Chile and Argentina 2004: part III

This report is in three parts. This is part III, tasting notes on 60 great South American wines from this visit. Part I introduces Chile and part II introduces Argentina. See more recent South American reports in our Regional Reports section

My top choices from the four estates I visited: Via and Valdivieso in Chile, and Bodegas Esmeralda and Catena in Argentina. I have also included the best of South American wines from other producers, tasted back in the UK. It’s a personal selection, focused on the four estates from my visit, and is not meant to be an exhaustive list of every top Latin American wine.

60 great South American wines

Chile – whites

Via and Valdivieso

Via (Chile) Chilensis Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2002
I had a bottle of this the night after I had opened a 2002 Sancerre at twice the price, and this, as they say, blew it away. It comes from Via winery, where young English winemaker Julian Grubb impressed me with his dogged determination to get all aspects of his mostly organic vineyards and winery operation just right, and this crisp white from the Casablanca valley displays all the varietal oomph and vivid aroma/flavour profile of the best New World Sauvignons. The nose is flooded with greengage, gooseberry and nettles, with little passionfruit overtones. On the palate it has a big core of decisive, mouth-watering sour apple and grapefruit, and a spine of lime acidity. Long and very pure, this is impressive and delicious stuff. £5.99 Safeway.

Valdivieso (Chile) Sauvignon Blanc 2003
Very pale green in colour, there is a mass of herbal, leafy, pungently nettly character to this wine with some greengage and juicy passionfruit, with complex lychee and mango nuances. The palate has plenty of fruit; lots of green fig and a racy, juicy citrus core. This has fine length and lovely medium-full texture, and is an absolute little star of Valdivieso’s range, Winemaker Brett Jackson is a Kiwi, and clearly has a lot of know-how in encouraging the best from this variety. £4.99 Bibendum

Valdivieso (Chile) Chardonnay 2003
This is nice and subtle, with a harmonious nose showing lots of green fig and green apple, rounded-out by a little toastiness. The palate has good flesh and nice structure. It is elegant with well-judged oak and a leesy richness, and a balancing core of lemon acidity keeps it fresh. Lovely stuff. £4.99 Bibendum, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons.

Valdivieso (Chile) Chardonnay Reserve 2002
There’s a nice note of overripe, buttery, slightly vegetal fruit here, integrated already with creamy, toasty oak. The fruit suggests apple and melon, but onto the palate a much more tropical richness emerges, with pineapple and apricot that is lush and ripe. This is broad and generously-styled, with a background of spice and toasty warmth, and a freshening core of acidity. Very good indeed/excellent. £5.99 Bibendum

Valdivieso (Chile) Viognier Reserve 2002
This has quite a deep, golden colour. The nose has good varietal character, with lots of pear fruit and an oatmeally, lightly toasted background. The palate has plenty of acidity to cut-through and balance, and the fruit is really quit crisp; orchard fruits and melon, with some grapefruity acidity. It perhaps lacks a little length, but has lovely balance and a sense of restraint. £5.99 (Not yet available)

other producers

Santa Rita (Chile) Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2003
Nose of lemon and gooseberry, with a nettly quality and hint of sourness. There’s a dry, elegant minerality too. On the palate this wine really has some backbone, with a decisive rasp of acidity that shoots through the mid-palate, and a flood of waxy, citrussy fruit. There are teasing glimpses of a mealier, richer texture and some sweeter fruit, but then that hammer-blow of mouth-watering lemon returns, as clean and bracing as you could ask for from a great Sancerre. Lovely, concentrated and impressive stuff. £6.99 Majestic,

Undurraga (Chile) Gewürztraminer 2000
Undurraga is one of the original Chilean houses that became popular in the UK in the late 1980’s/early 1990s. Family owned, they are conscientious producers of quality wines at modest prices. I recently enjoyed a tasting of their large range, along with the winemaker, where this stunning, rich white wine was the star. Only 4,000 cases are produced, so you may have to hunt it down in your local store. Gewürztraminer can sometimes be sweet and almost overpowering, but this example is beautifully balanced and dry, whilst being scented and full of powerful character. It is toffeed and alluring on the nose, with aromas of honey, fig and apricot. Lovely fruit fills the palate, which is dry and full-bodied, yet nicely crisp with citrus acidity. Quite delicious, and a little bit different. £5.99 Peckhams

Concha y Toro (Chile) Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2002
Concha y Toro have a really strong portfolio of wines, and really I could have picked several, from the cheap and cheerful Casillero del Diablo, up to their serious Terrunyo label wines. This Chardonnay is a typically delicious and well-made example. Its burnished gold colour immediately suggests it will be ripe and oaky, and so it is. The nose has Burgundian, overripe, cabbagy notes as well as plenty of tropical, sweet fruit and a layer of vanillin oak (8 months in French barrels). The palate is densely-textured and chewy, with a luscious pineapple and very ripe melon fruit character, but a spine of good, quite mineral acidity and a rasping cut of smoky, spicy oak and a touch of wood tannin. This is really classy stuff at a modest price. Safeway £6.99.

