Watch our entire tasting at Viña Cobos.

One of the highlights of last season’s trip to Mendoza was our personal tasting at Paul Hobbs’ partnership in Argentina, Viña Cobos. Our host, Victoria Bravo, could not have been any more welcoming. She offered details about the entire line of wines, from Felino (approx $20 US) to Bramare ($40-80+ US) to Cobos Malbec and Cobos Volturno ($200+). We were able to taste the whole range of wines with the exception of, understandably, Cobos! We’re not going to win any awards for iPhone cinematography, but you’ll get an authentic feel for what it’s like taste the wines at one of Argentina’s greatest wineries.

This clip is long – 43 minutes! (Follow the captions to get to the sections you’re most interested in.) If you like what you see on this blog, be sure to like us on Facebook for frequent updates on Argentinian wine.

 

 

Angelica Zapata – the wine that started my love affair with a country.

 

It was 2008, and we had the good fortune to be shooting a television campaign in Argentina. I had visited once before as a tourist and had the time of my life.

But this time, we were hosted by a production company who was truly knowledgable about the country. And one member of our production team happened to be an experienced wine guy.

He took me to Winery in Recoleta. As I marveled at the different bottles in all price range, he walked over to an oak case and pulled out a bottle in an elegant, gray felt bag, tied with a red string:

“This is the one you want.”

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It was Angelica Zapata, from Catena. Distributed only in Argentina and virtually impossible to find in the U.S.

Angelica Zapata Malbec Alta represents grapes from some of the Catena family’s very best lots in their best vineyards, at altitudes ranging from 3000 to 4500 feet. Combining grapes from different lots at different altitudes contributes to the wine’s elegance and complexity. For the 2008 vintage, here were the sources:

Lot 18, “Angelica” Vineyard, 3018 ft elevation.
Lot 4, “La Pirámide” Vineyard, 3117 ft elevation.
Lot 2, “Altamira” Vineyard, 3642 ft elevation.
Lot 3, “Adrianna” Vineyard, 4757 ft elevation.
Lot 9, “Adrianna” Vineyard, 4757 ft elevation.

 

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If you want a point of comparison from the American Catena lineup, you might consider Catena Alta Malbec ($50) as the most comparable wine. I am told it has a more oak-forward California style profile, while the domestic Angelica Zapata has a bit more European balance.

My first taste of Angelica Zapata was the beginning of a love affair with Argentinean wine that will last the rest of my life. We opened a bottle last night to mark a family occasion, and this 12 year old bottle was as elegant and smooth as I had hoped.

If anyone you know is headed southward to Argentina soon, be extra nice – and maybe they’ll bring you back a bottle of this.

Interview: Miguel Sanz, Driving Mendoza Wine Tours

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All you have to do is spend a few minutes on the Argentina forums of FlyerTalk or TripAdvisor before you see all the kudos for Miguel Sanz, a driver and personal tour guide for visitors to Mendoza. To call Miguel a “driver” hardly does his role justice. He’s more like a concierge or chaperone. He can make appointments with the wineries, arrange a memorable lunch, and make just about anything happen. Since practically everyone’s heard about Miguel, we thought it would be interesting for people to get to know him better.

 

Where is your hometown? Tell me about it.
I live about 15′ from downtown in a great city called La Heras. My house is in a calm residential area, where the kids are still playing outside without a problem.

 

How long have you lived in Mendoza?
I was born in Mendoza City and grew up there until I was 22 years old; then I moved to Canada for a period of 7 years. Than I came back to Mendoza for the holidays and decided to stay.

 

You have quite the fan base on TripAdvisor. Why do you think you’ve become so popular with Americans?
I guess because I understand the needs of the visitors and probably because I had great training working in the Park Hyatt and Cavas Wine Lodge hotel the first three years as a driver.

 

You worked in the wine business before you began Driving Mendoza, correct? Where did you work, and what did you do?
I have a degree in Export Marketing and Logistics and I did work in the wine industry. I worked for Familia Zuccardi as a Logistics Manager and also for Wines of Argentina too.

