Major tasting: the wines of Argentina

It has been around three years since I last visited Argentina, and then only on a flying visit en route from Chile, to see the superb Catena estate. So I decided it was time to round up a broader cross section of Argentine wines, including a few names new to the UK, to see if the undoubted promise of this fascinating wine country is being realised.

xArgentina is still best known for its red wines, though the dozen whites in top 50 selection stood up to scrutiny pretty well, including Argentina’s very own Torrontés. Malbec remains a flagship for the industry, though the range of other red varieties in production, from Sangiovese to Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon, is testimony to the range of climates and terroirs across this vast country.

Argentina has produced wine for two hundred years, beginning with Spanish settlers who planted the first vines. Often these were missionaries, who planted vineyards to provide a supply of sacramental wine.

xThe Province and city of Mendoza is at the heart of the wine industry, a lovely, leafy city lying west of Buenos Aires and close to the Andes mountains. But winemaking has spread throughout Argentina, from Salta in the far north, to Rio Negro in the south. The total area under vine in Argentina has fallen from around 300,000 to 200,000 hectares in the past couple of decades, but the quality of what exists today is undoubtedly higher. The USA remains the key export market for Argentina’s quality wines, closely followed by the United Kingdom.

In this tasting I was delighted to have the chance to assess the ranges from three producers new to the UK market, Pulenta Estate, Colomé and Joffré e Hijas. There’s also a new brand from Finca Flichman called ‘Expressiones’ and a line-up of more established Argentine wines, including some of the country’s ‘icon’ wines, knocking on the door of the £30 mark. Across this range, Argentina really does seem to be delivering an excellent quality/price ratio.

See all stockists of Argentinean wine in the UK on

a fizzy and a pink

Balbi (Argentina) Sparkling Brut NV
A lot of sparkling wine is made (and drunk) in Argentina, but not much of it makes it to the UK as yet. This is a blend of 70% Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Mendoza, and is a tank method sparkling wine, where secondary fermentation takes place in tanks, not individual bottle. It pours with a good, frothy mousse that is quite short lived, but a decent stream of moderately small bubbles persists. On the nose there’s a certain toffeed quality, with toffee apple and some yeasty, slightly bready aromas. The fruit is quite full and soft. On the palate the mousse is quite mouthfilling, and that toffee apple flavour really does persist, with a streak of lemony fruit and acidity sharpening the picture. A decent fizz with personality, if no great complexity or length. Good. £6.99, Oddbins.

Santa Julia (Argentina) Syrah Rosé 2006
The lovely pomegranate colour suggests a bit of oomph to this Syrah wine, and the nose is very red wine-like, with lots of redcurrant and strawberry fruit and a little lift of floral perfume. On the palate this is brimming with sweet, ripe, creamy strawberry sundae fruit: there’s a hint of something exotic – almost like Turkish delight, and the wine has a certain body and richness. This stays off dry, with fine acidity counterbalancing into a fine, crisp finish. A cracking rosé and very good indeed. £4.99, Somerfield, £5.99, Thresher buy two get one free.

a baker’s dozen of whites

Torrontés remains Argentina’s signature white grape. This grape has always offered a vividly aromatic, Cologne-like perfume that real stops tasters in their tracks, but too often the wines fell a bit flat on the palate. The examples tasted here are both lovely wines, where all those aromatic fireworks are backed up with fine fruit in the mouth. Argentina remains one of the great Chardonnay countries for me, with several of these wines really powering ahead of the quality their price tag would suggest. Other grapes like Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier also suggest that there is potential in Argentina to deliver well-priced (though not necessarily ‘cheap’) high quality wines from across a wide spectrum of styles.

Finca La Linda (Argentina) Chardonnay 2005
Founded in 1901, the Mendoza estate of Luigi Bosca produces its range of wines using natural yeasts and, in this case, with no oak influence. It has a fresh and quite delicate nose of gently peachy and appley fruit, with a touch of herbal quality. On the palate it is a crisp, crunchy style of Chardonnay, with lots of fresh white fruit and slightly nutty flavours, good levels of acidity and a kick of alcoholic warmth (14%) in the finish. Very good/very good indeed. £5.50, H&ampH Bancroft.

Infinitus (Argentina) Chardonnay-Semillon 2005
From the cool climate, southerly area of the Rio Negra, down in Patagonia, this wine is 75% Chardonnay with 25% Semillon. It has a delicious nose, with a touch of fat, waxy lemony and plenty of ripe, clean citrus and orchard fruit aromas. On the palate this is fairly firm and savoury, with a lean and tight core of citrus fruit and acidity, just wrapped in a richer, sweeter fruit character, but retaining lots of freshness and food-friendly bite. Very good/very good indeed. £5.95, The Wine Society.