Chile – reds

Via and Valdivieso

Via (Chile) Chilensis Pinot Noir 2002
This has a ruby colour, with a touch of ochre, and a very inviting nose; a melange of soft, ripe summery fruits, a cedary, coffeeish note and a touch of undergrowthy, truffly character. The palate is medium-bodied and quite savoury, with a good tang of orangy acidity and more of that mushroomy, earthy character balanced against fine, sweet Pinot fruit. This is soft and caresses the palate very nicely, with just a touch of spice and tannin into the finish. A lovely Pinot at the price. £5.99 Safeway.

Valdivieso (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
Deep, dense purple colour. A little charcoally note and hint of capsicum, but then ripe blackberry and cassis starts to dominate. The palate is dry and savoury, with hints of kirsch and bittersweet black cherry and solid black fruits. It has a bit of real authority through a good acid and tannin structure, and it has very good length. £4.99 Bibendum, Tesco

Valdivieso (Chile) Reserve Syrah 2002
Very deep, vivid purple colour. Crisp, but powerful cherry fruit with a real creaminess. On the palate plenty of kirsch-like cherry fruit that is juicy and savoury, with a dense, mouth-filling texture and fine length. Impressive. £6.99 Bibendum

Valdivieso (Chile) Single Vineyard Merlot 2000
Showing a little hint of green pepper, but plenty of lead-pencil and black cherry fruit. This is quite dense, with a tight sense of minerality at the core and a leathery note. The palate opens up to show good fruit with lots of blackcurrant and cream, and more of that slightly gamy, leathery quality. Quite an opulent wine, with hints of chocolate and juicy black plum. Good balance, and the best merlot of the trip so far without a doubt. £8.99 Bibendum,

This set of notes includes the following mini-verticals of Valdivieso, where I tasted the 1998, 1999 and 2000 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 1998 to 2001 Reserve Cabernet Francs, and the Caballo Locos Numbers 4, 5 and 6.

Valdivieso (Chile) Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Valdivieso’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon, which is 100% Cabernet blended from the best sites in the Central Valley, and spends 12 months in oak. In this cool year the nose is sweet with a slightly bloody aroma, but good blackcurrant and glossy cherry fruit. The palate has a raft of dry, but quite softening tannins and plenty of spicy, savoury black fruit. Some cherryish acidity gives good balance, though this may just be drying slightly into the finish. A very good wine though.

Valdivieso (Chile) Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
This was a warmer year, and one of the driest in 100 years, where Valdivieso had to sink new wells for irrigating water. It has a fairly subdued nose, that is quite inky with really good, concentrated black fruit that is slightly sweeter and purer, with plenty of vibrant cassis and a touch of plum. It is very pure on the palate, with a flood of black fruit and cherryish acidity, and tight-grained, glossy tannins. This is balanced and tastes quite youthful.

Valdivieso (Chile) Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
Slightly cooler, but very good year. Solid, opaque purple/black colour, with a nose of cooked plums, cloves and spices, with a glossy core of blackcurrant fruit that is very pure and ripe. It has a lovely palate; very sweet fruit suggesting cassis and red plums, with a silky texture and hints of lighter, more racy raspberry character. But then the mid-palate is quit expansive, with a chocolate depth, a rounded tobacco and vanilla note and that fine purity of fruit set against refined tannins. With good length too, this should cellar well for a few years, and is excellent. £6.99, Bibendum, Sainsbury’s, Tesco.

Valdivieso (Chile) Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 1998
Valdivieso’s Cabernet Franc vineyard in Maulé is over 30-years-old, which helps give these wines such excellent concentration and depth. I have been very impressed by these Cab Francs over the years, and winemaker Brett Jackson says they will age very well. This has a ruby/purple colour and creamy, roasted, grilled spices and black fruit aromas on the nose. It has a really creamy texture too, with lots of fruit sweetness and a cool, elegant quality. There is lots of lip-smacking plum skin acidity and tannic grip still, that combine to extend the elegant, spicy finish. Excellent.