 

How did you get started driving visitors?
In February 2007 I had a full month off. My brother was a driver of a tourist agency and the owner needed to replace a couple drivers so they offered me to work for him 15 days. In those 15 days I drove many people and three of them wrote the manager of Park Hyatt a letter about my great service and knowledge, so the manager call my brother’s boss and asked him to do what ever it took to keep me in the hotel. That’s how I started.

 

How many days is a good visit to Mendoza, that gives people enough time to get to know the wineries and the region?
Well, there are three different regions to visit in Mendoza, so I would say at least three days.

 

Some people think renting their own car is a good idea. What do you think of that?
First of all, the rentals agencies don’t have automatic transmissions. So if you don’t know how to drive manual transmission, that is the first reason. We have zero tolerance in drinking and driving. And besides that, there are no good signs. GPS can help a little, but if the one you get isn’t updated to the very latest version, you’re still getting lost.

 

What are some of the less-discovered wineries that you think visitors should take more time get to know?
Well if I tell you all my secrets, my competitors will start to copy me.
Okay, I’ll give you some: Altocedro, D’Angeles 1928, Sin Fin.

 

What if one of the member of a group is not a wine drinker? What other places and activities in the region do you enjoy taking visitors to?
There’s many options, mountain trips all the way to the Aconcagua Park, outdoor activities like horseback riding, rafting, zip lining, trekking, 4-wheel drive tours on a road through the mountains, shopping tours. Night tours, etc. You ask and I provide.

 

What is the biggest mistake foreign tourists make when traveling to Mendoza?
Try to arrange the winery appointment by themselves. It’s not impossible, but sometimes they make appointments each hour to try to get most of their day and they forget that some wineries are 30km apart and hidden.

 

What’s your favorite story of something that has happened when you were leading a tour?
I was in La Azul restaurant and this guy told me that he was going to propose to his girlfriend. He did it with the surprise that I told everybody in the restaurant and we filmed all the proposal.

 

What are some differences to consider when you are choosing a driver or tour company in Argentina?
First, my tour is totally private and if you decide to come back after lunch to the hotel you can do it. You can choose your wineries, or at least share the names of the wineries that you like to visit. Sometimes it isn’t possible because availability from them, but normally, we work it out. On a group tour you have fixed tours and you don’t know what kind of people you will sharing the tour with.

 

How has the wine industry in Mendoza changed since you began giving tours?
A lot, because many wineries are open for tourists, so now we have more than 150 wineries to visit.

 

What do you see as the biggest change that will come in the next five years?
Well Argentina is just beginning. New investors will come and now with the new government that just started, I think this type of service will grow.

 

You can learn more about Miguel on Trip Advisor or request his services at DrivingMendozaWineTours.com. You can also email Miguel directly here.

 

Patience is a virtue, yes?

Patience is a virtue, yes? Rearranging our wine coolers this morning. Here are a few favorite bottles we’ve put away for aging, all 2004-2009 vintages. Need to go back and look at Robert Parker reviews to check the recommended years for enjoying these, but in most cases they should benefit from more time in the bottle.

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What a week!

Thanks to The Vines of Mendoza, Bodega O. Fournier, Park Hyatt, Grupo Clos de los Siete, Lares de Chacras, Bodega El Enemigo, Vina Cobos, Luca Wines, Mendel Wines, Bodega La Azul – Tupungato – Valle De Uco – Mendoza, Bodega Altocedro · La Consulta Mendoza Argentina, and Miravida Soho Hotel & Wine Bar, Buenos Aires for giving their time, their hospitality and their expertise. 

In the coming weeks we’ll be sharing our trip in much greater detail, with photos, video and more. Here are just a few highlights from our trip.

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
 

Superb $18 deal on Colomé Estate Malbec

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Colomé Estate Malbec 2010

The best bottle of South American wine you can usually pick up at Whole Foods Market is Colomé Estate Malbec. Owned by the Hess family and sourced from a desert vineyard in Salta, it’s one of my absolute favorites. There’s an elegance to this wine that belies its mid-$20s price.