Pulenta Estate (Argentina) Chardonnay 2004
xOur second Chardonnay is a little beauty and a bit of a bargain from the Mendoza vineyards of Pulenta Estate. Fermented and aged for just three months in 100% new French oak barriques, the grapes come from vineyards at over 3,000 feet, and less than 9,000 bottles are produced. The nose has a gorgeous opulence of creamy, vanilla-dusted tropical fruit, with very ripe melon and a hint of pineapple. On the palate the richness and creaminess continues, with a very soft sheen of toastiness over ripe, sweet fruit, but nicely tempered by a limpid, cool lemon edge, and a fine core of acidity. The opulent, apricot and pineapple ripeness joins with that hint of vanilla leaving the finish very mouth filling, but never lacking in crispness or acidity. A terrific Chardonnay at this price. Very good indeed/excellent. £6.95, or £6.25 by the case, Berry Bros & Rudd.

Joffré e Hijas (Argentina) Grand Chardonnay 2005
Another new name for the UK, from an estate founded by winemaker Raul Jofré in 1998. This unoaked Chardonnay comes from the Mendoza region, and has a very pure apple fruited quality on the nose that is cool and restrained, just hinting at a pineapple ripeness beneath. On the palate this is very ripe indeed, with a real edge of sweetness to the more tropical fruit, but it is not full-blown, excessively ripe style, and the absence of sweetening oak means it maintains a savoury, dry apple and melon core of fruit and acidity. It is fresh and crisp, but rounded with a long finish. Impressive, and very good indeed. £7.95, Great Western Wine.

Catena (Argentina) Chardonnay 2004
Catena is one of the best estates in South America, and fruit for this barrel-fermented wine is sourced from three estate vineyards in Agrelo and Tupungato, all at altitudes of 1000 metres or over. It has a very elegant, Burgundian nose, with gently honeyed and toasty aromas, but mostly a limpid quality of nutty apple and lemon pith. On the palate there is a mouth-filling rush of sweet, ripe fruit, with plenty of weight and creamy texture, but an incisive backbone of minerality that is really quite mineral. This is cool and sophisticated, yet has fruit to spare and is easy to drink. Lovely stuff and excellent – so too is the 2005, also tasted. £9.95, The Wine Society, Bibendum.

Santa Julia (Argentina) Viognier 2006
Santa Julia is a brand belonging to the Zuccardi family, whose “Q” Tempranillo and Malbec are some of Argentina’s most impressive value for money wine (though now listed only in the ‘on-trade’ – restaurants, etc.). Very nice pear and gentle apricot fruit on the nose with nuances of early summer blossom, but it is quite clean and crisp, without too much buttery character. On the palate this is essence of Viognier, with a full, sweet-edged palate of very ripe pear fruit running through to a juicy nectarine and peachy character, with a crisp, clear mid-palate and enough acidity to keep it fresh. Crowd-pleasing stuff, and beautifully done. Very good indeed. £4.99, Somerfield, Sainsbury’s, £5.99, Thresher buy two get one free.

Argento (Argentina) Pinot Grigio 2006
It is always fun to drink a wine from the southern hemisphere in the current vintage, when the grapes in Europe and the northern hemisphere haven’t even been harvested yet. And I have to say this is a little cracker. 100% Pinot Grigio from vineyards at over 2,000 feet elevation in Mendoza, it is intensely aromatic, with grape skins, ripe peach and nectarine and a floral edge. On the palate it is juicy and very tangy, with a real bite of pear skin acidity and crispness, and an underlying fruitiness that hints at pineapple and tropicality. This wine is dry, with lemon and grapefruit acidity, and balances a rich, quite chewy texture with a bright, sprightly character. Delightful stuff, and very good indeed. £5.55 – £5.99, Bibendum, Majestic.

Trapiche (Argentina) Sauvignon Blanc 2005
The state of Argentinean Sauvignon Blanc has been improving of late, though it is still some way behind neighbour Chile, let alone Sauvignon hotspots like the Loire and New Zealand. This example has a rich and powerful nose, with lots of pineapple and tropical fruit character, and just a hint of herbaceousness. On the palate it is quite mouth filling and full textured, with a slightly alcoholic character but good fruit. It is a nice food wine, though I have to say a fairly middle of the road example of one of the most aromatic and vivacious grape varieties. Very good. £5.99, but £3.99 on Thresher/WineRack’s ‘3 for 2’ deal.

