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Argentina is undoubtedly a country with a rich winemaking tradition and, although it may sound paradoxical, it’s also still very young. But, how does this happen?
The vine arrived in Argentina via European colonizers mid 16th century, and slowly but steadily, it spread throughout the national territory, mainly in the mountain region of Cuyo. It is in the 19th century, with the arrival of the agronomist Michel Aimé Pouget, that French varieties are planted, amongst them our emblematic Malbec. In any case, it is until the late 1980s and early 1990s (more than a century later) that, with the arrival of the so-called ‘Flying WineMakers,’ a change of mentality and an idea of a technological and precision work renovation are brought about, with the firm intention of developing all of the Argentine winemaking potential.
Therefore, in these years, a “revolution” starts; in which wineries equip themselves with stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. All of this, plus the contributions of experienced winemakers and agronomists who come from diverse and renowned wine-producing countries, have aided the growth and positioning of Argentina on the world’s wine map.
In this journey, there are some wines that have been a fundamental part of the Argentine winemaking tradition. Without these emblematic wines, it is hard to imagine Argentina would have gotten this far and been esteemed these much in the eyes of international critics and consumers. These are wines that resist momentary paradigms and contemporary profiles. While it is true that in some cases they tend to age, they don;e lose their identity, regardless of the current fashion. They are neither pro nor con, they are not on either side of the “yes wood, no wood” discussions. And, of course, they are a reference for the consolidation of classic Argentine wine.
Now we will review some of those wines (you can find the full tasting notes for each wine in VinoApp’s app or website).
In Argentina, we only have two Denominations of Controlled Origin (DOC) for wine. One is San Rafael and the other Luján de Cuyo, both located in Mendoza.
The system of Naming by Origin, so famous and prestigious in the old winemaking world (Europe) has not had an echo nor great repercussion in our country, as it is a set of very strict rules that must be followed starting with the vineyard and the wine’s production.
This wine is a curious (and delicious!) example of the Luján de Cuyo DOC.
Vicente Grazia, the winery’s winemaker, tells us: “Luigi Bosca Malbec DOC came out into the market for the first time in 1991, two years after the creation of the DOC. We don’t only have to follow the legal norms (there’s an internal regulatory body), but there is also a tasting committee that approves the wines as DOC. Amongst the most important rules, the vines must be at least 30 years old and all the grape in its totality must come from Luján de Cuyo. The wine must be elaborated in a winery in Luján de Cuyo. The wine also has to spend at least a year in French or American oak barrels of 1st or 2nd use. Subsequently, the wine must spend at least one year in the bottle before going out into the market. We’ve tried to maintain the wine’s style over time, respecting its profile and the DOC’s rules. If there’s something that might have evolved it’s that we try to achieve a higher degree of freshness, both in acidity and in aromas.”
In the case of this Malbec DOC, the grapes come from Vistalba and Las Compuertas, within Luján de Cuyo. In 2018, when the VinoApp team tasted this wine, it’s easy to identify what Grazia points out; great fruit expression and varietal typicality, with spicy contributions and a wood that’s very well integrated. The wine is silky, creamy and fresh at the same time, very persistent.
This is another famous Argentine classic that has been made since 1977! It’s certainly one of the wines that help to understand the history and the winemaking tradition in Argentina. It has the particularity of being aged in antique and huge French oak barrels. Swiss Hubert Weber, head of oenology at Bodega y Cavas Weinert, selects the best of these casks to create c complex cut of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. “The wine is aged for a minimum of 5 years in the barrel. But this is a decision that is made organoleptically. In general, the varieties that make up the blend, rest for more years in wood,” comments Weber.
The winemaker adds: “In Switzerland, in 1985, I tried this wine for the first time. It was so attractive and different that I decided to travel to Argentina to find out more about its production and aging. I was 22 years old. I never thought I’d end up being the winemaker.”
In regards to its positioning and the peculiarities in its elaboration; “It’s definitely an Argentine classic. Few high-end labels such as Cavas de Weinert have been around for so many years. In the elaboration process, we always believe that Cavas should be a complex, persistent wine; of great harmony and a strong presence in the mouth. Not long ago, a Norwegian sommelier presented it as a Petrus for the less wealthy. I loved the comparison!”
We tasted the Cavas de Weinert Cask Selection 2007. It is strikingly interesting to be able to taste a 13-year-old Argentine wine that is so alive. Sophisticated, impacting—it’s necessary to leave it around 2 hours in a decanter so that it can unleash all of its elegance and complexity. It’s unusual to find wines with this evolutionary bouquet, resulting in each glass that’s smelled and drank being different from the previous one.
When it first came out into the market in 1966 (1956 vintage) under the name of Chateau Montchenot, not even the most optimistic of the López family members could have imagined the legend they were creating. Consistently since then, and shortened to just “Montchenot,” this landmark of Argentine wines is synonymous with tradition, elegance, and certainty when choosing. Its base is Cabernet Sauvignon, approximately 70%, completing the cut with 20% Merlot and 10% Malbec.
