Argentina: Continuing our Exploration

After years of thinking of Mendoza Malbec as a fairly monolithic wine, we’ve been discovering what a new generation of winemakers is doing in this high-altitude region, as they move away from an “international” style of winemaking and uncover how unique site and varietal combine to make wine that is both distinctive and delicious.

This week, we turn to tiny production Laureano Gomez, and the 700 bottle production of his 2018 Malbec Mendoza.

Laureano Gomez learned his craft over two decades as winemaker at Mendoza powerhouses Salentein and Trapiche, creating Trapiche’s “Iscay” red, often called Mendoza’s first “cult wine.” In 2010, he struck out on his own, converting the garage of his small house in the village of town of Colonia Las Rosas into a micro-winery. Today he works in an actual winery, built by his son, who studied construction after both his sisters became winemakers because “three winemakers in one family are enough.”

Organic, Dry Farmed Grapes
In both the garage and winery, though, Gomez’s approach is the same. All fruit was purchased from small, local growers who farm organically and without irrigation (still rare in Mendoza). The grapes are harvested by hand in small wooden boxes, sorted carefully, and then crushed and allowed to ferment at their own pace when the winery’s native yeast gets around to doing the job.

The wine moves from fermenter to barrel and tank by gravity – there are no pumps anywhere in the winery. When ready, Gomez and his family bottle the wine by hand, label the bottles by hand, and pack and tape up the boxes for sale locally and, in small quantities, in the USA.

As Natural as Possible
From first to last, the goal is to let the vineyards, vintage and varietals speak for themselves. So the grapes are picked ripe vs. over-ripe and new oak is used judiciously – only half the wine sees barrel, mostly used, for only six months.

The wines are never fined (a process used to remove sediment and/or tannins) or filtered, and are finished with very limited additions of sulfur, just enough to keep the wine from spoiling during shipment. At 40 ppm, the sulfite level in this wine is low enough to qualify for many “natural wine” competitions!

Further exploration
A bottle of Laureano Gomez’ wine will be open all week, and this weekend, expand your Mendoza exploration with a taste of Las Compuertas Criolla Mendoza 2019 – This varietal, called Mission in California and Pais in Chile, is the first wine grape brought to the New World from Europe. This is from 1943 plantings, full of tart cherry/strawberry fruit, and sweet/tart on the mouthwatering finish. Yummy, rare, very limited and very much worth trying.)

Priorat: Spain’s Answer to Chateauneuf?

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As in Chateauneuf, Priorat soils are hidden by a layer of stones.

Priorat is an unbelievably rugged wine region in Catalonia, a couple of hours inland an up-country from Barcelona. The climate is Mediterranean, with hot sunshine partially moderated by altitude and wind. The vines grow on steeply sloped hillsides of fractured slate – often you have to dig through a foot or more of broken rock to get to the shallow soils where young vines are planted.

If the notion of soil hidden by stones brings to mind Chateauneuf du Pape, you’re on the right track. Except the rock is splintered granite instead of rounded off river stones. The main grapes overlap with Chateauneuf’s – Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan predominate – and ripen to the same big, bold, levels you find in the Southern Rhone.

But Utterly Unique
But Carignan – or Carinyena as it’s called here – plays a much bigger role (about 40% of AiAiAi’s blend). So you can think of Priorat as CdP but with more blue/black fruit character. And a more firm and powerful spine. And with an utterly unique and captivating sense of dusty slate on the nose, palate and finish.