Zapapico (Argentina) Sauvignon Blanc 2005
A wine from the high-altitude vineyards of the Famatina Valley (a new name for me) in a tall, elegant bottle. It has quite a discreet, Loire-like lemon-zest nose, with hints of white flowers and succulent pear. On the palate it has more punch than the nose suggests, with quite vibrant, mouth-filling fruit that is racy and clean, yet with a sweet, peachy edge. There is a firm citrus and white fruit acidity too, in a food-friendly style of Sauvignon. Very good/very good indeed. £5.79, falling to £5.42 if buying a case, Laithewaites.

Doña Paula (Argentina) Sauvignon Blanc 2005
xOur third Sauvignon comes from Tupungato, and is packaged in a screwcap bottle. It has a lot more vibrancy and urgency about the nose, with vegetal notes and touches of elderflower and exotic, lychee fruit. On the palate there is a lot more intensity too, with a searing core of lemon-sherbet acidity, and punchy grapefruit and lime flavours striking the palate. very nice wine this, and one of the most impressive Argentine Sauvignons of my experience. Very good indeed/excellent. £5.99, Oddbins.

Crois de Susana Balbo (Argentina) Torrontés 2005
This is a sort of “second label” from Susana Balbo, who’s excellent Malbec in her main range is reviewed below. It is floral, fragrant, and typically Torrontes, with a touch of Nivea cream. Some of that exotic ripeness and floral character comes through on the palate, but this is dry and uncompromising, with white fruit and plenty of racy, crisp acidity in a reasonably long finish. Very good/very good indeed. £5.99, Majestic

Casa Piedra Alta (Argentina) Viognier 2005
Our second Viognier comes from San Juan, north of Mendoza. It has very nice typicity, with floral aromatics, a touch of exotic lychee, and ripe pear fruit. On the palate there is a little nutty, oatmeally quality, presumably from lees contact, as I believe this is unoaked. It is a powerful wine, despite its modest 12.5% alcohol, with plenty of crunchy orchard fruits, that little hint of something more exotic, and good acidity to keep it focused and fresh. Very good indeed. £6.29, falling to £5.83 if buying a case, Laithwaites

Colomé (Argentina) Torrontés 2005
Colomé is a new name to the UK, and comes from the very northerly region of Salta. The Torrontés is an extraordinary grape, with a huge perfume that makes you think it would e more suitable for dabbing behind the ears than drinking, and this wine is absolutely no exception. It is all about musky, floral, exotic notes with lychee and ripe mango fruit that really do leap from the glass. On the palate there is a honeyed note at first that makes you think this will be off-dry, but then a Mandarin orange fruitiness sweeps through, with lots of grapefruity sour acid notes that begin to make this quite dry and chewy. Torrontés is never a hugely long or complex wine on the palate, but this has intensity and fine balance and is a terrific example. Very good indeed. £6.99, Bryan Ford’s (Devon), Charles Henning.

Bordeaux blends

Whilst many people have been excited about Argentine Malbec over the years, there is a terrific tradition for Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends. Personally, I find the best of these can just pip straight Malbec to the post: the big Malbecs are wonderful tour de force wines, but often the Cabernet-based blends have just a touch more elegance about them.

Trapiche (Argentina) Merlot 2005
xThe red partner to Trappiche’s £3.99 ‘3 for 2’ Sauvignon Blanc in Thresher’s has spice and plummy fruit on the nose, with a touch of cedar and a black cherry note. On the palate it is fairly light-bodied, with a slightly ‘stripped out’ feel through the mid-palate, but a bittersweet fruitiness does re-emerge, and with a plate of pasta or something off the barbie this would do the job at its low price. Very good. £5.99, but £3.99 on Thresher/WineRack’s ‘3 for 2’ deal.

El Solar (Argentina) Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
Although there is obvious commitment to Malbec in Argentina, they produce some terrific Cabernet, with the potential to be amongst the New World’s best. This inexpensive bottle looks like it would cost twice as much (though it does have a synthetic cork) and was barrel aged. It has a lovely bloody, gamy nuance to rich, ripe, cassis fruit that is bright and focused, yet hints at cedary complexity. On the palate deliciously uncomplicated sweet black fruit floods across the tongue, with a damson and chocolate depth and richness, and mellow, spice and toasty oak notes into the finish. A fabulous little wine and a definite bargain. £5.50, The Wine Society.

Finca Flichman (Argentina) Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2004
The ‘Reserva’ bottling spends six months in oak casks before an extended ageing in bottle. It has a deep, meaty, plum and crushed blackberry nose, with cedary components and a dark, raisiny quality. On the palate this is a very substantial wine, with a thick, mouth-coating smear of black fruits that are ripe, sweet-edged and delicious, but all hewn from a rich, robust tannic core. There is massive grip that fuses with spice, pepper and leathery notes to make for a real mouthful of wine, but all nicely balanced and composed. This chunky but delightful red would be fair value at its £7.99 starting price, but that falls to £4.99 on Thresher/WineRack’s ‘3 for 2’ deal.

