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Happy Holidays! You may be asking yourself, what are some good, relatively affordable wines I can give as gifts? Here are a few suggestions that won’t break the bank, as well as one that will.
For this season, we’re trying to keep the focus on wines you can actually find and buy. All of these are well-distributed in the United States, so you should be able to find them all via Wine-Searcher.
Black Tears – This is a big boy. Grown at 4400 feet at the San Pablo estate in the Uco Valley, and aged for 24 months in oak barrels, Black Tears from the Tapiz winery has a reputation as a dense, intense red wine that deserves food to match; that’s why it’s a steakhouse favorite. The good news is that in recent years, it’s being made with considerably more finesse, and integrating the oak really well into a more interesting, complex flavor profile. It is almost always available at Costco locations, at around $40.
Catena Appellation Series – Originally sold in restaurants, these bottles from Argentina’s best known winery, led by Nicholas and Laura Catena, let your recipient explore the soil and weather conditions of a specific region of Mendoza. And, they’re relatively affordable, – around $20. Visit Catena’s info page here.
Cocodrilo – this relatively new red blend from Paul Hobbs’ Vina Cobos is about $25. I find it more interesting than the $20 Felino series. It’s in stock at Beer Girl in Atlanta.
Cuvelier los Andes Grand Vin – It’s nearly impossible to let a list go by without mentioning my favorite go-to winery, and this venture by a celebrated French winemaking family in Argentina’s Uco Valley continues to be a price/quality favorite. A red blend, made in the Bordeaux tradition, with impressive quality for only around $32. You’ll find it at Tower Wine and Spirits in Atlanta.
El Enemigo Malbec – Priced in the mid $20s, this well-crafted Malbec grown at nearly 5,000 feet is a great introduction to the talents of Catena chief winemaker Alejandro Vigil, at this personal project co-owned by Vigil and his wife Adrianna Catena. Good information from distributor Winebow here.
Gran Enemigo Cabernet Franc Single Vineyard Gualtallary – Or if you really, really like someone (or want them to be impressed with you) get them a bottle of his unbelievable Cab Franc, of which the 2013 vintage earned an astonishing 100 points from RobertParker.com, and the 2016 was awarded 99 points. To the question, “is that wine worth $100?” I’d reply, “Is your friend?” Find a retailer here.
Trapiche Terroir Series – Trapiche, one of Argentina’s largest wineries, thinks small with these beautifully made premier wines from individual small farms in Mendoza. These are around $50, and well worth it. I’m partial to the Finca Ambrosia. Visit Trapiche’s information page here.
It has taken far too long for me to share the story of my amazing visit to the Trapiche winery last year. There is so much to tell that I am going to break it up into segments!
One of the deals made with Trapiche when Daniel Pi set out to create his Tres14 line: they agreed to let Pi set out with his own family label – on condition that other up-and-coming winemakers at Trapiche were also allowed to do it.
Sergio Case is one of those winemakers, and he joined Daniel Pi and I for a tasting of his new line, Pajarito Amichu.
I was fully prepared to smile and nod and say, when can we get to the fancy Trapiche labels thank you very much, but Sergio Case’s wines are a story in their own right. Fresh, approachable, and delicious. And an outstanding value for the dollar.
My own wine tastes have diversified since I began exploring Argentine wine. I was drawn in by the highly-oaked, concentrated red wines favored by international consultants, but I have come to enjoy fresher wines with more minerality that don’t have to be stored in a cellar for ten years to unlock their best potential.
Sergio is animated as he describes his vision for the wines.
It speaks well of Trapiche that they allow this level of freedom and innovation among its winemakers. It keeps their thinking fresh and open to new possibilities. I can’t wait to see where this freedom takes them next.
“Since you were here last, nothing has changed.”
That might just be the best news of my trip.
You see, after four years, I didn’t really need to make another visit to Cuvelier los Andes. I just wanted to.
So when another booking didn’t work out, I was secretly thrilled.
Because to me, in a way I can’t fully explain, entering the gates of the Clos de los Siete vineyards feels like coming home.
By now the story has been well told: renowned wine consultant Michel Rolland was looking for the perfect piece of property in the Uco Valley. He brought together five renowned French families with the goal of developing a world-class source of grapes. Each winery could make the wines it pleases, and each would contribute grapes to a wine called, Clos de los Siete.
Today, Cuvelier los Andes, Monteviejo, Bodega Rolland, and Bodega Diamandes continue to participate in the Clos de los Siete project, while neighbor Flechas de los Andes (another favorite of mine) has chosen to go independent.
But for me it is Cuvelier that is consistently the price/value champion. At every price point, they deliver deep, complex yet appealing wines that will be welcome to Americans who enjoy Napa Valley reds.
After all, when you have a good thing going, why change?
So while other winemakers experiment with concrete eggs and other trends of the moment, the Cuveliers are just fine cultivating their wines on their property using the techniques they perfected in France, thank you very much.
