At Luigi Bosca

Navarro Correas Reserva Malbec Selección Del Parcelas 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

The reserve malbec story is a three-fold one, from three blocks each no bigger than two hectares; La Consulta (San Carlos, Uco Valley), Los Árboles (Tunuyán, Uco Valley) and Agrelo (Luján de Cuyo). Each adds their own piece into the puzzle, from florals through red fruit to cool savour. Adds up to a layered malbec big in fruit, acidity and bones. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

An excited Yann Janvier eyeing dinner at Luigi Bosca

Pascual Toso Malbec 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (35170, $14.25, WineAlign)

If you are looking for a malbec on the spectrum that is brighter and lighter with properly and wisely integrated wood into that effulgent fruit, here is your $14 best bet. The Mendoza malbec tenets of smoky and spicy are quite subtle and fruit stands out, ushered along by a calming and supportive energy. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted March and November 2018

Fritters at Bosca

Viña Cobos Felino Malbec 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (118067, $19.95, WineAlign)

A blend of several properties’ fruit though 70-80 per cent comes from vines growing in 40 vineyards situated in Luján de Cuyo. A big sweet fruit and high acidity bomb meeting at the intersection of grip and freshness. The blend of sites amalgamates and mediates to spread great malbec love for all to share. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Salad at Luigi Bosca

Viña Cobos Bramare Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza (123729, $39.95, WineAlign)

Not the easiest vintage to deal with but the low quantity of fruit availability surely means quality of the highest order and a malbec here that could never be accused of flat, peppery or fat. The Luján de Cuyo fruit from four farmed estate vineyards is 100 per cent all in for a true to terroir malbec that even Paul Hobbs can’t override, no matter how hard he and his team might try. The accessibility playing field is levelled by an intensity built by alternating stratifying layers of acidity and structure. Smoke, smoulder, spice and then patience move from availability through need. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Mark Bradbury and Marilyne Demandre, Buenos Aires

Bodegas Bianchi Finca Los Primos Malbec 2018, Mendoza, Argentina (572123, $12.40, WineAlign)

Made from 100 per cent San Raphael fruit on alluvial soils with clay. Leads to great malbec depth plus surely hematic pulse and strength. It’s red fruit albeit highly concentrated, extracted, intense, spicy, smoky and full. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Andeluna Malbec Altitud 2016, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $25.99, WineAlign)

Fruit is 100 per cent Gualtallary and yes Altitud is a factor of a rise towards the Andean wall. More than altitude this malbec carries attitude, in good solid grip and firm intensity. A very meaty malbec, pitchy and sure of itself in every respect. These Tupungato soils give way top some pretty heady and deeply satisfying red fruit, especially malbec. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bodega Atamisque Serbal Malbec 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (444737, $15.95, WineAlign)

Simply stated pinot noir of strawberry red fruit, a fluff of spice and ultimately easy to comprehend. Highly drinkable stuff that speaks a varietal language with obviousness and without complication. Nothing more needs top be said. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Zuccardi Polígonos 2016, San Pablo, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (568915 $29.95, WineAlign)

The Vinos de Montaña line from Zuccardi employs the name Poigomnos to refer to the many sides of a vineyard, also mimicked by Seb Zuccardi in his drive to celebrate micro-vinifications and the new diversity of Mendoza terroirs. The soils are alluvial and very stony, an elemental-mineral transference fact that needs to be contemplated and copnsidered within the context of a malbec effect and from this place in San Pablo, Uco Valley. This is in fact a different sort, from pyrazine to pepperoncino, dry, tannic and unique in its new spark of dark fruit. Quite remarkable for its ulterior motive and unique way of speaking for both the specific place and the estate. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018   zuccardivalledeuco  szuccardi  dionysuswines  @ZuccardiWines  @FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @ZuccardiValleDeUco  @DionysusWinesTO

Cecilia Carrasco, Zuccardi and Julia Halupczok, Finca Sophenia

Zuccardi Concreto Malbec 2017, Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (455774 $39.95, WineAlign)

Concreto as noted and understood is a malbec raised only in concrete and not a barrel, stave or chip to be found anywhere near the purity of this fruit. Paraje Altamira is the pinpointed location and one of the Uco Valleys great new frontiers at 1,100masl. The spot is a spectacular alluvial fan laid out beneath the Andes and a certain depth meets richness of red fruit abounds, accented or rather accentuated by Zuccardi’s use of concrete vats. A very fine liqueur is the result and if the ’16 was thought to be luxe, this next step (and warmer, more nurturing vintage) brings malbec into luxury, bordering on hedonism. But it’s pure, exacting and transparent. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Finca Sophenia Estate Wine Malbec 2017, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