Juan Pablo Díaz, the winery’s winemaker, tells us: “Cabernet Sauvignon is the cut’s backbone. It provides the tannins that help the wine’s longevity and its evolution in time. Merlot and Malbec accompany, “taming” the Cabernet and bringing fruit, acidity, and silkiness. Ten years later, which is the time between aging and stowage that it takes for the wine to go out into the market, this combination of grapes results in wines with exquisite and soft aromas that don’t lose their tannic structure.”
Aging takes place in large capacity French oak barrels, each varietal aged separately. Being of a large size (5,000 to 10,000 litres), the transfer of wood is gradual and less invasive. Through testing, the time that each vine spends aging in wood is decided. Then the cut, which rests for some time in stainless steel tanks before bottling, is made.
“These wines are definitely different given that this type of aging and storage that our wines are subjected to is not usual,” adds Díaz
The 2010 vintage clearly shows this aromatic universe called bouquet, so diverse and enigmatic that it changes with each new smell. The delicacy of its passage in the mouth and the finish, as intense as it is persistent, denotes the reason for the success of this wine, which has captivated and continues to captivate palates all around the world.
This is one of those classics that has been a pioneer of high-end Malbec and which has helped Argentina be recognized for this noble varietal.
“We elaborate it using the state-of-the-art technologies that our winery possesses and grapes of the highest quality—which come from Altamira, Gualtallary and La Consulta in the Uco Valley and are controlled by our team of agronomists. We select the grains using the optical grape selector (the first one installed in Argentina) and specially designed tanks with temperature regulation. Everything is controlled by an oenological team that’s present for all technical details. For the wines aging we chose a configuration of new, second, and third use 100% French oak barrels, stored in a cellar equipped with humidity and temperature controls,” explains Gonzalo Fernández, the winery’s 1st winemaker and part of the team headed by Mariano Di Paola.
Fernandez believes that the history, the quality and the consistency in this wine’s evolution, are not opposed to modernization: “I have no doubts that this is one of those classics recognized even by those who are not regular wine consumers. But, at the same time, we try to adapt to the modern palate and consumer demand, without allowing the label to lose its style. We try to impose gradual changes that keep the wine forefront of contemporary trends. For example, one could highlight the case of using oak; at the beginning of the brand, its presence in the wine was greater, and now it has transformed into something delicate that accompanies the wine and transfer structure, which lengthens its longevity.”
The 2018 vintage shows a concentrated and well-defined fruity character, with fine contributions from the wood. While it does have a significant build, it’s a fluid and drinkable wine; graceful and well-balanced, which achieves its best expression when opened one hour before drinking.
In 1988, Arnaldo Erchart Sr., founder of Yacochuya Winery, summoned the renowned French winemaker Michel Rolland to collaborate in the creation of his red wines. Those years of joint efforts forged a friendship that led them, 10 years later, to make a wine together. In 1999 and in this manner, this excellent representative of the Calchaquí valley was born in Salta, in Northwest Argentina.
Marcos Etchart, the winemaker at the winery, says: “Yacochuya has been made in practically the same way since 1999. Michele Rolland’s imprint and style are very clear in this wine; meaning a ripe, high-quality grape with only a few kilograms per hectare. The wine ferments with the indigenous yeasts of the vineyard, and it has a prolonged maceration with the grapes’ skins to achieve a good extraction of aromas, color, and tannins. Then it spends 18 months in French oak barrels; out of which approximately 50% are new and 50% are of second and third use. While contemporary trends tend towards lowering the use of wood, we consider that its proper use helps the wine become more complex and improve over time.”
In regards to Yacochuya’s profile over the years, Marcos points out: “It’s an Argentine classic. We like its style and we don’t like changing it. And we can pick up on this consistency when we do vertical tastings (same wine but different vintages.) It’s a full-bodied wine, with high-intensity color, and powerful yet well-integrated tannins. One aspect to highlight is its high alcohol content, given that we harvest the grapes when they’re very ripe. It may be up to 15% alcohol. But it’s such a well balanced and harmonious wine that you don’t feel this and it doesn’t bother you.”
“It’s not a trendy wine”, Etchart explains. “But it’s a very popular wine. We make anywhere between 30,000 and 40,000 bottles per year, and we sell all of them before we bring out into the market the newest vintage.”
In this case, we tried the 2013 vintage (90% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon), where we found a mature wine with a defined character. Fruit and wood counterpoint each other excellently, and the wine has an intensity and structure that make it stand out as one of the classic Argentine references.
Not long ago, the famed British wine critic Tim Atkin said: “On my last visit to Argentina, I was invited to a blind tasting of Pinot Noir. I never imagined that there would be so many and such good representatives of that varietal. It was a great surprise.”