That is not to say they are standing still.
Adrián Manchon tells me there is much to learn each year. After years of working with their vineyard, they have identified specific plots that work best for each label. He says, “We have these micro-terroirs on our property. There are 55 hectares of property, and each hectare has its own distinct terroir that we have identified through laboratory testing.”
My sommelier friends tell me that the quality of the wines coming out of Cuvelier los Andes is getting better every year.
The winemakers are increasingly excited about their Malbec Rosé, a crisp, drinkable summer wine made in the French fashion. It is among my favorite Rosés from any grape in this price range. They are also at work on a new wine, Cuvee Natur, a natural malbec / merlot / syrah / cabernet sauvignon blend that is 100% free of sulfites, that should be in the market around 2020.
Something else to look forward to: Cuvelier los Andes bottled Petit Verdot for the first time 2017, in a very limited edition, with only 500 bottles made. Adrián tells me it will be very good quality due to their approach to micro-vinification – it should be in the market in 2020.
He says that the 2019 harvest is extremely promising. The quantity of the crop was not large, but the quality is very good.
After a few minutes of chatting at the entrance, the chief winemaker is ready to show off his product.
“We have the good wine. I’ve prepared it for tasting,” says Adrián.
Oh okay. if you insist.
We tasted the entire range, from entry level-reds to the Rosé to the superb Grand Vin and Grand Malbec. My hosts were more than generous with their collection, but as much as I love the wines, what I enjoyed the most was the conversation and getting to know the team better.
The big surprise in the entry-level wines for our group was the Merlot. We agreed it had more elegance and complexity than the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Malbec. I’m not a big Merlot drinker, but after tasting Cuvelier’s offering, I’m reconsidering.
We progressed to the Colección blend, in the $20 range, which I’ve said on these pages may be South America’s best value in the price range. Happily, it’s readily available Stateside at a variety of retail outlets, including Atlanta’s Ansley Park Kroger.
We had a taste of the Rosé 2018, and it was every bit as good as promised.
Then it was on to the Grand Vin and Grand Malbec, the winery’s premium offerings. They age beautifully, and my own cellar is as full of them as my budget allows.
The winery shop also features a really interesting wine that we did not taste, called Grand Colección. When hail destroyed the vast majority of the crop in November 2010, they opted not to make the Grand Vin or Grand Malbec, and to put the best remaining grapes into a blend available only at the winery. (For my money the regular 2010 Colección sold at retail is still a great bottle if you can find it Stateside.)
Adrián Manchon says that the United States is one of their biggest markets, because the quality/price ratio is embraced by American wine buyers.
In a world of change, there is something to be said for sticking with the plan. Cuvelier los Andes continues to impress, and I can’t wait to see where their wines go from here.
One of the biggest challenges facing Argentine winemakers in the domestic market is the rise of craft beer, which is being embraced by the younger generation.
Historically, Argentina had one of the largest per capita wine consumptions in the world, but that is rapidly changing. Craft brewers are opening around the country by the dozens.
In my conversations with winemakers like Daniel Pi of Trapiche and Adrián Manchon of Cuvelier Los Andes, I hear a concern that the industry may have made enjoying wine too complicated.
They wonder if newcomers to wine feel like they’re “getting it wrong” if they don’t taste the notes of plum and leather and the scent of black fruit that the reviews described.
It’s all gotten just a bit precious.
So I found both of them encouraging an approach to wine that is a little bit more playful and less serious.
As Adrián Manchon put it, “there are the wines you Think, and there are the wines you just Drink.”
And there is a place for each.
We’ll drink to that.
Chances are, you won’t find a bottle of 1977 Malbec on your supermarket shelf. But we were fortunate enough to come across one at Palacio Duhau – the Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires. It was an off-list bottle that the (wonderful) sommelier, Valentina Litman, mentioned that she had in the cellar. You would think that a Malbec from this early era would be an oak bomb – but it was surprisingly supple and complex. This 1977 Cavas de Weinert had notes of plum and leather and a softness almost like a Pinot Noir. A great treat for our first bottle of this Argentinian trip.
Here are the wines we’re drinking right now that are an exceptional value for their price range, vintage after vintage.
Cuvelier Los Andes Colección – The renowned Cuvelier Family is best known in France for their Château Léoville Poyferré, one of the most consistent providers of high-quality Bordeaux in France. Their vintage wines sell for $200 and beyond and have been known to age beautifully for decades. The Cuvelier brought their talents to Argentina’s Uco Valley in conjunction with Michel Rolland’s Clos de los Siete project, determined to prove they could create wines of similar quality. Their Grand Vin ($35) and Grand Malbec ($60) are terrific, but the champion for value is their Coleccion, arguably the best $20 bottle of Argentine red you cay buy.
