South American bounty

(by peter)

tastingRegular readers will know that I’ve been doing a considerable amount of research into Argentine and Chilean wine of late as part of a book project I’ve been working on.

Much of this has been in the form of tastings, so I thought it would be interesting to put together a review of the highlights of recent months which I’ve not covered elsewhere on the site. Prices relate to RRPs and the inevitable discounts taking place at this time of year (though to qualify for many of these you’ll need to be buying in quantity and before specific dates, so please check first).

I’ll also be posting very shortly a review of a recent tasting of celebrated Chilean icon Don Melchor featuring vintages back to 1989.


Terra Andina Carmenère rosé 2009, Valle Central, Chile, 13% (£4.39-5.49, Oddbins) – almost luminous cherry colour. Leafy cherry fruit nose. Soft cherry fruit flavours, crunchy and balanced, not too sugary. Fine. Simple but toothsome. 2.5

Carmen Wine Maker’s Reserve Chardonnay 2007, Casablanca, Chile, 14% (£9.99-7.99, Majestic) – super toasty nose, buttery, very oak forward (it was aged for 8 months in French oak, according to the label, but it seems more). Butterscotch, ripe apple aromas. Mango fruit. Palate is full, toasty and with excellent tangy acidity. Tighter, more focused than previous vintages, which is good. A broad and oaky style, definitely, but with a good nip of tangy acid too. Went down very well with a smoked trout with new potato and watercress salad. Great value at £8. 7/10

Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2007, Limarí, 14% – this was an as-yet unlabelled and un-released sample, but I thought I’d take the liberty of reviewing it anyway because it says something important about its producer. Santa Rita’s wines have often seemed to me somewhat bipolar, veering between the very traditional the ultra modern. And sometimes they don’t really succeed in either context. But this wine is exciting. It’s from their new project in Limarí, one of two major new vineyards (the other being in Pumanque, Colchagua), and it bodes well. Intense black fruit nose with black pepper and charred meat. Creamy. Palate is full of succulent roasted pepper flavours. It’s juicy and layered. Oaky. Engaging. Lovely natural acid balance, with a firm, dense core of fruit. Gently warming. Well integrated stuff, with an elegant savoury edge. Alcohol is well judged. Very promising indeed. (7.5/10)

Santa Rita Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Maipo, Chile, 14.5% (£9.99-7.99, Majestic) – a thoroughly traditional Alto Maipo Cabernet, with minty dried fruit aromas and a firm, grippy palate which needs food to balance it out. Spicy, old school. But lots of flavour for the discounted price. 6.5/10

Ninquen 06Ninquén 2006, Colchagua, 15% – deep hue. Scented, vanilla and high floral tones here. Interesting, expressive. Some mint and dried fruit development. Juicy raisined notes. Ginger. Leather. Then palate is smooth and creamy at first. Tannins are firm but round. Fruit quite juicy. Quite refined in texture but lacks the real depth and layers of top quality fruit. But at least it’s less extracted and aggressive in style than it used to be. Carries its alcohol relatively well given it’s 15%. But neither is it hugely drinkable. Smart, but not top drawer. This project still needs time to evolve. (The label says this spent 21 months in American and French oak, with Paul Hobbs consulting.) 6.5/10

Lapostolle(Brief note: Lapostolle. After some of the nice people at Lapostolle complained I hadn’t been writing about them for a while (it’s true – I hadn’t), they sent me samples. As I’ve detailed in my Wines of Chile book and elsewhere, I’ve never quite seen eye-to-eye with many of their wines: reds often too big, hefty and ripe, whites lacking thrill and verve. That said, I’ve always had great respect for their old-vine red blends and Carmenere/Merlot from Apalta. So did this tasting change my mind? Yes and no. Their Cuvée Alexandre (CA) Casablanca Pinot Noir went up in my estimation, their CA Cachapoal Syrah down (this 2007, at 15% and full of baked, angular, woody fruit, was hard to love – where was the fresh black pepper of previous vintages?) Clos Apalta 2007 is seriously impressive but very young and a bit much for me, though many will rave about it. I preferred the 2007 CA Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, both from Apalta and wonderfully dense, brooding and ageworthy.)

Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Pinot Noir 2007, Atalayas Vineyard, Casablanca, 14.5% (£17.49, Majestic Fine Wine) – minty black hedgerow fruit, very Chilean Pinot nose. Creamy. Palate is full of juicy brambly fruit, with fine firm tannin. All good, though the finish is rich, expansive and a bit OTT. But this is an improvement over previous vintages, with notably fresher acidity and a freshness on the finish that’s quite moreish. Not too forced. Rich yet satisfying. 7/10

Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua, 14.5% (£11.99, Winedirect) – deep ruby hue. Baked red, blue and black fruit. Creamy. Some raisins, earthy and herbal hints. Quite reticent overall, though. Palate is firm initially: solid. Firm tannins and acid come through – young. But there’s a lot of juicy, layered fruit in there and the tannins, while firm, are very round. Young and mute now but this will age. One for the future (2011-2018?) (7.5/10)

Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Merlot 2007, Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua, 14.5% – the label says this is “15% Carmenère” but my taste buds beg to differ – I’d say it has more than that and is all the better for it. Engaging Carmenère nose of roasted red pepper, plum and graphite. Not super ripe but that’s good – soy and leather with pepper. Palate is fluid and juicy. Very young and dense. Has a great underlying structure to go with the broad, plummy breadth. Svelte tannins. Very impressive, grown-up stuff. Will age well (open from 2010 for a good 10 years). Savoury, refined. Warming but integrated. This is a real star for the future. 8-8.5/10

Clos Apalta 07Clos Apalta 2007, Lapostolle, 15% (£36) – opaque hue gives way to an intensely scented nose with floral, creamy, inky notes. Tons of dark brooding fruit but inviting. Some ginger. Palate is oaky, young and dense initially, with a broad, spicy finish. Lots to commend here: incredibly svelte fine firm tannins, good balancing acidity, lovely savoury flavours (roasted red pepper) and fruit juice. But it’s just too alcoholic to drink at leisure. For this reason I’d prefer the CS Merlot purely because it’s a more drinkable wine – even though this may legitimately be viewed as technically superior. Controversial, I know…8/10

ToknarViña Von Siebenthal Toknar Petit Verdot 2005, 14.5% – a real jack-in-the-box, this one. Intense fresh crushed blackberry nose with black pepper. Vivid and arresting. Touch of graphite. Not at all traditional Aconcagua. Something invitingly savoury here: leafy but not green, like tobacco. Touch of leather and warm earth aromas, some bell pepper. Palate is savoury with fine firm tannin. Quite broad in structure – I would have preferred more core and backbone. But it’s lovely and very savoruy with graphite and tobacco flavours. Engaging. A bit hot on the finish but full of lovely character. Intriguing. 7/10


Otra Vida Chardonnay 2008 Mendoza, 13.5% (£5.99, Tesco) – in short, a decent branded Chardonnay that enjoys the prime merit of not being sickly sweet. In fact, it’s notably refreshing in style with some delicate creamy tones and appley hints, even a very vague hint of subtle minerality. Enjoyable and good value. 4.5/10

Masi Tupungato Passo Blanco 2008, 12.5% – this intriguing blend of Pinot Grigio and Torrontés is lively and original. Peachy nose with grassy, herby hints and waxy tones. Quite Italianate. Palate is smooth, rounded and viscous in texture. Gently soapy and peachy, layered with a creamy texture. Mouth-coating and scented. Really off-the-wall. Balanced, succulent and lovely persistence. Very good. 7/10

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble 2007 Malbec Corvina, 13.5% – this reliable Italian venture based in the Uco Valley claims in its publicity to blend “Argentine soul, Venetian style”. The latter doesn’t just refer to drinkability (which the wines offer in spades), it’s also a reference to the use of Corvina (a grape variety usually only found in Valpolicella wines) and the technique of double fermentation with dried grapes, also imported from Valpolicella. For this wine the Malbec grapes were double fermented with slightly dried Corvina grapes. It gives the wine a succulence and gentle but firm grip that is immensely appealing. Layered, with lovely persistence. Eclectic but successful. 7/10

Masi Tupungato Corbec 2007, 14.5% – yes, it’s another delicious oddity, this time mainly Corvina in the blend with Malbec, from La Arboleda vineyard. Super creamy, super scented. Some violet floral high tones and tons of cherries. On the palate it’s juicy and clean with masses of firm, fine-grained tannin. Dense, chalky, savoury. Warming and spicy but balanced. Some lovely Italianate grace and grounding. Perhaps less easy to drink (and match to food) than the Passo Doble but it’s very impressive. 7-7.5/10