Juan Benegas (Argentina) Don Tiburcio 2002
A blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, about 20% of which was oak-aged. This is another wine made with the help of consultant Michel Rolland, and it has a nice bloody, animal edge on the nose, of overripe fruit and spicy, peppery components. It also displays just a touch of volatile acidity, but that is not overpowering. On the palate this is savoury and meaty, though drying out just a little in the finish. It certainly offers a lot of complexity at a low price. Limited stocks. £5.65, Sussex Wine Company.

Catena (Argentina) Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
This impressive, broad shouldered bottle contains 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a bold, glossy, blackcurrant richness of fruit, with some plummy notes and a sheen of classy oak, that is all very nicely composed. On the palate this has a nice balance between sweet-edged, very ripe and creamy blackcurrant fruit and a fine, cedary oak character. There’s an edge to this wine, with a liquorice or bittersweet plum-skin grip, with sinewy tannins and a fine core of acidity to freshen the finish. This is drinking very nicely already, and is very good indeed. £6.88, Bibendum.

Weinert (Argentina) ‘Carrascal’ 2004
Weinert is a small, high quality winery founded in 1975 and producing wines full of finesse. This blend of 50% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot spends 18 months in French oak, but in large casks rather than barriques. It has a very elegant, velvety nose, with smoky black fruit and some spice, but all very tight and focused. On the palate the cedary quality of the oak comes through strongly, but with a lovely fresh fruit character, as much about raspberry and juicy red cherries as darker, blackcurrant and plummy notes that begin to emerge. The tannins here are nicely smooth and ripe, and with a gently toasty quality to the oak, the finish is long and very harmonious. Terrific value at £6.99, and very good indeed/excellent. Tanners.

Finca Flichman (Argentina) ‘Expressiones’ Malbec Cabernet 2004
60% Malbec dominates the blend here, from similarly old vines and with the same oak treatment as the Shiraz/Cabernet featured below. The Malbec component adds a meaty, liquoricy quality on the nose, with dark, dense black fruit and a hint of aromatic cassis. On the palate this is a big, powerful wine, where broad-shoulder, strapping tannins and an earthiness dominate, but a core of solid, plummy fruit, with some cedar and smoky, charry notes add interest and complexity. There’s a juicy edge to the acidity in the finish, in a much more dense, but equally impressive wine. Very good indeed/excellent. £6.99, Stevens Garnier.

Colomé (Argentina) ‘Amalaya’ Red Wine 2005
A blend of 70% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Bonarda, aged for 12 months in a 50/50 split of stainless steel and older French barrels. The nose is quite juicy and blackcurranty, with a touch of leafiness, but a fresh, vigorous appeal. On the palate this has lovely fruit: a real core of bright, sour cherry fruitiness comes through, with plenty pf fruit sweetness, but tempered by tight, firm tannins and a racy cherry-skin acidity. This is beautifully balanced stuff, and is drinking really nicely. Excellent. £6.99, Cotswold Vintners, Bryan Ford’s, Charles Henning, Everywine.

Joffré e Hijas (Argentina) Grand Merlot 2003
xA similar vinification for this Merlot as Joffré e Hijas’ Malbec, but a very different wine on the nose, with ripe, bloody, quite jammy plum fruit that is bold and creamy, backed by a toasty oak support. On the palate there’s a broad, generous, mouthfilling fruit presence with lots of damson and black cherry ripeness. It is fairly jammy, with plenty of sweetness, and a suave, dark, chocolate and coffee bean depth. Acidity is good, and although the fruit doesn’t quite push through to the finish, this is a fine merlot. Very good indeed. £7.95, Great Western Wine.

Joffré e Hijas (Argentina) Grand Cabernet 2004
The Cabernet Sauvignon in the ‘Grand’ range has a very expressive and very typical cabernet nose, with a certain leafiness, a cedary, pencil-shaving finesse and plenty of blackcurranty fruit. On the palate it is quite jammy and sweet, with perhaps just a little too much confiture, but mellow background tannins and plenty of vanillin and smoky oak fill in. It has good balance, though the overall impression is perhaps just a touch too sweet for my tastes. Very good/very good indeed. £7.95, Great Western Wine.

Pulenta Estate (Argentina) Merlot 2004
This estate situated in Agrelo in Mendoza is owned and run by brothers Hugo and Eduardo Pulenta. I notice they have a wine called “Porsche Cayenne”, which is not a new grape variety, but indicates a wine blended for the official launch of Porsche’s car of that name in Argentina! The recipe here includes 100% merlot and 100% new French oak, giving the nose a lovely exotic spiciness, with Sandalwood and smoky notes and quite a bright blackcurrant and black cherry character. On the palate this is savoury and dry, with a liquoricy edge to the fruit that is bitter and dark, giving intense definition to quite firm fruit and tannins, which are juicy and chewy though the mid palate. This is long, with spicy notes and good acidity into the finish. Quite a classic, European style to this wine. Very good indeed/excellent. £11.45, or £10.30 by the case, Berry Bros & Rudd.