All estate fruit from vineyards at 1,200masl surrounding the winery in Gualtallary. Winemaker Julia Halupczok brings out the sweetest red fruit of simple purity and pleasure, augmented with mild oak spice. Gracious, generous and in the end, grateful for such a malbec. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Salentein Reserve Malbec 2017, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (640854, $17.95, WineAlign)

Located at one of Mendoza’s highest altitude terroirs at upwards of 1,300m in the Uco Valley. Mostly older (third use) barrels bring a combination of peppery reduction and oak accented spice. Actually a bit quiet to begin and then the fits, jolts and sparks begin to announce the presence of pent up energy and near aggression. This will take a couple of years to settle, unfold and allow the protected fruit to speak up. That it will, with good grip and even better structure. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

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

Rocío Campoy Morist, Alta Vista

Alta Vista Premium Cabernet Franc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (609081 $17.95, WineAlign)

The estate’s highest vineyards are the source for this beautifully pungent cabernet franc and strike another notch on the varietal card for growing this is in the right spots in Mendoza. It’s a dark fruit expression with high and mighty acidity to find equitable footing. The tangy, tart and intense acidulated liquidity really drives the point even if the woody aspects are just a bit up and above what would make this nearly complete. So drinkable and offering up great interest nonetheless and completely understandable for its style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October and November 2018  bodegaaltavista  hhdwines  @bodegaaltavista  @HHDImports_Wine  @BodegaAltaVista  @HHDImportsInc

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 2018-2023.  Tasted November 2018 bodegaandeluna  stemwinegroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @StemWineGroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @stemwine

snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Escorihuela Gascón Pequeñas Producciones Cabernet Franc 2016, San José De Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

At just under 1,100m this from Matias Ciciani is Mendoza tradition in a varietal glass. There is a later picked, well-extracted feel to the fruit, with a dried component, though plenty of freshness is maintained. It feels like oxygen was introduced to this at the correct time and so it’s developed, ready but also protected from advancing too quickly. Lovely wine with some firm grip and tension inits structure. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  escorihuelag  @Escorihuelag  Escorihuela Gascón

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

Viña Cobos Bramare Cabernet Franc Chañares Estate 2016, Los árboles, Tunuyán, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

At just under 1,200m, off of well-drained alluvial soils with a good presence of larger stones and pebbles. From an El Niño season of extra rainfall, this is still certainly polished and endowed with a fully rendered liqueur. The varietal character is there though early on it’s behind the veil of wood. Big structure, concrete architecture and timeless really. The Chañares Estate in Los Árboles is clearly capable of delivering one of Argentina’s great cabernet franc terroirs. While this is surely an impressive Uco Valley red the story of varietal and place is yet to truly be told. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  vina.cobos  awsmwest  @VinaCobos  @AuthenticWineON  @vinacobos  @awsmon

Filet Mignon, pumpkin and white chocolate purée, criolla sauce with black olives, pan-seared potato and sea asparagus, Finca Decero

Finca Decero Cabernet Franc Mini Ediciones Remolinos Vineyard 2017, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

The simple and emotional response to this special effort is more cabernet franc, in Remolinos, Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo please. Varietal notability for sure with more than ample barrel smoothing and gentle spice character. Tannins are bigger and more grippy than you might think. Plenty of age potential here. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Vicentin Dorado Cabernet Franc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Labeled the “Tiger of the Rivers” it reeks of American oak, welling with vanilla, lavender and graphite. Couldn’t pick this out as a cabernet franc blind because all varietal notes, Loire, Mendoza or anywhere are hidden behind the Silver Oak meets Rioja sheathing. The palate is an improvement with good savoury flavours, even a squeeze of fresh pomegranate but the acidity is a conundrum. Where are the realities of place? Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  vicentinfw  @carotizio ‏ Vicentin Wines