Val de Flores YacochuyaVal de Flores 2004, 15% (£43.95, – this single vineyard wine is one of French über-consultant Michel Rolland’s personal projects in Argentina. To my mind, it’s always been his best offering in this country, a view this mini-tasting further supported. Rolland has a tendency to make big reds but this one benefits from the grounding of old vines and a touch of rusticity. Aromas of baked plums, damsons and herbs. Classic Uco. You feel the sun’s power in this wine, as well as the breathlessness of high altitude vineyards. Tobacco, weathered leather, touch of coffee. On the palate it’s smooth and creamy, with herbal, porty and caramel notes. Acid is balancing. Tannins are fine and elegant. Carries its alcohol better than some but it’s still notably warming and not the easiest to drink. Classic Uco, classic Rolland. A bruiser, but one with integrity. With food, the leatheriness works OK but the alcohol sticks out like a sore thumb. What does Michel Rolland drink with his dinner? 7/10

Yacochuya 2004, Cafayate, Salta, 16.4% (£47.85, – that’s right: 16.4%. More than most Fino sherry. But then, this is the kind of wine that revels in its out-there status. An extreme wine in all senses. Grown at 2,035m altitude in Calchaquí, 18 months in new French oak. It’s a monster. Nose is an intriguing mix of under-ripeness (green pepper and leaf) with over-ripeness (porty baked fruit). You can smell the aridity and sun-blast here. But different from Val de Flores: a caricature almost. Cassis, wild herbs, coffee and damson aromas. In the mouth it’s succulent and rich initially, with fine tannins. Grippy. Super, super spicy. Very oaky. Almost succeeds…but then implodes in a mass of alcoholic heat which blows the back off it. Shame really as there’s lots to love here (the wildness, the rugged tannin, the leafy notes). But you just can’t drink it. I’m tipsy just from tasting it. Difficult to rate this one – I’d give it an alcohol-fuelled, and very wary 6.5/10

Don David Tannat Reserve 2007, Michel Torino Estate, Cafayate, 14% – if there’s one thing Salta is good at, it’s Tannat. Forget the chewy, lean numbers that emerge from Uruguay’s damp reaches, this hot, high region is where Tannat thrives, and this is an excellent example. Brooding fruit on the nose but not at all sweet. Coffee, anis, blackened meat aromas. Deep and intense. Beckons you like a black hole. The palate is fluid, with savoury edges. Fleshy but not sweet. Warming but self-contained. Lovely earthy tones with good balancing acid and fine tannin. Broad but not overwhelming. Very good indeed. 7/10

Mauricio Lorca Gran Opalo Blend 2007, 14.5% ( – Mauricio Lorca is hot winemaking property in Argentina, and this deftly assembled and proudly unoaked blend shows why. It’s a blend of roughly thirds Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, with 10% Petit Verdot, grown in Vista Flores. The nose shows floral and anis hints, with ripe damson and plum fruit. Vivid and unaffected. Has real personality. The palate is fresh and juicy, with spicy elements and a lovely underlying freshness. Real balance here. Warm on the finish but the silky intensity carries it. Shows good fruit quality and good technical winemaking. Impressive. 7/10

Susana Balbo MalbecSusanna Balbo Signature Malbec 2007, Mendoza, 14% ( – Laurie Webster at importer Las Bodegas described this wine to me as, “the kind of wine you’d show an alien who wanted to understand Argentine Malbec”. Once you get your head round it, this description works for what is a classic Mendocino Malbec. Scented aromas, including floral, damson elements. It’s succulent and juicy, with a creamy rich texture. Very appealing, with a lovely core of dense juicy fruit, fine tannin and balanced acid. Polished, with a European elegance to the structure. Very good indeed. 7.5/10

Benegas Lynch Libertad Vineyards Meritage 2004, 14.7% ( – the heavy bottle is an absurdly arrogant eco-crime, but things get better from there. This blend of mainly Cabernet Franc with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a touch of Petit Verdot smells like baked herbs, coffee and hay. Interesting. The palate is juicy and creamy with firm tannins that speak of Cab Franc. It’s not as big and bruising as the nose suggests, which is a good thing, but neither does it sit totally comfortably together. Give it time. 7/10