Clos de los Siete (Argentina) 2004
I was really looking forward to tasting this wine again. In September 2005 it was my wine of the week, but with the qualification that “it may well be an astonishing bargain at £10.99, but it won’t find a place in my cellar.” My problem with the wine was that it was really too much of everything: an impressive display of oak, fruit and tannin, but one that I found overwhelming. One year on, and the nose is plush, floral-edged and aromatic, with little violet and fudge notes and an impressive depth of shiny black fruit. On the palate it still has that massive, smoky, chewy and dense presence. The thick tannins and charry, toasty oak dries and coats the tongue, and the supple, savoury core of fruit. It is undoubtedly an excellent wine, though personally I still prefer others here. £10.99 Oddbins, Majestic, Waitrose.

Joffré e Hijas (Argentina) Premium Merlot 2003
Joffré e Hijas upper-tier range, and a 100% Merlot wine that spends 14 months in all new French oak. There is spice and plums on the nose, with almost a cooked plum quality running into a very bloody and ripe character, with a slightly unfortunate hint of tinned tomato. On the palate this is just flooded with chocolaty, spicy, super-ripe and lush plum fruit that fills the mouth. It is a real explosion of fruit that is saved from being jammy by the supple, chocolaty tannins and decent acidity. Real depth and bravura here. Very good indeed/excellent. £12.95, Great Western Wine.
Colomé (Argentina) Estate Red Wine 2004
This premium, French oak-aged blend of 66% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat includes fruit from ungrafted, pre-Phylloxera vines, all of which are farmed organically. This has a fairly subdued, quite classy nose with tight black fruit and a background of subtle cedar. On the palate there is an attack of ripe, sweet berry fruit that is quite full and mouth filling, with lots of spice and peppery, powerful flavours. There’s a weight and plushness to this wine, with solid tannins and plenty of spicy oak, and a plum and black chocolate depth into the finish. This is delicious and very nicely made indeed. Excellent. £12.99, Oddbins, Bryan Ford’s.

Trapiche (Argentina) ‘Medalla’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
Trapiche’s ultra-premium Cabernet is a selection from their best vineyards, given the full 18 months in the finest French oak treatment. The grapes from Maipú come from 45-year-old vines. There’s a beguiling aroma to this wine, with plenty of classy, cedary, pencil-shaving oak and a ripe red fruit and plum suggestion of sweetness. Little clove and cracked black pepper notes add to the charm. On the palate it is racy and elegant, with a crisply-defined black fruit character suggesting cassis and black plums, with a twist of bitterness like plumskin and chicory that is lovely. Tannins are svelte and elegant, and with the infill of coffee and chocolate on the finish, the overall balance is perfect. Excellent/outstanding. £18.50, Harrods. Contact Hayman Barwell Jones on +44 (0)20 7922 1610 for other stockists.

Trapiche (Argentina) ‘Iscay’ Merlot Malbec 2003
This is Trapiche’s ‘icon wine’, a blend made in collaboration between Daniel Pi and Michel Rolland. The name comes from the Quechua language and means .two’. The nose has a fine, aromatic French oak character, with lots of Sandalwood and exotic spice, firm black fruits and a very ripe, juicy, almost gamy core. On the palate this is very classy, with an extra dimension of sweetness to the fruit and juicy mid-palate ripeness and luscious richness, but the nicely judged acidity and firm, but silky tannic framework pulls everything tight into the finish. The oaking is lovely, adding smoky, dark coffee richness. A fine wine and excellent. £27.50, Harrods and Hayman Barwell Jones as above.

malbec wines

Argentina’s undisputable claim to world champion status is with Malbec: nowhere else in the world produces such profound yet enjoyable wines from this relatively minor French variety. I thought there was terrific quality here by and large, and was pleased to see that not everyone is going for the ‘bigger is better’ approach. There are examples here of the massive, tanninc wines that flood the mouth with that deep, chocolaty fruit and tannin, but others are tempered by careful use of oak and gentler handling. There’s one thing for sure: these wines will win a lot of fans in the tasting.