Vicentin Banda de Los Tres Sucios Se Busca Vino/Sin Tomar El Tramposo Cabernet Franc Peligroso E Imparable 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Now 18 months in barrel, the name is the Cheater and the band of three; cheater, smuggler and renegade. It’s all oak and more oak with almost no cabernet franc character. It’s red fruit with green, tobacco and concentrated variabilities. Mostly French and some (20 per cent) American oak. Not much linger or staying power in terms of the finish. Whimsy without equitable substance. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Carrot at Decero

Argento Reserva Cabernet Franc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $18.99, WineAlign)

A beautiful freshness here without too much barrel sheathing, in and out of second and third passage wood. A gainfully employed and effective franc, true to varietal, crunchy and quite serious for value. Incidentally Argento is from the owners of Uruguay’s Bodega Garzón, Chianti Classico’s Dievole and Montalcino’s Podere Brizio. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaargento  profilewinegroup  @BodegaArgento  @ProfileWineGrp  @bodegaargento  @ProfileWineGroup

Cabernet Sauvignon

Familia Schroeder Saurus Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Patagonia, Argentina (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

After tasting a few examples of the Paul Hobbs influence on these Patagonian wines it is quite clear just how evident there is this smooth consistency of style. Big time ripe fruit, darkening as per varietal and here a sense of cured salumi, all in, no holds barred and also fully developed and rendered texture. That factor times purity allows this to lean linear almost into elegant. Warm, comforting and then with rendered spice. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon Alta Barrancas Vineyards 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (261958, $33.95, WineAlign)

How deep is the impact from the altitude out of this part of Mendoza? Deep as it is wide, from every corner abutting and always facing the wall of the Andes. Even at a low steppe like Maipú. Plenty of barrel style here, mixed with a cool vintage and so the pH is low in such a tricky year. Acidity is high and it’s pretty darn fresh considering the oak. From 700-800m, very floral and so all the parts are somewhat confounding yet also remind of Rioja tempranillo. This needs a few years to settle down. Drink 2020-2026. Tasted November 2018  pascualtoso  eurovintage  @PascualToso  @Eurovintage  @pascualtosowinesargentina  @Eurovintage

Aldo’s, Buenos Aires

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

Dessert at Decero

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

With Soledad Juncosa, WOFA

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

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

Lunch, El Esteco

Bodega El Esteco Finca Notables Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

In addition to a more “generalized” cabernet sauvignon, which is so odd to say when you consider the extreme altitude as its source, nevertheless this is the other one from El Esteco and Peñaflor. A single-vineyard draw from an “Alturas” block at 1,700m in the Valles Calchaquíes from winemaker Alejandro Pepa, the lowest of yields, off of deep loamy and sandy soil. Very tart, tight, taut, almost reductive, peppery and really herbal cabernet sauvignon. A true mildly sweet liqueur bitters red, of dark fruit and iodine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaelesteco  #mondiaalliance  @ElEstecoWines  @Mondia_Alliance  @elestecowines  @mondiaalliance

Finca El Origen Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (128991, $15.95, WineAlign)

Grapes are taken from La Esperanza in Vista Flores at 1,200m. Very spicy cabernet sauvignon, with some verdant pyrazine and also high toned, smoky bites and lots of chocolate. Very different winemaking style and from notable pH into edgy, volatile acidity with some dried fruit, raisin character. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  fincaelorigen  chartonhobbs  @Fincaelorigen  @ChartonHobbs  @fincaelorigen  Charton Hobbs Canada

snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon Terroir Series Editíon Limitada Finca Laborde 2013, La Consulta, San Carlos, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

At nearly 1,000m and a very high-toned cabernet with grippy acidity and still raging tannins. The 18 months in barrel will take at least three times that amount to integrate, settle and slip into a balanced state of grace. So I’d look to 2020 or so before imagining that transformation to have really begun. Chocolate is all over the finish, in fact it begins deep in the recesses of the mid palate. Drink 2020-2027.   Tasted November 2018  trapichewines  trapichearg  philippedandurandwines  @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines  @TrapicheArgentinaInt  @VinsPhilippeDandurand  

Juan E. Marcó CEO, Finca Decero

Finca Decero Cabernet Sauvignon Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (195677, $23.99, WineAlign)

Deep fruit meets savour and takes the time to enjoy a cup of coffee. In cabernet sauvignon you get a sense of the barrel but also the shrubs that grew here before the vineyard was planted. It’s a very transparent varietal wine that acts like a window to the terroir. A bit chewy and yet also soft for a very pleasant mouthfeel. Perfectly lengthy in the grown at altitude varietal way. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Marilyn Demandre, DiamAndes

