Argentina

Unusual Whites At Tangley Oaks

3 August 2013

This is the way to start a Friday afternoon.After a sparkling introduction to the mansion at Tangley Oaks, we moved on to tasting some delicious whites imported and/or distributed by Terlato Wines. I very much enjoyed the grassy but well-balanced Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc, the rich and minerally Chateau de Sancerre Sancerre and the flinty, creamy and spicy Lapostolle “Casa Grand Selection” Chardonnay, but of course what I really want to talk about are odd ducks of the tasting. And there were some mighty tasty odd ducks.

2011 Cuarto Dominio “Tolentino” Pinot Grigio: I tend to avoid Pinot Grigios unless they come from the far northern Italian provinces of Friuli or maybe Trentino-Alto Adige. Too often, Pinot Grigios from elsewhere can be insipid and wan. But how could I resist a Pinot Grigio from the Uco Valley in Argentina? The World Atlas of Wine calls the high-altitude vineyards in this valley ”the most exciting part of Mendoza,” and if the Tolentino is any indication, Pinot Grigio does just as well in the Uco Valley as Malbec. It had a rich but very fresh aroma, and a lush texture leavened with focused, almost pointy acids. Fruity, but with a dry finish. Delightfully refreshing.

2012 Protea Chenin Blanc: As Lettie Teague recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, Chenin Blanc “may be the world’s most noble yet most discredited grape.” Chenin Blanc has been “responsible for a great deal of plonk,” she rightly notes, but it also “can produce wines of depth and complexity.” This Chenin Blanc from South Africa certainly fits the latter description — in fact, it’s “made by a genius,” remarked Anthony Terlato during the tasting. Crafted by winemaker Johann Rupert, the Chenin Blanc had an enticingly perfumed aroma with a bit of a grassy note. It tasted full and plump, but a dry backbone and some zesty spice kept it well-balanced and thoroughly charming.

2007 Boutari Kallisti Reserve Assyrtiko: This remarkable wine comes from Santorini, which The World Atlas of Wine calls “the most original and compelling” of the Greek islands. On this unusually scenic speck in the Aegean, most vines are trained in little bushy balls close to the ground, to protect them from the wind. Assyrtiko originated on Santorini, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, which calls it a “top-quality white grape variety” with a “severe mineral profile.” This particular Assyrtiko certainly struck me as top quality. It had a sweet and smokey aroma which reminded fellow taster Liz Barrett (Terlato’s Vice President of Corporate Communications and PR) of toasted oak. It felt rich and almost buttery, but quite taut and fruity as well. There was something exotic about it too — a certain spicy, aromatic quality which I loved. Delicious.

2008 Chimney Rock “Elevage Blanc”: I don’t often write about wines from Napa Valley, but this blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris blew me away. I can’t remember ever tasting a Sauvignon Gris, so I looked it up in my trusty Oxford Companion. This relatively rare variety is a pink-skinned mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, and “it can produce more substantial wines than many a Sauvignon Blanc,” the Companion asserts. Sauvignon Gris has a following in Bordeaux, the Companion goes on to note, which perhaps explains why the Elevage Blanc reminded me a bit of Pessac-Léognan, one of my favorite whites from Bordeaux (or from anywhere, for that matter). This beautiful wine practically glowed with elegance, its creamy fruit focusing into some carefully restrained white-pepper spice. Voluptuous but perfectly balanced — a joy to drink.

Note: These wines were provided free of charge as part of a wine tasting at the Tangley Oaks estate.

Up next: The Reds.

Patagonian Pinot

27 April 2013
Fin del Mundo Pinot Noir in the Hotel Grano de Oro

Fin del Mundo Pinot Noir in the Hotel Grano de Oro

Costa Rica isn’t exactly a major wine producer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find fascinating things to drink there. Restaurant wine lists tend to focus heavily on South American wines, as you might expect, but it wasn’t an unending sea of Malbec (Argentina’s most famous variety). Menu after menu included at least one Argentinean Pinot Noir, a notoriously fickle grape I associate with the Côte d’Or much more than the Pampas.

And there’s a reason for that — Argentinean Pinots can be quite difficult to come by in the U.S. I searched for Argentinean Pinot Noir on the website of Binny’s, one of the country’s largest wine stores, and I came up with just one solitary option (a 2011 Bodega NQN Finca La Papay for $12). I seemed I had some odd Pinot Noir on my hands, a prospect I found rather exciting. It’s Pinot Noir, after all, that elicits such passion in the film Sideways, and it’s Pinot Noir that is responsible for the greatest reds of Burgundy and Oregon. I had never sampled one from Argentina, however, and I couldn’t wait to see how this “capricious and extremely variably vine” (The Oxford Companion to Wine) would perform in that terroir.

According to the sources I consulted, Argentinean Pinot Noir has yet to fully develop. The Oxford Companion to Wine was dismissive, asserting that Pinot “has yet to find a suitable home in Argentina.” The World Atlas of Wine takes a more optimistic tone, however, noting that in Patagonia and Mendoza’s high-altitude vineyards, “some promising examples are beginning to emerge.” Although it didn’t mention Pinot specifically, The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia took a dim view of Argentina as a whole, chiding most of the country’s wineries for allowing excessively high yields and doing too little to “alter Argentina’s image as a bottomless vat.” Ouch.