Festivo (Argentina) Malbec 2003
xThis wine comes from the same team that brings you Clos de la Siete label, vinified at Bodega Monteviejo where Michel Rolland is consultant. Though I personally find that wine rather overly tannic and powerful, there is an ephemeral floral and rose hip edge on the nose of this bottling, even though it has a bruising 14.3% alcohol. There’s a solid underpinning of bramble and mulberry, spicy fruit. On the palate it has plenty of tannin, but it is chocolaty, rounded and so full of thick, supple fruit that it remains balanced. Acidity is rather lost under all that heft, but it is there into a leathery, rich and spicy finish. Very good indeed/excellent. £6.50, Friarwood Wines, London & Edinburgh.

Santa Julia (Argentina) Malbec Reserva 2004
Stepping up into the Zuccardi family’s Santa Julia Reserva level, and a Malbec aged in French oak barrels. This is a very suave, dark, silky expression of Malbec on the nose, with a certain elegance to the cedary oak and deep-set black fruit. On the palate this is again a (relatively) restrained style of Malbec, with the cedary, tobacco character of the wood quite prominent, and with a firm tannic quality, giving a lean, supple edge to the usual Malbec depth of fruit. Very good/very good indeed. £6.92, Laithewaites.

Viña Arroyo (Argentina) Barrel-aged Malbec 2004
This estate-bottled Malbec from the Mendoza region has a very alluring, soft, dusty and dark perfume of ripe black fruits, with plenty of cedar and spice. On the palate it is robust, chunky and chewy, with plenty of sweetness of ripe bramble and blackcurrant fruit, and a bittersweet plum skin and dark chocolate appeal. The tannins are rich, rustic and flavoursome giving this plenty of chewy, savoury depth. Quite long in the finish too, this is very good indeed/excellent. £7.00, Laithewaites.

Joffré e Hijas (Argentina) Grand Malbec 2004
This flagship Malbec is made from handpicked grapes, and aged for 10 months in oak, about 70% French and 30% American. It has a very vibrant colour and along with some reductive, sulphury notes which blow off comes a peppery character on the nose, as well as a crisp, raspberry-fruited appeal. On the palate the brightness of that creamy raspberry fruit comes through, with quite soft earthy and strawberry flavours, but a burgeoning depth of chocolate and spicy oak fills in, leaving the finish rich and satisfying. This is another wine in which Michel Rolland has a hand I believe. £7.95, Great Western Wine.

Altos las Hormigas (Argentina) Malbec 2005
xI had only ever tasted this wine in Argentina, when I was very impressed by it, so I was delighted to find it on sale through the excellent online retailer Unwined. An Italian winemaking team has established this winery, whichis 100% focused on Malbec. There is a fascinating incense-like, woodsmoke and floral perfume to this wine, with all sorts of exotic nuances to ripe berry fruit. On the palate there is more solidity, with a mouth coating wash of ripe, smooth tannins and a big, plummy fruit quality. It is savoury and quite chewy on the mid palate, with a firm edge to the acidity and some darker, plum skin and liquorice notes adding bite. Very good indeed. £8.25, Unwined.

Weinert (Argentina) Malbec 2002
Apparently Robert Parker has said Weinert’s Malbec is reminiscent of a great Cheval Blanc… Aged three years in medium-sized French oak casks, the nose is a ringer for Bordeaux, with refined pencil-shaving and cedar aromas and a svelte blackcurrant fruit quality. There is just an edge of something animal and gamy that is lovely, and a bit of clove-like spice. On the palate this is medium-bodied and has a fresh, juicy character that is quite unlike many of the big, strapping Malbecs in this tasting. The fruit has a lean muscularity, and a herbal-edged, leafy quality that is again quite claret-like. The tannins are refined, and the acidity is crisp and beautifully balanced. This is an extremely classy wine and is indeed a Bordeaux ‘ringer’ at a bargain-basement price. Excellent. £8.55, Tanners.

Pulenta Estate (Argentina) Malbec 2004
Less than 30,000 bottles are made of this 100% Malbec wine, which is aged in French oak. Savoury, toasty, cedar and tobacco oak is the first impression on the nose here, with a touch of quite Bordeaux-like gaminess, and a weight of glossy dark fruit beneath. On the palate the super-charged Bordeaux impression continues, with masses of plummy, rich, chocolaty fruit playing against cedary, even leather and liquorice flavours. There is a real edge to this wine, with a bittersweet quality that it lip smacking and rich, with grippy, keen tannins and a tugging acidity into the finish. Very good indeed/excellent. £12.25, or £11.02 by the case, Berry Bros & Rudd.

