Beauty and the Beast
Currently, the Richards family reading at 6am in bed centres around a certain fairytale entitled Beauty and the Beast.
The story needs no retelling, but I’m constantly amazed at how little people are both intrigued and terrified by the beast. Pages need to be constantly referred back to; pictures pored over with both delight and disgust. (It’s the same with the Big Bad Wolf…)
I got the same feeling from Finca La Anita’s wines. This Argentine winery isn’t on everyone’s radar, but it should be. Conceived in the early nineties by brothers Manuel and Antonio Mas, it was born “out of an obsessive idea: the recreation of the traditional European model for fine wine production”. Which is to say: a vineyard (with old vines), a small winery, passionate owners, and a desire to make wines which aren’t safe or even entirely sound, but which do show a real sense of individuality and charm.
It’s true to say that many New World wineries talk a good game when it comes to recreating so-called European styles of wine (which is a nebulous notion in any case). Very few deliver. But Finca la Anita is one of them, which is why their wines are worth checking out.
So why Beauty and the Beast?
The wines – the reds especially – are essentially rough-edged gems. They flaunt their rusticity and feral character, which some may find off-putting. (And I’m not just talking about the horsey/medicinal character that results from a Brettanomyces yeast infection here, either.) It’s not all ripe fruit and cream oak: instead you get sour cream and yeasty hints on the Malbec, while the Petit Verdot is all coffee and leather, with a lovely succulent bittersweet fruit character on the palate.
In short, these wines aren’t obsequious or ingratiating, like so many New World reds. They don’t beg to please. They are what they are and are very pleasant as a result. Food-friendly. Moreish. Intriguing. (Though it’s worth conceding they are also quite pricey – £24 for the top reds.)
I found the whites to be as full of character and bravado as the reds, but less successful. Their white range is all proudly unoaked, but at 14.4% alcohol (Sauvignonasse 07) and 14.8% alcohol (Semillon 08), it’s just too much, especially when acidity is on the lowish side.
If you want to see something that sums up the no-nonsense and engagingly upfront style of this winery, take a look at their back labels. They tell you which block of the vineyard the wine was grown in, how many bottles were made, how old the vines are and how the wine was made – even how the wine’s acidity was corrected. As well as a brief description of the style. You might not want to know all this, but then you don’t have to read it all. But what’s there, unlike most wine back labels, is pithy and informative.
All wines are available from www.latinwinesonline.co.uk, the retail website of HispaMerchants, though you can also find selected lines further afield in merchants such as Avery’s, Philglass & Swiggot, Wines of the World, www.pampasplains.com and www.southamericanwinesonline.com.
Finca la Anita Malbec 2006, Mendoza, 14.5% (£23.49) – sourced from the estate in Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, and 90 days in French oak barrels. Baked plum and herb nose, with a sour cream hint. Initially, slightly perturbing. But then intriguing. Sweaty and feral, yeasty, dried fruit. But the palate is better: meaty flavours, herbs. Acid is well balanced, tannins are round. Gentle heat. Works well – not trying too hard; savoury and balanced. Has some old-world rusticity and rough edges, which I like. 7/10
Finca la Anita Petit Verdot 2006, Mendoza, 14% (£23.49) – this one spent a bit longer in barrel (120 days). Expressive aromas of dark chocolate, fresh coffee grounds and baked herbs. Some floral, funky notes that work well. Palate has a creamy texture, broad and meaty, layered. Fine, firm tannin. Bittersweet finish. Excellent stuff, if a bit warm on the finish. Again, not trying too hard, not afraid of a few rough edges. Lovely stuff. 7-7.5/10
Luna de Finca la Anita Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Mendoza, 14.5% (£12.49) – deep, feral nose, yeasty with restrained fruit and leathery hints. Funky! Palate has a mineral, dense core. Leathery dried frui layers. Spicy. Warming. Quite a mouthful – not for the faint-hearted. But I like this development and rustic edge. Not the most complex of lovable – and it needs drinking up – but it’s balanced and food friendly. 6.5/10