Bargain Reds of Argentina
They come from a land down under, where spring is fall and cyclones turn backward. Yet red wine, in this land of opposites called Argentina, remains red. Stranger still, by some inexplicable function of cargo load and fuel efficiency, quality wines of Argentina manage to remain quite cheap, while it seems so many upper end wines from our local producers often run two, three and four times as much. Of Argentinean wines, we’ve rounded up several red bargains, of three grapes and two wineries in the eastern hilly province of Mendoza.
Bodega Septima, a winery established in 1999, is situated in the Lujan de Cuyo area at more than 3000 feet of elevation, with additional acreage in the Valle de Uco. The winery’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($12) is bright and floral, with trace aromas of cigar, old dignified leather and prunes. It tastes rich and fruity, yet laced with savory smoke. The 2007 Malbec ($12) is a bit woodsy on the nose, with some cherry and ham and a remarkable taste of bacon fat, leather, and even onion. It puckers the mouth a bit – tannins at work – and a few years in a dark place might smooth this one out.
We also tried the Syrah and Malbec of Finca La Linda, one of three labels of Bodega Luigi Bosca, a family-owned winery in Lujan de Cuyo. The La Linda 2006 Syrah ($10.99) bears an intense, deep jam and cherry aroma, with some rather peculiar traces of bacon, mushroom, raspberry, pomegranate and tar in the mouth. Bold and aggressive, it’s a bit puckery and acidic and seems to bear the structure of a wine that could grow with some aging. In the 2006 Malbec ($10.99) we smelled smoke, raspberry, and hickory, and a sip went down very smoothly while passing off flavors of jam, cherry and chutney, with only a trace of cloying tannins and a nice bite of acidity. Lastly, we also tasted the Malbec of 2007 ($10.99). It, too, was a spicy, fruity wine, reminding me of a Zinfandel, but in the mouth in ran a bit harsher than the prior vintage.
A word on Malbec: Though many red varieties have been successful in Argentina, this French grape has ascended as the rising star of Argentina, though its roots will always lie in the soils of Bordeaux. Here winemakers have long used this inky dark wine as a blending tool, as so many wines of France are. Thus the Malbec variety itself never became famous in its own solo right. By contrast, Argentinean Malbec has stolen the stage, for it is favored for use as a 100-percent varietal wine. This trend, very Californian, has put the grape’s name plainly on millions of bottle labels and spotlighted Malbec’s earthy and often savory virtues – well expressed by the Finca La Linda vintages. This grape will be worth watching in the imminent future, as might other wines of Argentina, where high quality can come just a degree north – or is it south? – of $10.