John and family recently returned to the US following a year-long Life-Zag in and around Mendoza (with a separate story Side-Zag to Barcelona). Carrying back a souvenir passion for great Argentine wines and epic grilling sessions, I ended up in a subterranean space in his barely decorated new home in Needham, MA this past Monday to taste through a wide range of wines he secured via friends in his new Argentinian network at Vines of Mendoza. The company’s Acequia Reserva Wine Club says they…”deliver Argentina’s best boutique wines directly to your door – wines that are otherwise nearly impossible to find outside of Argentina.”
John always struck me as seriously inquisitive, tapping knowledgable sources until he is expert. That is how we met about a dozen years ago while he was establishing a new wine cellar in Telluride, CO to address his developing and serious interest in wine. When he became frustrated with challenges managing his businesses around the US from Telluride’s remote geography, he bought a vintage plane and learned to fly. Making his family’s home base Telluride and taking a natural interest in quality of town life, he became the city’s mayor. And, realizing that raising children in Telluride can lean towards insular, he relocated family and plane to Mendoza to swing like the locals do for a year. So when John extended an invitation to taste though a bunch of newly arrived Argentine wines, I knew it would not be an evening of garden variety $15 Malbecs.
When I glanced over at the six bottles wrapped in brown bags, I clicked into blind-taste-ready mode. John had other ideas and was positioned at the computer with beautiful images of the Andes spread across the oversized screen. With his cursor, he drew a big circle around the mountain range and explained tonight would be about the Uco (pronounced ooh-ko) Valley. It sits south of Mendoza boasting a most interesting ecosystem that produces some of the finest wines in Argentina. The Valley is surrounded by mountain peaks reaching 22,000 feet high and vineyards positioned at 3,000 feet, creating wide swings in daytime and evening temperatures. The soil is supported by small rock providing remarkable drainage, primarily for the drip irrigation systems delivering Andes mountain water since the valley only receives an average of 1″ of rain each year. The stark environment does not support insects or birds, so no pesticides are required in the vineyards. It is all a clean set up to unmistakable terroir of minerality, excellent texture, and immense tannin to support all the flavor. You can hear more about this by clicking on the image link below and listening to France’s colorful icon for global expansion, Michel Rolland, and some of the local Uco wine personalities on the topic of Uco wines.
The wines we worked through this evening were opened more than an hour before tasting. There were varied varietals and vintages, so there was limited direct comparison opportunity. As such, here are the wines we tasted in order of our small group’s collective preference:
Cavagnaro Reserva, 2004 100% Malbec $42: A remarkable wine that is somewhat closed and trying to hide its bold fruit behind strong Uco tannins. There was clearly vanilla wood and smoke in the nose that combined with something like stewed bright strawberries. This all turned clearly into rich black cherry flavors that should become even more accessible with some time. The wine finished with some heat and a good jolt of tannin. It is a really fine wine that is worth buying and laying down for a few years.
Promeio Reserva, 2003 100% Cabernet Sauvignon $29: Showing some brown on the edges. A cedary earthy aroma dominates and also blends in some sweetness. Behind that is a more classically structured wine with berry and caramel flavors. The wine appears to be advancing quickly. This was our second favorite wine with a fair share of the credit going to its ready to drink mode.
Nomade Reserva, 2003 100% Syrah $39: This wine transported me to Australia. If it was not served in this tasting, I would have guessed it to be a rich, unctuous, extracted wine of muddied black purple color with jammy cherry flavors from Down Under. A gamey, meaty, blood like taste component was in evidence, and the wine had seriously soft edges around its large dollops of fruit to make for a very pleasing mouthfeel. It was a load of fun to drink, and probably smart to drink it soon,
Gran Lorca Poetico, 2007 100% Petit Verdot $42: Two reasons I was not surprised when the bag was removed after tasting. It was one of our youngest wine of the night and made from all Petit Verdot, so naturally it showed as the most intense and tannic wine of the group. Yet, this wine that represents one of the classic Bordeaux blending varietals that integrates structure, flavor, and color behind Cab and Merlot, showed its tell-tale black purple color and then jammed home a sweet perfume reminiscent of Cherry Charms (remember that candy?) on top of deep black cherry aromas. The flavor of minerals, graphite, and flint were clear to all of us and there was a finish of licorice. So all this wine needed was a little more middle from some blended cab or Merlot and what a winner it would be. It is a great wine that is fun to explore, but a bit too hard-edged and missing some middle richness.
Ala Negra Reserva, 2006 100% Malbec $25: Comes from Lunlunta, Maipu and I am not sure how that relates to Uco, but it managed to get into the tasting. The wine was disappointing in this group of company. It was purple middle to edge, the nose was hard to coax up and it had soft and loose edges with dark fruit flavor that disappeared quickly. The wine might not be bad with food, and food that requires low tannin accompaniments. Thinking this wine might work for large Thanksgiving dinners seemed to be its savior.
Familia Mayol Cuatro Primos, 2007 55% Malbec, 35% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Bonarda $22: This wine stunk…horrible, a clunker. It was not acquired through Vines of Mendoza but picked up at a local wine shop. It had a vegetally tinged mushroom nose and was hollow and alcoholic. Not recommended.
The wines of Uco Valley are not shy in a good way. They flash their new world interpretations of classic varietals and are finding their way to a style that is wholly representative of their unique terroir. Of the wines I liked in this group, all seemed to have something going on that connected me to the context of their origin. It was a wonderful evening….topped off with the pefectly yummy freshly herbed grilled lamb chops that I imagine is only a weak sister to the asado enjoyed in the local parillas of Mendoza.