I didn’t taste any particularly expensive Argentinean Pinot Noirs, but the ones I did sample ranged from simple and charming to quite exciting:

2011 Saurus Patagonia Pinot Noir: Patagonia is Argentina’s coolest wine region, making it most suitable to growing Pinot Noir. This wine comes from San Patricio del Chañar, a “new winemaking area,” according to the winery’s website, along the border with Chile. It had a very aromatic nose of red fruit, a beautifully creamy texture and prickly black-pepper spice, held in check with impressive focus and control.

2010 Bodega del Fin del Mundo Reserva Pinot Noir: Also produced in Patagonia, this winery’s Pinot Noir doesn’t seem to appear on its website, though it’s in Spanish, so what do I know? In any case, I liked its aroma of black cherries, its tightly wound red fruit, subtle white-pepper spice and earthy finish. A touch medicinal, but tasty nevertheless.

2011 Luigi Bosca Pinot Noir: This wine comes from 45-year-old vineyards in Mendoza, a warmer region to the north of Patagonia. It lacked the sharp focus of the Saurus, but I very much enjoyed its fresh, easy fruit and earthy finish. It was an ideal warm-weather wine, perfect for an al fresco dinner overlooking the rainforest.

You will likely have trouble finding one of these specific labels in your local wine shop, but should you run across an Argentinean Pinot Noir, I recommend giving it a try. It may not reach the heights of Burgundy, but it will likely be a perfectly tasty wine at a perfectly reasonable price.

An Ideal Thanksgiving Sparkler

17 November 2012

Last year, I wrote that wine alone might not be enough to get you through Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, as a host, you’ll likely be expected by at least some of your guests to serve wine, or as a guest, your hosts may very well expect you to bring a bottle of wine. In either case, since family is almost surely involved, you probably aren’t in a mood to spend a lot of money. But of course, you also don’t want your family whispering behind your back — for years to come – about that crappy wine you served, with which they could barely wash down that desiccated turkey and gelatinous stuffing.

I have just the thing to thread the needle. Ignore whatever other articles you’ve read, recommending $20 Rhône-style blends or $30 Pinot Noirs. Save those for yourself and your partner — they’ll spruce Thanksgiving leftovers right up. For the big day itself, get thee to Binny’s and pick up some NV (non-vintage) Finca Flichman Brut Extra. It’s $10 a bottle (or even less if you buy a case), and it’s perfectly delightful.

This apricot-colored sparkling wine comes from Mendoza in Argentina, a region much more famous for its Malbec. In fact, it might be tempting to serve Malbec at Thanksgiving, but don’t do it. Everyone thinks it’s inexpensive, so even if you buy a really nice Malbec, you’ll end up looking cheap. On the other hand, no one knows what an Argentinean sparkling wine costs, and when they taste this unusual blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Malbec, they’ll never guess it runs just a few dollars more than Yellow Tail.

The grapes for this wine are, impressively at this price point, harvested by hand, theoretically ensuring that only the ripest fruit ends up in the presses. Unfortunately, the second fermentation does not happen in the bottle, in what is known as the Methode Champenoise. Finca Flichman uses the less labor-intensive Charmat process, which usually results in larger, less-refined bubbles.

I tend to be suspicious of wines made in the Charmat method, but in this case, there was no need to fear. The plentiful bubbles couldn’t be described as “pin-prick,” exactly, but they were smaller and more elegant than I expected. The aromas of strawberry and watermelon also surprised me. They were a feint, however — the wine tasted dry but round, with lively, orangey acids and pleasant note of yeast. The berries reappeared only at the end, as a whisper on the finish. Yum. I haven’t tried it with turkey or stuffing, but I have a feeling it would pair perfectly.

And perhaps most important of all, the Finca Flichman’s pinkish-orange color will match beautifully with an autumnally themed Thanksgiving table. Your family will be pleased, and your wallet will remain more or less intact. Those are things I can definitely be thankful for.

SUMMARY

NV Finca Flichman Extra Brut: Fruity on the nose but dry, round and a bit yeasty on the palate. A stellar value, and a fine match for a range of foods. In short, an ideal Thanksgiving choice.

Grade: A-

Find It: I purchased this wine at Binny’s for $10.

It’s Italian! Or — Spanish? No…

22 May 2011

Recently I walked into Evanston’s southerly Whole Foods expecting to buy just a few groceries, but I discovered a deal too good to pass up:  20% off cases of wine, including wines already on sale. I nearly cleaned the place out.

One oddball that caught my eye was an organic Barbera with a Spanish name: Pircas Negras (roughly “black stone wall”).  Reduced from $13 to just $8 after all the discounts, I could hardly pass it up.

Barbera first appears in the historical record as “barbexinis” in 13th-century contracts leasing the local vineyards of Casale Monferrato in Italy’s Piedmont region. The varietal still features prominently in the region, giving its name to three DOC areas: Barbera d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba and Barbera del Monferrato (unfortunately the latter can be more difficult to find in the U.S.).

What was this Italian varietal doing with a Spanish name? The Pircas Negras hails not from Piedmont but from La Rioja. But not that La Rioja.

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