Valdivieso (Chile) Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 1999
This adds much more animal, almost gamy nuances to a silky, black-fruited nose. It is very polished and svelte onto the palate, with again that sense of elegance and a compact, tightly-wound character with pepper, clove and blackcurrant flavours. It has fine structure, with real length and balance suggesting considerably ageing potential.

Valdivieso (Chile) Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2000
A very good year. Dense, dark, crimson black colour. With a big, perfumed nose hinting at violets and floral aromas, with sweet blackcurranty fruit and hints of tobacco and leather. Quite fat in the mouth, with a flood of glossy black fruit that is pure and delicious with savoury plum and grilled meat nuances, but just lovely definition. Silky textured again, with polished tannins and integrated acidity. A cracking Cabernet Franc by any standards. £8.99 Majestic.

Valdivieso (Chile) Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2001
Another very dark and vividly coloured wine, with a deep, creamy, cigar-box nose over a rich core of plummy fruit, swirling with scents of tobacco and woodsmoke. Very pure black fruit on the palate, with a tangy damson and black cherry skin darkness and a broader core of more toasty oak and svelte black fruits. It is very creamy and mouth-coating in texture, with fine, sweet tannins and integrated acidity. Excellent. £8.99 Majestic.

Valdivieso (Chile) Caballo Loco No. 4
Only around 2,500 cases of this wine are produced, from a base of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Carmenère. Caballo Loco is made in a Solera system, and every year since #1 a portion of the current year’s wine has been reserved and blended with the subsequent year, and so on. So each new vintage has a small proportion of every vintage that has gone before in the blend. The colour is dark and opaque, but quite soft, with ruby highlights. It has sweet aromas of clove and nutmeg, with a gentle tobacco note and some espresso nuances. The fruit is actually very delicate, with hints of rose and strawberry. On the palate it is beautifully silky in texture, with raspberry and strawberry fruit that is quite jammy and sweet, but pure with touches of cream and vanilla. The texture of this wine really is gorgeous, and the soft acidity and polished tannins give a seamless quality into a long finish. Very good indeed/excellent.

Valdivieso (Chile) Caballo Loco No. 5
Much more vibrant, purple/crimson colour. Brett says he found this wine disappointing a few years ago (the base for this wine is the 1999 vintage), but that it has been improving steadily and he is thrilled with the way it has come together. It is certainly more closed aromatically than the #4, with tight, more sinewy raspberry fruit. The palate has a slightly baked, tight, plummy fruit quality with a tight-grained tannic structure that is really quite muscular and grips the finish. This seems like a powerhouse that is bound in a straightjacket at the moment, and I would love to have some of this in my cellar to watch it develop over the next decade.

Valdivieso (Chile) Caballo Loco No. 6
This is massively opaque, with a big nose of dark-roasted coffee beans and toast. It is fantastically aromatic, with ripe, bursting black fruit, a chocolaty note and plenty of lifted aromatic nuance of violet, spices, liquorice and earth. Real complexity here. The palate is pretty tight and sinewy, with glossy, firm blackcurrant and cherry fruit with a luscious hint of damson and chocolate beneath, and a leathery component. Fine support from polished tannins and excellent acidity makes this fleshy, delicious, fantastically long and very well-balanced. An outstanding wine and probably the best Caballo Loco so far. £14.99 Tesco, Safeway.