Tres14 – Trapiche’s chief winemaker Daniel Pi has his own “garage winery” for his personal projects, and the brand is an amusing riff on his last name, as in 3.14. Clever, yes?This bottle is usually in the $50 range, and it’s available at Total Wine.
Tres14 “Imperfecto” – Another Daniel Pi garagista wine, the name Imperfecto is coined from the “contamination” of the Malbec with 3% Cabernet Franc. This absolutely delicious $60 bottle is available in the US at Total Wine.
Catena Appellation Series – Vista Flores and Lunlunta – We hear that these $20 bottles were originally intended to be exclusive to restaurants, but somewhere along the way the plan changed and they’re now available in select retail stores. Bodega Catena Zapata does a beautiful job in every price range – perhaps no one has invested more in science and research to understand the Argentine terroir. We’re particular fans of the Lunlunta version, if you can find it in your store.
Cheval des Andes – You won’t find a more worthy splurge than this $90 wine, a joint venture between Argentine wine giant Terrazas de los Andes and France’s Château Cheval Blanc. This is as serious as winemaking gets in South America, and spends 15 to 18 months in oak barrels. Cheval des Andes has been getting added finesse in the last few years. If you prefer a big wine for steak, look for the 2010 and 2011 bottles and if you want something more balanced and elegant, look into the later vintages. We’ve seen 2011 bottles at Green’s in Atlanta for as little as $55.
As you know, this site is all about the celebration of Argentine wine – and it always will be. But I’ve been invited to visit friends in Napa Valley next week.
I think it will be fascinating after four trips to Mendoza, to compare and contrast what the California wine community and tasting experience is like.
I already have some built-in assumptions about what I’ll find – too expensive, too jammy – so it will be very interesting to see what reality is.
Unfortunately, the weather will be quite cold and rainy, but there should be ample red wine to warm things up! Look for frequent posts on Facebook from the trip.
The Points Guy just published a piece that suggests this is one of the best times to visit Argentina in years.
We are amazed that even since our #MalbecsOnly2018 trip in March, the currency has dropped from 20/1 US Dollar to 24.45 (as of today).
Even with significant Argentinean inflation, that has to be an eye opener.
After 10 days on the road in Mendoza and Buenos Aires, it’s fair to say our #MalbecsOnly2018 group have have been no strangers to indulgence.
Lavish meals, incredible tastings, inspiring sites, too many memories, a photo cloud that’s bursting at the seams.
After a while, it can all become a bit of a blur. Which is why it takes a truly unusual hotel to stand out – which is what we have found at the Fierro Hotel in the Palermo Hollywood barrio of Buenos Aires.
In our experience in Argentina, there are intimate boutique hotels that are warm and welcoming (like Casa Glebinias and Miravida Soho), and there are giant hotels (like the Four Seasons and Park Hyatt) that offer 5-star indulgence and posh amenities.
The Fierro brilliantly bridges that gap. From homemade scones, the trip’s best medialunas, and impossibly fresh homemade organic yogurt to the rooftop pool, huge contemporary rooms (4 to a floor) with wet bar, fully-stocked wine refrigerator and Nespresso machine; comfortably huge dual-nozzle showers with enough glorious water pressure to wash a small vehicle, and the on-point front desk team, the Fierro is the kind of place where you would love to just check in for a few months and let the rest of the world take care of itself.
The cuisine at Uco, the onsite restaurant, arguably justifies its ranking among BA’s best restaurants. Chef Edward Holloway has developed a menu that respects Argentine tradition without being slavish to it – there are cues from Peru and other South American countries. The trophy dish is Patagonian lamb shoulder slow cooked for 18 hours, and it’s as good as it sounds. The South American paellas are more like dense broth-cooked risottos than the yellow rice dishes we’ve come to identify with Spain. We tried both the rabbit paella and the Peruvian seafood rice dish and both were among the favorite bites of our travels.
The wine list, quite simply, rocks. Premium bottles, reasonably priced and thoughtfully curated. No, you’re not going to find as many $4000 bottles here as the Park Hyatt. (But really, unless you were planning to sell an organ, you’ll find more than enough to hold your interest here.)
We attended a free wine tasting at the Vinoteca, the attached wine shop, and despite having just returned from 12 winery visits in Mendoza (this is where we receive the grapes, this is where we fill the tanks, blah, blah, blah), the information offered by Manuel (complete with charts, maps, and photographs) was fresh, relevant and added to our depth of understanding of Argentinean wine.
This is also the most time we’ve spent in Palermo Hollywood (through the years I’ve always been partial to Palermo Soho) and have discovered that this neighborhood has charms of its own. Fewer designer clothing stores, yes, but a little more chill – and maybe a bit more of a genuine neighborhood feel (think Tribeca as opposed to Soho.)
We invited longtime friends from Buenos Aires over to the hotel for dinner, and al fresco dining at Uco served as the perfect backdrop for our happy reunion.
We’ll be back.