Bodega DiamAndes de Uco Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Harvested on April 22nd. A gone for it style of cabernet sauvignon in 30 per cent new French oak for 12 months, fully purposed alcohol and ripeness at the threshold of the Andes’ foothills. Big wine, full malo, extracted and concentrated. This is cabernet sauvignon for real, in the big league, time and place. It could only be Valle de Uco. Truly. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

With Yann Janvier, El Esteco

Bodega El Esteco Finca Notables Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The pyrazine factor runs high though in red bell pepper as opposed to green and the sweet fruit is very cherry, tangy, tart and in hard candy form. The closest comparison would be Australian, namely Langhorne Creek or Adelaide Hills, with a bit of Coonawarra in its rosa feel. Deeply savoury. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Piattelli Vineyards

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From the high altitude vineyards in Cafayate aged in both French and American barrels. It’s a polished and highly correct cabernet from the most arid of world climates, where at up to 2,000m solar radiation is the real deal. Ripe, savoury and adjustable in every way. The savoury verdancy is the complexity that raises the bar for this particular varietal wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Argento Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (164764, $18.95, WineAlign)

Like the cabernet franc the treatment is a stainless ferment followed by a three-quarter aging in older (two and three year-old barrels) plus one-quarter kept in steel. Luján de Cuyo and Ugarteche are the sources for this reductive, hematic and highly savoury cabernet sauvignon. There’s a depth in its character and an ability of mildly if notably structured tannins. Trades the sister franc’s freshness for grip. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Paul Madden

Navarro Correas Alegoría Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

From Agrelo’s rising flats in the 900m range and a true varietal wine of Cassis and Ribena with plenty of brushy savour. Plenty of spice, tobacco smoulder and freshly ground peppery jolts from a winemaker who really likes wood and knows how to use it. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Cruz De Piedra, Mendoza, Argentina (292110, $15.50, WineAlign)

From Maipú a cabernet notched into stainless steel followed by 50-50 French and American wood of second and third passage. Delicate red fruit is treated to a shift towards reduction, of graphite and vanilla, spice and red liquorice. Sweetly fruity and silky smooth. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Finca Sophenia Estate Wine Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Transparently varietal wine and yet just like the malbec; 100 per cent estate vines in Gualtallary, sweet red fruit, gerenous and gracious. The conclusion quickly ascertained is of a winemaker asking for the terroir to be given its due. This 1,200m place talks the talk and walks the walk. It’s lightning struck red fruit, tart, with currants and a liquid chalky feel. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Other Reds and Blends

Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Pinot Noir 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (55442, $23.95, WineAlign)

Sauras makes reference to fossilized dinosaur bones found at the winery right at the surface of the Patagonian terroir. Schroeder’s is effusive pinot noir with a cured salumi character, from a dry and windy place where rainfall is curiously scarce. It has that lack of watering, needing to struggle personality. There is a lovely bit of dusty volatility and an acidity-tension pull. Sweet red fruit, indicative of strawberry and a maritime moment of ripeness make for a perfect entry into the regional ideal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bodega Atamisque Serbal Pinot Noir 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Simply stated pinot noir of strawberry red fruit, a fluff of spice and ultimately easy to comprehend. Highly drinkable stuff that speaks a varietal language with obviousness and without complication. Nothing more needs top be said. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaatamisque  #MCOwines    Bodega Atamisque

Finca Decero Syrah Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Remolinos Vineyard is the place of the “tiny whirlwinds,” grown on bare land where only wild shrubs grew. At 3,500 feet (1,050 meters) it is Agrelo’s highest plateau and its syrah is round, full and welling with some iodine and a hematoma of dark fruit. Soft actually with a proper balance in acidity and unaggressive tannins. An absence of meaty, charred or cured character is noted. Quite a pure expression of the vineyard, in a Hobbsian style, at least in terms of syrah. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  fincadecero  liffordgram  @FincaDecero  @LiffordON  Finca Decero  Lifford Wine and Spirits

Yann Janvier

Finca Decero Petit Verdot Mini Ediciones Remolinos Vineyard 2014, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $44.99, WineAlign)

The fruit is different here, almost tropical and certainly developed. Plum, pomegranate, apricot and quince, even persimmon, hung to dry and allowed to turn intensely fruity-tangy-leathery with time. Great acidity, big time grip and lots of forward thinking purpose. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Tourists in BA, with Paul Madden and Marilyn Demandre

Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Clasica 2018, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Vines are grown in the Pergola method to protect the vulnerable bonarda from direct sunlight. Organic (though label certification will begin on the 2019 label). Early ripening and in fact was picked on February 23rd for a deeply rendered and pitchy red with briny acidity and subtle, if fine and supple tannin. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Finca Decero Amano Remolinos Vineyard 2014, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (270975, $79.99, WineAlign)

The top wine of the estate, the great blend driven by malbec (approx. 66 per cent), with (25) cabernet savignon and smaller percentages of petit verdot and tannat. Lots of clonal material from B1 and B2 malbec blocks in one of the biggest, broadest and most hematic wines around. Smooth, polished and clearly the hedonistic one of the line-up. For the owner, the owner’s cronies and every restaurant list that sells iconic, big bottles. Big, bold flavours as king of the hill at the top of the heap. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Bodegas Sottano Reserva Blend 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

“The influence of oak is meritorious,” it is said at the tasting table, in this case 12 months in new and second use barrels, plus several months more in bottle before release. All three oaks are employed; 60-70 per cent French plus American and Hungarian. Includes up to 20 per cent cabernet sauvignon and franc. Also contains malbec from Vista Flores. The aromas are violets, all berries, bitters and simple syrup. Polished and built as a liqueur of a red blend that solves the business equation of supply and demand, in fads and through trends, for what the average consumer is out to buy. A go large red for big box upscale restos, i.e. Milestones and Keg. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Pablo Cúneo, Head Winemaker, Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca La Linda Private Selection Smart Blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah & Tannat 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

This Private Selection blend is deeply rendered, hematic with unaggressive pyrazine and pepper purée, so much pepper in every shade and crunchiness. Black fruit everywhere with capsicum bite. Smoky again and the tannat shrinks away in no way at all. Grippy tannins and in the end, a variegated amaro meets roasted bell pepper liqueur. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

With Gabriela Millan, Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Gala 2 DOC, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (542647, $36.95, WineAlign)

A Bordeaux blend of two cabernets and merlot, a wine that was first made in 2001. From Vistalba Carodilla y Las Compuertas in Luján de Cuyo. There is a wild berry and peppery aspect, as Bosca wines are always want to be and do. Bountiful and hedonistic but in a very different way than the old vines malbec, now more liqueur and satin texture, with caressing tannins at the iron hand wearing a velvet glove. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Finca Los Nobles Cabernet-Bouschet “Field Blend” 2013Las Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

A field blend that combines cabernet sauvignon with bouschet which is considered an ancient clone of cabernet franc. The smokiness and spice are now joined by a Dry Creek Valley like dried fruit and bramble character. It’s so rich and the oak is really felt. Needs time though it will go umami-oxidative before these fine but demanding tannins fully settle in. It remains to be seen if that perfect optimum balancing point is really possible but it would be so much fun to wait one out and try. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted November 2018

Beef Tenderloin at Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Icono 2011, Las Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The blend is malbec (57 per cent) and cabernet sauvignon, in push-pull, touch and go, ying and yang, fraternal twin relationship struggle. The most liqueur, fructose-pectin personality is how this rolls with texture and viscosity. Once again here is the Bosca peppery character and with more structure meets age probability than any wine in the portfolio. With two years further (than the Field Blend) it is beginning to show its settling but there are at least three more to go before the window will really be open. Will travel in to balsamic and other savoury-umami notes when it does. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted November 2018

Flank Steak, Domaine Bousquet

Domaine Bousquet Gaia Red Blend Vino Orgánico 2017, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The earth is a malbec (50 per cent), syrah (45) and cabernet sauvignon blend. The syrah brings pepper, clove and further edgy baking spice to the red-black fruit malbec. Quite concentrated and while the wood is not over the top it is tipping a bit ahead of all else in a wine trying hard in striving for balance. Juicy and hot at the same time, with high pH and just enough acidity to make it work well with anything pulled from the grill. Drink 2018-2022.  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

Quebrada de las Conchas

Amalaya Gran Corte 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Malbec is blended with cabernet franc for a most concentrated red of high solar intersection and arid climate where latitude brings ripeness and altitude brings balance. This is the more raisin and dried fruit red in the portfolio. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Pork Steak, Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Colomé Lote Especial Tannat 2016, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (575308, $28.95, WineAlign)