other producers

Errazuriz (Chile) Single Vineyard Carmenère 1999
Carmenère is seen by many as Chile’s ace in the pack; this almost forgotten Bordeaux variety was mis-identified as Merlot for many years, before its true identity was rediscovered. Jancis Robinson is just one wine critic I have talked to who is a fan of the grape, but is sceptical about its suitability as a single varietal wine. If any example was going to prove the case for varietal Carmenère, it would be this “super-Carm” from Errazuriz’s Don Maxiamo vineyard, retailing at £13. The nose is like opening up a spice cupboard; a melange of clove, ginger and exotic spices wrapped in a cedary framework. There’s a charcoally density and concentrated muscularity to the fruit. On the palate it delivers a big shock-wave of grippy, tannic black fruit with masses of inky extraction and a bite of cherry-skin acidity wrapped in spices and toast. This is formidable and serious stuff, and benchmark Carmenère, though some may find it overpowering. £12.99.
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Montes (Chile) “Alpha” Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
Montes is reliable across the range, the “Alpha” label wines in particular. The Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the best, and is dominated by sweet, mint-humbuggy, toasty oak over plush blackcurrant fruit. The sweet and rich cassis palate shows no shortage of concentration, with deep, silky fruit and texture melting into a chocolate-rich finish. Sweet, luscious and delicious. Very good indeed. £12.99 Oddbins, Majestic
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Casa Lapostolle (Chile) Merlot Cuvée Alexandre 2000
Some say this is Bordeaux super-oenologist Michel Roland’s best wine, and it is certainly a personal favourite of mine. With its deep, inky, vivid purple colour and soaringly aromatic nose exuding delicious aromas of mocha-coffee and chocolate, cherries, exotic spices and velvety, tobacco, woodsmoke and black pepper. On the palate the luxurious character is emphasised, with layers of creamy black fruit (blackcurrant and plum) and a core of melting, brooding flavours: more cigar and cedar, bittersweet chocolate and spice. There is plenty of structure to this wine though, with polished tannins and good acidity helping extend the smooth, unruffled finish. Truly plush and hedonistic merlot of great character and style. £12.99 Booths (who have £15 off your first order with them).
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Cousino-Macul (Chile) Finis Terrae 1995
I drank this first about four years ago or so, and thought it had a lot of potential so tucked away a bottle or two. This was decanted for two hours before serving. Wonderful, classy, Pomerol-like nose with cedar, plum and cassis and a sweet, gamy perfume of animal notes, earth and tobacco. On the palate, further evidence that this wine has filled-out over the past few years, with a silkiness to the texture, and a rich mouthful of currant and damson fruit, still quite grippy tannins and balanced acidity. There is now a certain voluptuous quality to this wine, which is delicious and seems to be ready right now. One of the original Super-South Americans, and excellent. You may find the 1995 in some independent shops and a few have popped up at auction, but 1997 seems to be the current vintage in most shops. £15.99 Edencroft
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Gracia, de Chile Caminante 1998
Meaning “traveller” in Spanish, this prestige wine from Gracia, de Chile is a Bordeaux-blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère from Estate vineyards in the Aconcagua Valley. This wine comes from the el Niño-affected year of 1998 (1999 is currently on release) and although a little evidence of dilution appears on the palate, this has plenty of vivid, bloody, gamy richness and blackcurrant fruit on the nose, and a fine sense of savoury, cedary, concentrated fruit that implies it will be well worth trying again from a stronger vintage. Not on release in this country currently.

Errazuriz Don Maxiamo 1999
This is gorgeous stuff, with an inky-dark purple/crimson hue and an alluring perfume of sweet, lush black fruits, coffee-bean, tobacco and touches of spice-laden, dark, earthy character. on the palate it is beautifully glossy, rich and fruit-cakey, with masses of unctuous blackcurrant and damson fruit, and plenty of warming, dark espresso and chocolate depth. The tannins are agile and crisp on the tongue, with a good lick of acidity too, meaning this stays fresh and savoury. The mid-palate stays strong and focused, and it finishes with great style. Excellent, and I have to say given its reasonable price, possibly it deserves to be rated as outstanding. £19.99 Luvians,
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Seña 1999
Probably the highest profile wine in Chile’s armoury, Seña is the elegantly-packaged trophy wine made in collaboration between Eduardo Chadwick or Errazuriz and Robert Mondavi. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot and 8% Carmenère, this too comes from the Aconcagua Valley. After a long maceration it spent 18 months in French oak, 56% of which was new. The nose has a wonderfully polished sheen of minty blackcurrant and black cherry, with a little gamy, animal note and some earthy, truffle aromas. The oak is sweet and custardy, but quite subdued, sitting beneath the fruit. On the palate it has a medium-bodied sense of finesse, with plenty of richness and warming flavours of coffee, spice and tobacco, but a great core of concentrated black fruit with a liquorice edge dominates. Quite severe at present, with firm, grippy tannins and good acidity matched against that solid black fruit, this will mellow over the next few years. A beautifully balanced and very impressive wine. Around £34.99, Luvians,
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Vinedo Chadwick 1999
This is the first ever release of Eduardo Chadwick’s own single-vineyard prestige wine, a blend of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon with 6% Carmenère. Vinedo Chadwick is located along the banks of the Maipo river, and was close-planted with selected clones in 1992. This low-yielding vintage has produced a dense, garnet coloured wine with a deep, serious, vinous nose of cedary, powerful character with notes of very sweet black fruits, a hint of violet and a broad, toasty, tobacco background. On the palate there is a mass of mouthfilling cherry and raspberry fruit, with depths of plummier concentration filling out the mid-palate, a real rasp of acidity, but polished, ripe tannins creating a warming, expansive finish. There is plenty of spice and a lovely sense of harmony about this wine which finishes with great purity and focus. Outstanding. Around £34.99
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Montes (Chile) “Folly” Syrah 2000
Terrifically deep mocha-coffee nose with layers of smoke and spice, but really driven by lush, deep-set black fruit. Thick, rich and dense on the palate this has a smoky, earthy concentration of plummy fruit. Fine tannins and generous but persistent acidity balance the finish and this has good length. Very powerful, and excellent stuff with sufficient structure to cellar. £35 Waitrose Inner Cellar
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Argentina – whites

