In the wake of the huge success of Fuzion, the versatile wine country strives to move beyond the bold malbecs that made it famous By David Lawrason
A few years ago, Argentina’s bold malbecs swaggered into town, offering bags of flavour at unbelievably low prices. And they caught on like wildfire, with the now ubiquitous Fuzion — a malbec-shiraz blend priced at just $7.75 — becoming the largest-selling brand in LCBO history. With the LCBO shelves now bursting with dense (though often coarse and simple) malbecs priced under $12, it seemed that a visit to Argentina was in order to find out what’s on the horizon from the world’s fifth largest wine-producing nation.
With about 30 percent of Argentina’s vast, arid Andean vineyard planted with malbec, it’s obvious that this variety is not going away anytime soon. But there is a reservoir of upgraded malbecs — plush, creamy, and more complex wines that still offer great value in the $15-to-$30 range. These wines come from more narrowly defined regions, with differences in style based on vineyard altitude. Though Argentina is dragging its feet on the creation and marketing of appellations, within Mendoza (the country’s largest region, with over 75 percent of the production) the malbecs of higher Uco Valley areas such as La Consulta, Tupungato, and Altamira display a more floral character, better acidity, and greater elegance. Conversely, malbecs from medium-altitude Luján de Cuyo and the lower altitudes of Maipú tend to be dense, soft, very ripe, and a touch earthier.
Other regions of Argentina are also gaining momentum. The Cafayate Valley in the north has very high-altitude vineyards focused on the aromatic white torrontés and cabernet sauvignons, while in the south, desert-like Patagonia is turning out pinot noirs and merlots. Other areas in between — including La Rioja and San Juan provinces, and the region around San Rafael — are busy scratching new vineyards out of the barren Andean steppes. When it comes to alternative grape varieties, Argentina’s most interesting is bonarda, a dark grape originating in Europe. It has wonderful violet-blueberry aromatics and natural acidity that bring considerable finesse and charm. Other well-suited varieties include petit verdot, tannat, tempranillo, and good old cabernet sauvignon.
The leading edge of the alt-Argentine wave is represented by the picks below, with more to come in the year ahead — their bold flavours and value still intact.
Terrazas de Los Andes 2010 Torrontés Reserva
$14.95 • Mendoza • 90 points
The most refined torrontés I have ever had. It has the citrus explosion — lime and grapefruit — that I expect from this grape, with a note of fennel. It is slim, bright, and vibrant on the palate, not at all blowsy, and it finishes with a clean, slightly bitter grapefruit tang. Some torrontés can be perfumed and obvious; this has refinement and depth. Don’t over-chill. Vintages 243238.
Tilia 2010 Torrontés
$12.95 • Salta • 87 points
This is a full-bore Salta example with a blast of mandarin, licorice, and rosemary. There is initial sweetness and it’s full-bodied and creamy, but it finishes dry, warm, and spicy with all kinds of anise. Chill very well. Works well with curries and citrus-based salads. LCBO 186403.
Graffigna 2011 Centenario Pinot Grigio
$12.95 • San Juan • 88 points
Pinot grigio’s global wave of popularity has washed to the foot of the Andes. The warm climate here produces riper, more tropical examples than does Italy (grigio’s homeland). This version exudes banana, orange, and fennel flavours. It is a touch soft but still refreshing and pristine. LCBO 164756.
Decero 2008 Remolinos Vineyard Malbec
$22.95 • Agrelo, Mendoza • 89 points
Single vineyard wines from prime sites are the next evolution for Argentina’s signature grape. This has very cool, refined, and appealing aromas of perfectly ripened blackberry, vanilla, and vaguely cedary spice. It’s smooth and stylish, with a refined, dusty tannin. Wanted a bit more depth for 90 points, but it is fair at the price. Vintages 247304.
Viña Cobos Felino 2010 Merlot
$19.95 • Mendoza • 89 points
The quality of Argentina’s merlots was a surprise, especially from cooler Patagonia and higher elevations in Mendoza. This captures intense, exuberant, and complex flavours of raspberry, fresh figs, and tobacco, with an undercurrent of steak tartare meatiness. It’s satiny smooth, and lush, with alcohol heat being the only detractor. Vintages 248492.
Masi 2010 Passo Doble Malbec Corvina
$13.95 • Tupungato, Mendoza • 89 points
This blends malbec with corvina (the amarone grape) transplanted from northern Italy, the European homeland of Masi wines. Expect a fragrant nose of plums, leather, and walnut, plus vague cocoa and spice. It is smooth and poised, with fine acidity from the corvina grown at higher altitude in Tupungato adding freshness. Tannin is tamed; ready to go. Applaud the Italian flair. LCBO 620880.
Don Cristobal 2010 Bonarda
$12.95 • Mendoza • 88 points
The bountiful bonarda grape (originally from the Alps) is responsible for much of Argentina’s bulk wine, but it is being upgraded through lower yields. This is a classic, with very deep purple-black colour and lifted floral, peppery, blueberry scents. It’s rounded, lively, and juicy, with less tannin malbec. Vintages 261941.
Trumpeter 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
$12.95 • Mendoza • 88 points
Wow! This has a seductive, surprisingly rich, complex cabernet nose of cocoa, cedar, leather, and blackcurrant jam. It’s medium-to-full-bodied, creamy, and a touch sweet and dense, with some heat and woody tannin. Smooth for such a young wine. Best 2012 to 2015. Enjoy with grilled steak. LCBO 218842.
Graffigna 2008 Centenario Shiraz Reserve
$12.95 • San Juan • 87 points
Graffigna is from a remote high-altitude (thus cooler) valley in San Juan province. The shiraz feels different as a result. It’s understated, more delicate, and a bit lighter than Mendoza versions, with floral mulberry fruit plus licorice-dried herbs and background vanilla. Some tannin, so best 2013 to 2015. Chill lightly. LCBO 164731.
From one of the landmark wineries of the Patagonia region, where pinot noir is better adapted to the cooler, windy, and more southerly latitude, this an easygoing, fresh red — though one that doesn’t have a lot of pinot complexity and nuance. It’s grapy and plummy, with a perfumed note. Vintages 55442.
Scores are assigned on a 100-point scale and reflect a wine’s overall quality, but don’t consider price. A rating of 95 to 100 means outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 85 to 89 very good; 80 to 84 good.