It’s not as big of a surprise for those of us who’ve followed this strain’s evolution in Argentina, particularly in Patagonia.
And here we have a Pinot Noir that’s been elaborated since 2007 and has become one of the classic references for this grape varietal.
Leonardo Pupatto, head enologist of the Schroeder Family and a great promoter of Patagonian Pinot Noir points out: “It’s a very complex wine of a classic profile and elaboration, but with modern touches, where fruitiness and freshness prevail. Over the years, since it is a wine made for aging, notes of oak aging appear, making it feel refined in the mouth. The style was always the same; same vineyard and the same winemaker’s hand.”
Puppato highlights in this wine the benefits of Argentine Pinot Noir:
“We want the Schroeder Family’s Pinot Noir to show how the varietal expresses itself in Patagonia, given that the terroir’s uniqueness gives it its own identity. We are in areas with really extreme climates and conditions, and that makes them different. Pinot Noir grapes in this zone ripen very homogeneously; with intense colors, nuances, exceptional health that few regions possess, natural acidity, and a low PH, allowing for the optimal yield per hectare to produce high-end wines. We are a winery that specializes in Pinot Noir and we work hard to search for the best clones and adaptation to our soils.”
A deep fruity concentration of high expressiveness stands out in Familia Schroeder Pinot Noir 2016. Pleasant, creamy, and with delicate tannins, the wine leaves an enjoyable toasted memory.
Susana Balbo is the first Argentine woman winemaker. With an extensive trajectory and experience in the wine world, she decides to create her own project in 1999; Susan Balbo Wines (previously known as Dominio del Plata).
Brioso was first conceived as a wine for export. Its first harvest, in 1999, was fully exported to the US—one of the strongest markets that the winery collaborated with. Since then, the wine has garnered thousands of accolades from international critics.
Gustavo Bertanga, Susana Balbo Wines’ first winemaker, refers to Brioso as follows: “It’s an extremely elegant wine. It’s a blend composed of 4 very important varietals from Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. At one time it included some Merlot, but we decided to take it off given that the combination of those 4 seemed better to us. It’s a single vineyard from Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo. We get 100% of the grapes from this terroir given that it has clay-filled soils that provide very nice and velvety tannins, which give the wine the refinement we’re looking for. Aging takes place in new French oak barrels for 15 months. We’ve tried to maintain its style over the year, but we don’t refrain from making small and subtle adjustments, especially in the vineyard: we’re currently looking for more freshness and a little less alcohol than before. The 2018 harvest was excellent. It was a warm and dry year. While we didn’t find such a vibrant acidity, its fruit concentration and structure are both remarkable.”
It was precisely that 2018 vintage that we tasted with the VinoApp team. It had a powerful nose that started changing as the wine opened in the glass, with a large number of black fruit aromas, spices, and an intelligent note of wood. The wine feels intense, firm but at the same delicate and well-rounded. It’s a very pleasant wine that will undoubtedly appeal to the most dissimilar palates.
The Goyenechea name is synonymous with history and traditions. They’ve been making wines since 1868, becoming pioneers in the field. The 4th and 5th generations of the family are currently in charge of managing the winery.
In 2003, commemorating the 135 since its beginning, they launched a wine that immediately became a classic.
Goyenechea’s 135th Anniversary wine is made with grapes that come from Finca La Vasconia in San Rafael, from the province of Mendoza. Hector Renna, the winery’s winemaker, says: “no single varietal is assigned to this wine, but rather the best exponents of the year are selected and the blend or varietal is created. The wine is vinified in a traditional fashion, with cold pre-fermentation for 5 days, traditional fermentation with select yeasts, and then it’s macerated on grape skins 30 days after fermentation. Finally, it is placed in first and second use oak barrels, both American and French. The length of the wine’s stay on the barrels is defined through tasting, but it’s approximately 16 to 24 months, depending on the year.
Regarding the wine’s organoleptic profile and its style, Hector clarifies: “I consider it a wine with a traditional profile, with good potency, good fruit, well amalgamated, and mature. Although the style has not changed too much, we seek to highlight the presence of fruit and a certain freshness without losing the important characteristics gained by aging in wood.”
We got the 135th Anniversary 2018 vintage which, in this case, is 100% Malbec and has been aged in French oak for 16 months. Very intense aromas, with notes of aging, but it stands out for its great load of ripe fruit and raisin. In the mouth, it’s expressive, broad, unctuous, with powerful tannins and a very interesting acidity. Delicious and enjoyable to drink now or to treasure for a few years.
Sommelier and lawyer, in that order. Professor in the career of Sommelier at EAV (Argentine School of Wine). Head Sommelier at Vida Wines, importer of Argentine wines in the USA. He used to work at Bodegas Atilio Avena and Goyenecha. He was a member of the tasting panel of Austral Spectator. 50 years.