Bodegas Esmeralda and Catena

Malambo Chardonnay/Chenin 2003
Very nice stuff at under £4, from Bodega Esmeralda. This has a crisp green apple nose with some lemon zest and a hint of creaminess. On the palate it is ripe, with a sweet tropical fruit note. It is quite expansive and full in the mouth, with broad-based acidity and highish alcohol (13%), though this wine is prevented from malolactic fermentation to retain its crisp, unoaked style. £3.99 Bibendum, Safeway, Sainsbury’s, Somerfield.

Argento (Argentina) Pinot Grigio 2003
100% Pinot Grigio and unoaked, this is my first experience of this wine from the same stable as the multi-award-winning Chardonnay. This wine does not go through malolactic fermentation, in order to retain plenty of verve and crispness. It has a sweet, very approachable pear and melon nose, with a little nutty, Cox’s Pippin note. On the palate it is big, broad and fruity with a rich mouth-feel and a flood of peach and apricot fruit. The mid-palate is quite fleshy and full, but then that tang of grapefruit-fresh acidity kicks in, lifting and extending the long, pure finish. Lovely quaffing stuff. £4.69 Bibendum, Majestic, Oddbins.

Argento (Argentina) Viognier 2003
Another very successful aromatic wine from the Argento stable, this is 100%viognier from the El Mirador district, which has a good varietal nose with plenty of pear and peach and a hint of honey. On the palate there is a lovely raft of sweet nectarine fruit, but crisp apple acidity restrains the opulence and adds a dash of cutting edge. It has a silky texture and plenty of fruit sweetness, making it dangerously easy to drink – thank goodness it has a modest 12.9% alcohol.

Argento (Argentina) Chardonnay 2003
Big, toasty, butterscotch nose (three months in French and American oak) loaded with tropical fruit, a touch of honey and a nice streak of lime. Lovely sweet, poised, succulent tropical fruit with plenty of restraining orchard fruit acidity and a long finish. Excellent stuff at the price. £4.99 Bibendum
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Argento (Argentina) Reserve Chardonnay 2002
100% high-altitude fruit from Tupungato, which spend six months in French oak. This adds a much more vegetal, cabbagy, Burgundian aspect on the nose with integrated light, toasty oak and plenty of lanolin and wax. The palate is very broad and expansive, with a core of acidity that keeps it focused, but plenty of toasted sesame seed flavour and juicy apricot and pineapple notes. There’s a creaminess about this and a long finish that is very classy. £6.99 from Bibendum, Everywine, Majestic, Oddbins, Sainsbury’s.

Catena (Argentina) Alamos Viognier 2003
This unoaked wine comes from vineyards at an elevation of 5,000 feet in the Tupungato region. With 13% alcohol it has a ripe, expressive nose of pear and pear-drop, with nuances of flowers and nectarines. It has delicious fatness on the palate, but is pure and balanced with clean acids that add a lot of lemony zip. There is a honeyed limpidity too and very good length. A lovely wine that is not in the UK as yet.

Catena (Argentina) Alamos Sauvignon Blanc 2003
This is a little tanky still, with confected pear-drop aromas, but these will settle. beneath there is a nice herbal, grassy note to lemon-drop fruit with some vivid, crisp white fruit aromas of Asian pear and underripe melon. It has a very vibrant palate, with a depth of juicy passionfruit and a tang of lime acidity. Quite richly-textured, this also has good length and is very good indeed.

