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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 Manchó 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 Manchó 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.
The architecture is impossible to ignore. And so is the setting.
As you probably know by now, the wine bar at Palacio Duhau has one of the best selections of Argentinean wine in the country, including such icons as Cobos Malbec, in an absolutely enviable setting.
But for our money, one of the best experiences was this very early vintage blend from Fabre Montmayou. The 2001 Grand Vin contains a blend of malbec, cabernet and merlot planted in 1908. It’s aged in 100% French oak barrels, and 16 years in bottle has done beautiful things for this wine. It was so good that while sitting on the patio, we immediately went searching for more on Wine Searcher.
Alas – this vintage is impossible to get in the States – or as far as we can tell, anywhere in Argentina but the Park Hyatt!
So when you’re here – don’t miss the chance to enjoy a bottle.
Fabre Montmayou was founded in the early 90s by Hervé Joyau Fabre, one of a number of acclaimed French winemakers who early on saw the potential of Mendoza. You can read more about his wines here.