As noted in the last vintage tannat is the Calchaquí Valley unicorn. What Colomé seeks is something different and on its own tannat acts with deeper rock salt intent. It’s such a concentrated and severely tannic wine, even more so than in 2015. And that is its trump card and speciality. Needs five years to play nice. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2018

El Esteco

El Esteco Merlot Fincas Notables 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Also from the same 1,700m of altitude in the Calchaquí Valley here merlot takes on the land and arid climate with tomato leaf and red pepper purée. Also quite briny in a southern French, overlooking the Mediterranean way. Quite evolved and a bit oxidative though with high acidity. Unique and ulterior look at merlot. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Lunch at El Esteco

El Esteco Tannat Fincas Notables 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Then there is the tannat effect, tannic effect and the way in which this winery has figured it out. High temperatures, sunshine and altitude can lead this varietal to great heights provided the farming is done right. The freshness is miraculously preserved and though the spice and the tannins are off the charts there is some early noted blackberry and white chocolate grace to its character. These parts will help it stay palatable through its evolutionary processes. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Under the Criolla, El Esteco, Cafayate

El Esteco Altimus Icon Wine 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Altimus “the highest” is a matter of both altitude and the best selection of a harvest’s grapes. Malbec always leads with cabernet sauvignon in support though the other constituents may come from a myriad of other varieties, including and in no particular order cabernet franc, petit verdot, merlot, syrah, tannat and bonarda. Meticulous is the operative word for Altimus, the rolled into one icon, flagship and signature wine of the estate, a Salta blend that speaks to heights, solar radiated intensity and the hand to voice experience of winemaker Alejandro Pepa. Ripe, polished and ultimately no expense spared. Argentina’s other hedonism expressed, apposite to Mendoza in every respect, untamed, without reins and unlimited in potential. The pace may need to change but the power here will simply not be denied, like love lying bleeding in hand. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2018

Bad Brothers Wine Experience, Cafayate

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Malbec/Tannat 2017, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Equal parts malbec and tannat from the high altitude vineyards in Cafayate aged for six months in both French and American barrels. The oak takes no time to announce its presence and the fruit is bold, firm, strong and solid as the granite rock beneath its vines. Big bones and components, of pH, in alcohol, some glycerin and all the necessary adjustments. Strong but fine-grain tannins make for a long finish. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Piattelli Vineyards

Piattelli Vineyards Arlene Series Blend 2016, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

The flagship wine of the estate and named in honour or proprietor John Malinski’s wife, the blend is dominated by malbec (70 per cent), accentuated by (20) cabernet franc and (10) cabernet sauvignon. It’s both ambitious and scarce, spending 18 months in French and American oaks after some concrete egg fermentation. It’s the best of the best, hand picked berry by berry, painstakingly so by a team of daybreak to dusk workers. Again the dials are set on high, with generous pectic-glycerin and generous acidity. Napa Valley in a Chuck Wagner vein is the ideal but the profile couldn’t be further from that proprietor’s blend  truth. Only 560 cases were produced of this flashy malbec blend with its skin pulled taut and mid-section laced tighter than an impenetrable corset. Plastic surgery in a bottle. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Tupungato

Susana Balbo Brioso 2016, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Brioso might mean enérgico or spirited and this ideal is magnified by “what you can do in a difficult vintage.” Estate single vineyards bring cabernet sauvignon (53 per cent), cabernet franc (24), malbec (16) and petit verdot (13) together for a serious blend. It’s not the round and velvety vintage but rather one so linear, vertical, direct and grippy. Big and structured though quite in balance. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted November 2018

Caminito

Navarro Correas Juan De Dios Gran Vino De Corte 2013, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