Catena (Argentina) Alamos Chardonnay 2003
The multi-award-winning Chardonnay is a benchmark for Argentina at the £5.99 price-point. This is 100% high-altitude Chardonnay that spends five months in French oak. It has a creamy cappuccino nose, with scents of Caramac bars (who remembers those?), but as it had been bottled just 10 days before my tasting those will integrate with a raft of sweet, tropical, pineapple fruit aromas. On the palate that vibrant fruit profile persists, with plenty of nectarine and juicy, bursting fruit and a fine tangerine acidity into a long finish. Very good indeed. £5.99 Bibendum, Majestic
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Catena (Argentina) Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2002
100% Chardonnay, 100% barrel-fermented, this premium Chardonnay comes from Catena’s vineyards in the Agrelo and Tupungato regions, and spends nine months in French oak, a third of it new. The nose is suffused with a honeyed, toasty warmth, with elegant suggestions of cashew nuts and beautifully rounded fruit. The palate is generous with a terrifically sweet core of unctuous nectarine fruit and just hints of a tropical, pineapple ripeness. Very good balance, with a grapefruity acidity cutting through the richness of the fruit. Very, very classy and Burgundian Chardonnay. £10.99 Majestic, Wine Society.
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Catena (Argentina) Alta Chardonnay 2001
Alta is the ultra-premium range, and this is the top Chardonnay, in Catena’s armoury. It is made from fruit from the Adrianna vineyard at 4,830 feet in the Tupungato region, and like the rest of the Alta range, 20 years of research has gone into refining the best sites to produce the highest quality fruit. This wine has yet to be rated, but the 1999 and 2000 vintages (the vintages currently in stock at Bibendum) both attracted 93 points from Robert Parker. This has a beautifully delineated nose, that is delicate and poised, with a limpid quality of minerals spiced apple fruit. There is a background of cashew nut and cream. On the palate it is perfectly poised, with a honeyed edge to tropical fruit that is all sweetness and mouthfilling texture, but that thrust of mineral acidity adds a steely core into a long, long finish. Outstanding. £20 Bibendum, Great Grog
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Argentina- reds

Bodegas Esmeralda and Catena

Malambo (Argentina) Bonarda/Merlot 2003
Juicy, crisp, Parma-violet and kirsch-like aromas with plenty of red cherry fruit and a hint of dusty blueberry. The palate is ripe with jammy raspberry and cherry fruit and a deeper cut of plum and a hint of dry, leathery, prune and baked fruits. A nice juicy, savoury style with good balance. £3.99 Bibendum, Booths, Safeway

Argento (Argentina) Bonarda 2003
This has a very vivid, deep colour and a similarly deep and dramatic nose of plummy fruit, with a dusty, brooding blueberry and violet-tinged note. There is spice too. On the palate it is chewy and dense, with thick, drying tannins and a savoury, broad palate of fruit. Good acidity here, and a balanced, long wine. £4.99 Safeway

Argento (Argentina) Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
Quite a deep, glossy, blackcurrant and glossy black plum nose with a touch of dark chocolate. The palate is big, sweet-edged and mouthfilling, with plenty of bold, full, fleshy fruit and a fine tannic structure beneath. There is some underpinning from spicy oak with charry, toasty elements filling out the finish. Lovely stuff. £4.99 Bibendum, Sainsbury’s.

Argento (Argentina) Malbec 2003
Quite a dark, almost blackish colour, and a nose that is immediately creamy and dense with notes of sweet briar and violet-tinged fruit. It is tight and muscular at this stage, with obvious concentration. The palate is deep and juicy, with plum and damson fruit and a bite of black cherry concentration. There’s a little spice on the finish, with a charcoally grip and good length. Terrific stuff. £4.99 Majestic, Asda, Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Somerfield, Tesco

Argento (Argentina) Syrah 2003
Vibrant, vivid crimson, and quite elegant on the nose, with intense cherry fruit and a floral edge, and a background of creamy oak. There is an overriding impression of sweet raspberry fruit on the palate, that is silky smooth with lots of juicy depth and a long finish with good balance and polished, quite elegant tannins. My first experience of the Syrah, and very impressive. £4.99 Bibendum

Argento (Argentina) Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
This has 14% Merlot in the blend, and spends eight months in French and American oak. It has a lovely fragrant nose, with cloves and cinnamon, a really ripe, deep, glossy mulberry and cassis nose. This is hedonistic, sumptuous stuff, though there is a cedary note emerging. The palate has a hint of marzipan, then plenty of sweet fruit, a plummy note and dry, polished tannins. Good length here in a very nicely-made and balanced wine. Not yet in the country.

Argento (Argentina) Reserve Malbec 2002
100% Malbec. More coffeeish, toasty and Mocha-like on the nose, with plenty of chocolate and tobacco, and a meaty density. The palate has really nice acidity that slices through deep, stewed plum fruit that is chocolaty and deep; really muscular and chewy, with good length. Not yet in the country.

Argento (Argentina) Reserve Bonarda 2002
Big, glossy, savoury dark cherry fruit with a little note of tobacco and a background of old-polished wood. Full and fleshy on the palate, this has a chewy weight of fruit and mouth-puckering tannins at this stage. The palate is coated with thick, glycerine-rich black fruits and balanced but massive tannin and extraction. Needs food, but mightily impressive stuff. Not yet in the country.