However, the Whole Foods price of $28 is a terrible value. It’s why I tell people only to buy it during the store’s 20% off sale, when it drops to around $23.

But if you live in a US state that can receive mail-order wine, Ultimate Wine Shop is offering a much better deal. $17.99! With free shipping if you order 4 bottles.

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As a reminder, I don’t sell wine, and I don’t get any kind of financial incentive from the wines I recommend. I figure if I turn you on to great wines at great prices, the karma will come back to me eventually. A world where people are buying less Cigar Box and Diseno is a world I want to live in. If you like what I’m doing, maybe you’ll buy me a bottle sometime.

Can we just talk about Catena for a minute?

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Catena Malbec 2012

I mean, regular Catena. Not Catena Alta or Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino or Angelica Zapata or Nicolas Catena Zapata or the other more exotic wines I tend to wax poetically about.

Good old Catena Malbec. The one that is probably on your supermarket shelf for $22. (Unless you’re at Whole Foods Market where it will be a silly $26). The same Catena that you can get for $17 at Costco if you remember to pick some up.

The story has already been far better told by others of how Nicolas Catena transformed Argentine winemaking, so I won’t repeat that here.

I feel like my job on this blog is to make you look beyond the obvious choices. But seriously, if you find this for under $20, Catena Malbec IS the obvious choice. I just opened a bottle, at the proper temperature, used an aerator, and holy crap, this stuff is good. Not just acceptable, but delicious.

I’ve read columns from Luis Gutierrez and other wine experts who say Catena continues to make their whole line better and better. And tonight’s bottle reminds me this is true.

Yes, they have an empire. Yes, they even collaborate with Gallo on a high-distribution wine now. Yes, they have alliances with Rothschild and others. But you have to give credit to a company that despite growth, hasn’t taken their eye off the ball.

To me, Houston’s (maybe Hillstone in your city) is the most reliable, high-quality restaurant chain you can walk into. Everything is going to be good, every time, whether you’re in Atlanta, New York, Boston, or Santa Monica. You just know it’s going to be delicious. And that confidence, adds value. Well, Catena just might be the Houston’s of wine makers. And that is a compliment in my book.

Store Check: Joe’s Wines & Liquor, Memphis, TN

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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A family event brought us through Memphis, Tennessee one recent weekend, and a group dinner at Felicia Suzanne called for one special bottle of Malbec. But where to buy?

Quench, across from the Peabody Hotel, had a couple of decent mid-range Argentine reds, but nothing to write home about. A phone call to another recommended store, The Corkscrew, revealed little more than the same.

Time to consult Yelp, which revealed Joe’s Wines & Liquor, 10 minutes away in Midtown. A phone call quickly revealed this store was worth a visit.

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First of all, you have to love the retro Sputnik signage – your first clue this place is a cut above. And the Argentine red selection was very nice. While including the usual suspects like Achaval Ferrer Malbec, the always-delicious Luigi Bosca D.O.C., and Catena Alta, this proved the perfect place to explore the Terroir Series from Traphiche. These wines are designed to showcase very specific microclimates and soil.

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Our choice was the Robert Parker 94-rated Trapiche Terroir Series Finca Ambrosia, 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) which sources from Gualtallary. It was a big, bold and powerful New World red that demanded a good steak and at least a half hour of decanting. Honestly, I still found it opening up almost an hour after the cork came out.

At dinner, the wine accomplished its goal – which was to share with new friends the incredible artistry, story, taste and value of today’s Argentine malbecs. We can’t wait to try another bottle in the Terroir Series.

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Oh, and back to Joe’s. They have a super-friendly, knowledgable staff who is eager to share what they learned, and for you beer drinkers out there, a fantastic growler station which sells growlers as well as customized cans of draft with their own distinctive labels. I would characterize the wine prices as $3-5 higher than you might find at a Costco, but the convenience and expertise make Joe’s a very worthwhile visit indeed.

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