An ode to a pioneer whose work dates back to the year 1798, when Juan de Dios Correas planted the first vines in the land of Mendoza. This is the estate’s icon/flaghship wine, blending cabernet sauvignon (82 per cent) with malbec and lending a woodworker’s hand for 18 months in barrel. Spice runs linear and long, flavours stretch elastic and acidity points the fruit towards a far away horizon. With low pH and moderately generous alcohol this is a wine from which the winemaker (Gaspar Roby) needs to have paid great attention ion the vineyard. And he does, that much is clear, as witnessed by pitch perfect ripeness. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Mark Bradbury – snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Viña Cobos Cocodrilo Corte 2016Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This Paul Hobbs Mendoza foray began in 1999 and the crocodile is a cabernet sauvignon based blend (76 per cent) from estates and vineyards in Luján de Cuyo and Valle de Uco. The former terroir is fed by the snow-melt of the Andes through the Mendoza River at altitudes ranging from 945-1,100m. The latter’s soils are alluvial, with a subsoil of clay, sand, silt and rock. The supporting varieties are malbec (10 per cent), merlot (nine) plus bits of petit verdot and cabernet franc. Cocodrilo is all Cassis, rich and concentrated, meant to showcase place, grape and the great possibility/potential of the relationship. As the kingpin in a proprietary blend the cabernet brings blunt smoky and spicy accents, with black currants running through. Meet the new big boss blend, same as the old boss, won’t get fooled again. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bad Brothers, Cafayate

Fincas Las Moras Paz Malbec 2016, San Juan, Argentina (520486, $18.95, WineAlign)

Paz is a 50-50 two cabernets joint from Tulum in San Juan at 650m. A multitude of peppers abounds, red fresh and dried mixed with red berry fruit. Savoury, rich and cool, nearly interchangeable with a similar style on the other side of the Andes. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018 and March 2019  fincalasmoras  univinsetspiritueux  @FincaLasMoras  @UNIVINS  @fincalasmoraswineryCA  

Alexander Raphael in Tupungato

Unanime Gran Vino Tinto 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (466938, $29.95, WineAlign)

The unanimous winemaking decisions about beguiling fruit drawn off Uco Valley sites makes this malbec (60 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (25) and cabernet franc (15) blend a big and generous proposition. That and the heavy times spent in oak for twenty months add up to some serious girth, grip and density. I can’t see this thick and lush concoction moving even an inch in the next few years and it may need seven or more to begin its earliest settling period. Dramatic foreshadowing at its best makes us think there will be interesting times ahead. Drink 2021-2027. Tasted October and November 2018

Outdoor Tasting, Domaine Bousquet

Famiglia Bianchi Nebbiolo Malbec 2015, San Raphael, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

In San Raphael (and including Las Paredes) off of soils of sandy loam and a 50-50 varietal split. Hematic and ferric at the same time, of tar and ripe cherries. Again the extractive factor is not shy, nor is the resulting concentration. Finishes full and downy, with weight and warmth. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Yann Janvier and Godello – snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Andeluna Pasionado Quatro Cepas 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $59.99, WineAlign)

The four-poster blend from Gualtallary is led by malbec with support by cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. It’s a big wine filled with extractive liqueur, generously oaked in both French and American wood. Acidity keeps it humming even while it smokes in its cooking ways. Polished and elevated by altitude-driven freshness to mitigate the concentrated fruit and spice welling away in syrupy constitution. While formidable now it will soften and turn into something velvety smooth and rich in chocolate. As for now you’d better locate some salty protein and a decanter. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2018

Andes, DiamAndes

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (620880, $14.95, WineAlign)

Malbec (85 per cent) plus appassimento augmented corvina spent nine months in French oak. So the question begs, why the methodology and Tupungato? The first answer is easy. Masi. The second is about mountains and weather, the Andes and dry heat. The best substitute for Veronese hills are here in the Uco Valley and the result in 2016 (a cool and wet year) means more savour than raisin and more freshness than aridity. If warmer vintages were carefully crafted to mimic 2016 it would all be smooth sailing. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Clos de Los Siete

Clos De Los Siete 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (622571, $23.95, WineAlign)

Three years further and the skies have now opened to retrospectively reveal a fresher vintage. There is a transference now into some dried fruit with sour edging but spoken with that renewed sense of freshness. The ’13 blend is 53/23/12/8/4 for malbec, merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Th elevation of vineyards with their Andean backdrop is noted bow, if not before and so proof that the Clos is a wine of structure and needed patience. Five years is now the harbinger, 10 the ultimate goal.  Last tasted November 2018  closdelossiete  philippedandurandwines  @closdelossiete  @Dandurandwines   @closdelossiete  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Big and bigger, as always, wholly ripe, rich and raging with acidity. Yet somehow the Clos de los Siete finds a way to charm its way through the dark forest and into hearts. Flavour abounds, firmness rules and the finish lasts. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2016

Good to go!

godello

Where there’s smoke there’s Godello

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