Catena (Argentina) Alamos Malbec 2002
Catena are absolute masters of Malbec, and I spent a full day in the company of vineyard manager Alejandro Sejanovitch in the autumn, touring the high-altitude sites in premium regions of Mendoza. Aged for nine months in a combination of American (30%) and French (70%) oak barrels, this has a fantastically aromatic nose, with sweet, kirsch-soaked cherry fruit, violets and a broadening core of espresso coffee and toast. On the palate it has a smooth, silky mouth-feel, and an expansive depth of black fruit. Tannins are fine and ripe, and the broad-based cherry acidity adds lovely balance. This should cellar well for several years, but is so drinkable right now. £5.85 Bibendum, Majestic

Catena (Argentina) Alamos Pinot Noir 2002
100% Pinot Noir from Tupungato, the grapes are de-stemmed and cold-macerated. Ageing is for 12 months, in one- and two-year-old French oak barrels. It has a medium ruby colour, and a really sweet, inviting, silky coffee-bean and vanilla nose over ripe strawberry-scented fruit. There is a little touch of truffle, but the aromatics are more towards lifted notes of flowers and red cherries. The palate has a very nice mouthfeel, with silky texture and svelte, polished tannins. There is plenty of cherry and raspberry, keen-edged fruit, and good acids. Quite stylish, and very good indeed. Not yet in the country.

Catena (Argentina) Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that spends nine months in oak barrels, 80% French and 20% American. It is deep and dense in colour, and again has lots of classy coffee-bean and toasty oak on the nose, with ripe, glossy blackcurrant fruit and highlights of cherry and chocolate. There’s a lovely rasp of bittersweet plum-skin acidity onto the palate, with fine tannins. The fruit really emerges on the mid-palate, with plenty of blackcurrant and a supporting framework of toasty oak. Good length and balance. £5.99 Bibendum, Majestic
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Catena (Argentina) Alamos Bonarda 2002
Winemaker José Galente suggests decanting his Bonarda four hours before drinking. It is 100% varietal, and spends nine months in oak, 55% French and 45% American. It has a nose of marzipan and vanilla at present, with tight, glossy, very fine-grained and compact fruit. On the palate that vanilla note persists, with tons of dry, savoury, red cherry fruit and racy acidity. There’s a tightly-wound core to this wine, with grippy tannins and concentrated fruit that really pushes through into the finish. A big handful of a wine, that is packed with interest. £5.99 Bibendum
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Catena (Argentina) Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
The 2000 vintage was my Wine of the week in November 2003, and this seems, if anything, even better. From very high altitude vineyards (9,000 feet) it spends 12 months in 90% French oak, and 10% American. There is a dominant note of marzipan and coconut for now, with a soaring, ripe, mulberry and mint nose, with plush, chocolaty depth and a mass of sweet cassis fruit. It is beautifully silky and sweet on the palate, with a piercing clarity of pure blackcurrant fruit. There are refined tannins drying the mouth at present, and good balance into a long, long finish. A really beautiful, polished wine that will cellar for 5 – 8 years. £10.99, Bibendum, Majestic
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Catena (Argentina) Malbec 2001
100% Varietal, sourced from Lunlunta and Nicasia, at altitudes of 2,850 and 3,070 feet respectively. It spends 12 months in 90% French oak (of which 30% is new) and 10% new American oak. There is a gentle toastiness about the nose here, with a leathery polish over tight, pure black fruit. There’s a certain meaty, bloody quality too that adds lots of interest. On the palate it is filled with sweet fruit: cherry and strawberry-tinged brightness to a plummy, dark core. There’s a big raft of plum-skin acids giving a very savoury edge to an almost jammy fruit quality, and a fine, ripe tannic structure that pushes on into the finish. The oak adds warmth and extra depth, in a lovely wine.
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Catena (Argentina) Alta Malbec 2000
The wine that in many ways sealed Catena’s South American seniority. From vines that are over 70-years old, it is the ultimate expression of smouldering, dark, smokily dramatic Malbec. The nose practically glistens with glossy, thick blueberry and blackcurrant fruit, with a layer of sweet aromatics suggesting violet, cherry and raspberry. Beneath that sits a bedrock of tobacco, smoke and spices. The palate has a deep pool of damson and blackberry fruit of fantastic sweetness. Ripe and fat, there is a chocolaty depth with beautifully ripe tannins and a bittersweet plum-skin acidity that leaves this balanced, poised and very long. Outstanding, and one of the world’s great wines. £20 Bibendum
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Catena (Argentina) Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
I was tremendously impressed by this wine, tasted and drunk with dinner in Argentina. I have had much more experience with the “Alta” Malbec, but this is really just as good a wine. From the Uxmal vineyard, it has a big, ripe, super-sweet nose of mint and mulberry, with loads of cassis and glossy black cherry. Terrific depth and concentration is evident here. The palate is a seamless continuation of the nose, with a succulent weight of black fruit supported by lithe tannins and a fine acid structure. Hedonistic and impressive, this is outstanding. £20 Bibendum
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A rare chance for a vertical tasting of every vintage of Nicolás Catena Zapata ever produced. There was no 1998, as the vintage was not considered to be good enough, largely due to the effect of El Niño.