Catena (Argentina) Malbec 2004
When I visited Catena in 2003 viticulturist Alejandro Sejanovich showed me his experimental plantings of Malbec, where 120 clones had been whittled down to just five that uniquely suited the soils and climatic conditions of Catena’s high-altitude vineyard sites. This wine has dark, earthy, very savoury aromas of old leather, tobacco and polished wood, and a sense of minerality. A juicer, fine cherry fruit quality comes through. On the palate there is lovely ripeness and fullness, with broad, generous fruit sweetness like very ripe damson plums, and a fudge and chocolate background. The tannins here are very supple and fine, and add a firmness that, along with bittersweet plum skin acidity, makes for a long, spicy finish. Excellent. £11.45, Bibendum.

Susana Balbo (Argentina) Malbec 2004
Susana Balbo has been making wine in Argentina for over 20 years, both for her family estate and for other producers. This Malbec (with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) comes from high altitude vineyards in the Agrelo district, and spends a year in American oak, 80% of it new. It has a sumptuous nose, laden with ripe black plum fruit, plenty of spice and liquorice, and a dark chocolate and tobacco background. On the palate it is flooded with sweet, dark, glossy and ripe fruit, with plenty of concentration without bitter extraction, and a plush undertow of tannins that are pretty smooth and silky, giving enough of a roughening edge, but melding with the toasty oak and plum skin acidity. Lovely stuff, and excellent. £11.95, The Wine Society.

Joffré e Hijas (Argentina) Premium Malbec 2003
Like the Merlot, this comes in a bottle embossed with a classy metal shield and is made with very similar vinification. Briar, chocolate and vanilla dominate the nose at first, with lots of spice and dark, plummy fruit. On the palate the oak is quite raw at this stage, giving a very dry, woody edge to very firm fruit and tannins, giving the wine quite a linear, focused character. There is sweetness and spice, and a nice balancing acidity, though perhaps this is slightly over-oaked for my tastes. Still very good indeed though. £12.95, Great Western Wine.

Enrique Foster (Argentina) Limited Edition Malbec 2002
Enrique Foster is a real Malbec specialist from the sub-zone of Lujan de Cuyo in Mendoza. This numbered, limited edition (my bottle was 2229) of estate-grown Malbec comes from old vines and spend 15 months in 100% new French oak before eight additional months in bottle. It has an intoxicating nose, drenched in sweet, ripe, velvety black fruit and swathed in cedar and exotic Sandalwood spice. There are little notes of violet and crushed blackberries, in a really beautiful bouquet. On the palate the wine does just about deliver on that promise: it has an elegant framework of plush fruit, ripe, oaky tannins and a cut of cherry skin acidity. There is a mellow, very warming appeal but just a bit of structure too in a lovely wine that is just a touch shorter than I would have liked. Still very good indeed/excellent. £13.99, Haselmere Cellars, Private Cellar.

Monteviejo (Argentina) Malbec 2000
A single-vineyard ultra-premium Malbec from vineyards at 1050 metres altitude, the hand-harvested grapes are vinified with 16 months in French oak, all of it new barrels. There’s a dark, brooding presence about this wine, with very plummy, deep, chocolate and leathery aromas. On the palate there is a lot of fruit sweetness and ripeness, giving a damson jam quality before a huge slick of chocolate-thick tannins swamp the mid-palate. It does not become dry or bitter however, as the fruitcake richness of the wine comes through, with coffee bean, charry notes and a seamless, dark, mellow core. A very dense and dramatic wine, but a lovely maturing expression of Malbec. Excellent. £16.25, Friarwood Wines, London & Edinburgh

Trapiche (Argentina) Single Vineyard Malbec La Consulta 2003
Trapiche’s winemaker Daniel Pi has created three single vineyard Malbec’s representing the very best sites for Argentina’s showcase grape. In this case, La Consulta belongs to Signor Felipe Villafañe, whose name is proudly displayed on the label, and who planted his Malbec in 1948. The alluvial, sandy loam vineyard is at an altitude of 1,000 meters near Mendoza. The wine, which spent 18 months in new French oak, comes in quite the most heroic, massive bottle I’ve seen for some time. It’s a bit anal, but I popped it on the kitchen scale whilst full and it weighed just under two kilos; an ‘ordinary’ full bottle weighed 1.25 kilos. The nose offers a melange of caramel, chocolate and spicy notes over very solid, dense plum fruit. On the palate this has a terrific verve and vitality, with the richness and Dundee-cake spiciness married to a keen-edged, brighter raspberry character, and immense concentration. There are tannins by the bucket load, that are firm and grippy, and plenty more chocolate and smoky, toasty caramelised flavours fill in on the peppery and spicy finish. A real mouthful, but that glimpse of a steelier core makes it very structured and drinkable. Excellent/outstanding. £18.45, Noel Young and Hayman Barwell Jones as above.