Silvia Puig has been planting vineyards, growing grapes and making wine in Priorat for her whole adult life, and for the past 10 years or so she’s been creating some of the region’s most exciting, handcrafted, wines under the En Numeros Vermells label. Until recently, she’s made her tiny lots of bold, rich reds and whites (from a few hundred to 3,000 or so bottles of each wine) in the cellar of her home in the heart of Priorat (starting this year, she’s got her own winery – more on that to come later this spring!).

silvia-puig-2019.jpgWith such tiny production levels and a loyal customer base (like us – we sell more of Silvia’s wines than anyone!), she doesn’t have to present her wines to critics for review. But somehow Josh Raynolds of Vinous got his hands on a bottle of her “entry level” AiAiAi 2014. He wrote:

“A heady, exotically perfumed bouquet evokes ripe red and dark berries, potpourri and Indian spices, along with suggestions of cola and smoky minerals. Concentrated yet lithe, showing strong energy and focus to its juicy black raspberry, lavender pastille and spicecake flavors. The floral quality gains strength with air, carrying through a very long, sweet and gently tannic finish that leaves sappy berry and mineral notes behind.” Vinous (Raynolds) 92 points

Sound good? We’re featuring the 2018 AiAiAi this week, and 2018 is a much better year and this is an even more exciting wine. In fact, even though this is Silvia’s “entry-level” red, it easily outshines most Priorat wineries’ top reds.

And the name? It comes from Silvia’s experience making wine in the basement of her house while tending young children playing in the cellar. “AiAiAi, get off those barrels.” “AiAiAi, don’t fall in the vat!” But the name is just as apt as a description of your reaction when you taste this stunning 2018.

“AiAiAi! That’s delicious!”

Distinctive and Delicious Malbecs from Mendoza

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Mendoza winemakers are traveling a road to producing wines that reflect soil and place – and do so deliciously!

When Malbec burst on the American wine scene and pushed aside Aussie Shiraz as the best wine value in the USA 10-15 years ago, paying attention to the terroir of various subregions wasn’t on anyone’s mind.

As Uco Valley winemaker Matías Riccitelli told Wine Enthusiast in late 2018, “In the early days, meaning 15 to 20 years ago, the creativity came from outside,” he says. “You had Michel Rolland and his Bordeaux friends at Clos de los Siete, Paul Hobbs [from California] at Cobos, and Hans Vinding-Diers [a Dane] with Noemia down in Patagonia.”

Those outsiders brought with them an “International” understanding of what made for great red wine. And the wines they made – picked at very full ripeness, softened to smoothness, and given a sheen of spice in new oak – very much fit that international mold. And given the then very low land and farming costs in Argentina, they delivered that polished style at stunningly low prices.

A couple of years ago, we began noticing something new in the Malbecs we tried at our buying tastings.

A New Generation. As second and third generation Mendoza-born winery owners took the reins of their estates, they began looking past the international style to try to discover what was unique about their vines, soils, and locations. To be honest, most of those early attempts reminded us why Malbec traditionally plays a supporting role to Cabernet Sauvignon in most of the world.

Today, though, we’re finding more and more examples of Mendoza Malbec that is both distinctively “Mendoza” and utterly delicious. A wine class a few months ago with Sebastian Zuccardi of the Familia Zuccardi Estate provided a fine introduction to the varied terroirs of Mendoza. And this Saturday (Jan. 11, 2020), we are featuring wines from Bodega Andeluna.

Andeluna WineryAndeluna is a great example of an estate working in the Mendoza subregion of Gualtallary that’s made the transition to wines of delicious distinctiveness. Join us on Saturday from noon-4pm and you can taste through their full line-up of current releases with export manager Nicolás Cricco. Like us, we think you’ll be thrilled with the purity of their Chardonnay, the floral complexity of their Torrentes, and the satisfying richness of both their “everyday” Cabernet and the much more serious Malbec Altutud.

But Andeluna’s Malbec Raices is most likely the wine that will stop you cold. Especially when you look at the price – at $9.98 by the bottle, the best you’ll find in the USA. At $7.98/ea by the case? This wine showcases the unique blend of alluvial, sandy, and limestone-rich soils of Gualtallary. These free-draining soils give bunches of small berries that achieve full ripeness of flavor and tannin at modest alcohols of 13.8%. And when treated with care, they deliver wines that match their fullness and fruit with amazing freshness and superb drinkability. A can’t miss winning four-season, all-purpose red that could be the finest value you’ll find in all of 2020 to come!