Catena (Argentina) Nicolás Catena Zapata 1997
When I first tasted this wine (blind) about two years ago I thought it was excellent, with power and concentration, but also finesse and balance. I had a chance to re-taste in Argentina, sharing the wine with the Catena family at restaurant 1884 in Mendoza. OK, I accept that dining with such gracious hosts and eating such wonderful food might have cast a rosy glow over my impressions, but I was still bowled over by this bottle (tasted in a vertical including the 1999 and yet to be released 2000). In the past year and a half it has mellowed and developed a more cedary, tobacco-tinged character to its svelte, polished black fruit and fine-grained tannic structure. It is nuanced and complex, with some animal, gamy qualities as well as that seam of black fruit. A lovely wine judged by any criteria.

Catena (Argentina) Nicolás Catena Zapata 1999
This 1999 bottling is more youthful on the nose, with more direct, vibrant and aromatic fruit that is sweet and black, with floral nuances and an underlying gamy quality. It floods over the tongue with dry, savoury, tannic black fruit that is concentrated and sinewy, with hints of dusty black olive and a leather and tobacco-tinged depth. Very nice acids and crisp tannins keep it fresh, and this has outstanding potential.

Catena (Argentina) Nicolás Catena Zapata 2000
This new vintage has – literally – just arrived and a small parcel is available from Bibendum in six-bottle cases. It follows a similar profile to the 1999, with a real intensity of black fruits on the nose, but with lots of complex, layered nuances of clove and cinnamon, earth and tobacco and a plummy, damsony depth. On the palate there is a mass of bittersweet dark chocolate and svelte black fruit; it is laden with blackcurrant and plum, with liquorice and toasty warmth emerging into the finish. It has fine balance and a long, long finish, will no doubt be an outstanding wine as it matures over 10 years or more. £50 Bibendum
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other producers

Zuccardi (Argentina) “Q” Tempranillo 2000
The nose has layer upon layer of bursting berry and plum fruit, cinnamon, tobacco and chocolate. There’s a great blue/black density of fruit that sweeps through onto the palate. Soft and yielding in the mouth, there is plenty of depth to the fruit, with a solid underpinning of sweet oaky tannins, spice and toast into the finish. Good length, with that velvet texture and mouthfilling, expansive quality staying focused as it floods through to the finish. £9.99 Tesco. The “Q” Malbec is also an extremely good wine, and well worth trying at £8.99 from Safeway

Norton (Argentina) Privada 2000
A blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Malbec and 30% Merlot, this wine spends 12 months in new French barriques. It has a sensational nose that is huge, minty and overripe, bursting with kirsch and cassis aromas, with plenty of tobacco and spice. The palate is focused and very pure; the core of tight-grained black fruit and cherry stays like a steel core through lots of plummy, dark, smoky flavours and a good acid edge. It is savoury and lip-smacking, with some chocolaty opulence checked by good structure. Excellent stuff. £9.99 Oddbins, Waitrose, Safeway.
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Lujan de Cuyo (Argentina) “Alicia” Petit Verdot 1998
This is one of a small range of bottlings “liberated” from the private cellar of winemaker Alberto Arizu by UK merchant Adnams, who discovered these experimental barrels made from his ultra-premium grape selection and persuaded him to sell a few cases. Weighing in at £20 ($32US) you would expect a lot from this wine. It has a wonderfully creamy, dusty, blue/black fruit nose. There are damsons, blueberries and dusty plum-skins. It has a deep, deep creamy palate with a raft of soft, velvety fruit coating the tongue with concentrated bitter-sweet flavours. Rich and long, it is perhaps a little one-dimensional, but who cares with such hedonistic depth and purity of fruit. Superb.

part I – introducing Chile
part II – introducing Argentina
part III – 60 great South American wines