Catena (Argentina) Alta Malbec 2003
xA wine that I have been enjoying for almost a decade now, with an “excellent” rating for vintages back to 1996 that you can find in the archives on this site. This is the wine that elevated Catena to the very top of South American vinous society, from vines that are over 70-years old. Alta spends 18 months in French oak, 60% of which is new. The most noticeable first impression is finesse: this is a wine with hallmark cedarwood and pencil-shaving notes, over a truffly, dark, mocha coffee and sweet plum fruitiness. There is a gloss and suave, deep, sensuality to this wine. On the palate it is has beautiful ripeness of fruit. It is rounded and mouth-filling, with a lovely weight and concentration, yet none of the over-extraction that tends to dominate some high-end Malbec wines. The tannins are ripe and supple, and the overall balance means a long, spice and chocolate-nuanced finish. A consistently great wine. Excellent/outstanding. £25.75, Bibendum.

Other red wines

The Italian and Spanish immigrants have left their marks on Argentina’s vineyards, and there are many excellent wines made from grapes indigenous to this country. There’s also a Shiraz blend in this small selection, that is very promising. Pinot Noir for now remains a little more elusive, but in a country who’s red wine reputation is built on the solid, powerful character of its wines, that is perhaps not surprising.

Santa Julia (Argentina) Bonarda Sangiovese 2005
There is a strong Italian heritage in Argentina, and plantings of Italian varieties are widespread. This has a very brightly focused, floral-edged fruit character, with cherry and little violet aromas to the fore. On the palate it is forward, juicy and sweet-fruited, with plenty of jammy, very ripe red fruit notes but a nice bit of structure creeping in. The tannins are firm, and the acidity is very good, giving this a keen, savoury edge. Another wine from Santa Julia that has loads if fruit, but never loses that food-friendly edge. £4.55, Waitrose.

Trivento (Argentina) ‘Tribu’ Pinot Noir 2003
There is still very little Pinot Noir emanating from Argentina, where presumably finding cool enough growing conditions is a challenge. This comes from the Tupungato vineyards of Concha y Toro’s Argentine estate Trivento. There’s a touch of menthol and wintergreen on the nose, with a fine Pinot character emerging of gentle cherry fruit with a certain earthiness. On the palate there is a softening oak influence, with quite plush, sweet, strawberry fruit and a little bit of plummy depth. This Pinot doesn’t quite hang together through the mid-palate, being a little disjointed before spice and peppery tannins make for quite a positive finish. A fine effort overall, and about as cheap as Pinot gets – so good value for money. Very good. £4.85, Tanners.

Santa Julia (Argentina) Tempranillo 2005
Zuccardi’s ‘Q’ Tempranillo is one of the great Argentine wines, but that is twice the price and is a huge, heavily-oaked example of this style. This Tempranillo is all about black, svelte, slightly smoky fruit with notes of plum and black cherry to the fore. On the palate it is fairly jammy in style, with a sweet fruit character of very ripe berries. But then though the mid-palate the wine becomes quite firm and grippy, as chunky tannins start to bite, and give a real edge to the fruit and the mouthfeel. There’s a touch of tobacco and spice too, in a wine that finishes at quite a powerful pace. Very good indeed. £4.99, Somerfield.

Catena (Argentina) Alamos Bonarda 2004
Alamos is the entry level to Catena’s premium wine range, made by José Galante in Mendoza province. Bonarda was brought to Argentina in the 19th century by Italian immigrants, and this 100% varietal wine spends months in a mix of French and American oak, all of it one year old. It has a fairly subdued nose, suffused with a smoky, gently cedary toast, and with soft, yielding berry fruit beneath. On the palate there is plenty of sweetness to the fruit, like red cherry and summer berries, but there is a decisive edge too, with a liquorice and tart plum skin crispness. But then the spice and mellow oaky flavours start to fight back, and this lively, bittersweet wine ends with a softer touch. Very good indeed. £6.88, Bibendum.

Finca Flichman (Argentina) ‘Expressiones’ Shiraz Cabernet 2004
The Expressions range is a beautifully and handsomely packaged new line from Luis Cabral de Almeida, the new winemaker at Finca Flichman, which he hopes will display his terroir. From 28-year-old vineyards in Tupungato, the wine spends eight months in a mix of French and American oak. The nose has a lovely blackcurrant pastille and juicy cherry ripeness, with little nuances of violet and blueberry pie. On the palate this shows lovely fruit: it is dry and savoury, with tannins immediately gripping the sides of the mouth, and a coffee and woodsmoke oak note adding to the dry, food-friendly appeal. But the fruit really comes through, with a concentration of black berries and some clove and pepper notes, with a very nicely balanced and long finish. Very impressive. Very good indeed/excellent. This range is new to the UK priced £6.99 and can be purchased from importer Stevens Garnier of Oxford, or call them on +44 (0)1865 263 300 for other stockists.

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