Argentinian Malbec Blend With a French Flair

Today’s Story: Cuvelier Los Andes

Cuvelier Los Andes is a family-owned winery established by the Cuvelier family (of Château Léoville Poyferré) in 1998 using virgin land in the Valle de Uco of Mendoza, Argentina. From 1999 to 2006, they planted the vineyards which today consist of 55 hectares planted to Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot at 3,000 feet elevation in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. All farming is manual and adheres to organic and some biodynamic viticulture, with the yields quite low and typically around 5 to 7 tons per hectare. Designed as a “cousin” to Léoville Poyferré, Cuvelier Los Andes follows nearly identical practices and all wines are made with 100% estate fruit.

When it comes to winemaking and cellar practices, Cuvelier Los Andes begins with hand-harvested fruit. At the winery, fruit is first sorted by full cluster before being destemmed and sorted again by hand and berry by berry. The grapes are then loaded into their fermentation vats using gravity and experience cold maceration for 4-6 days before primary fermentation begins with only indigenous yeasts. The maceration process as a whole lasts 30-40 days typically, then malolactic fermentation occurs in tank or barrel. For aging, the Cuvelier Los Andes wines spend 12-18 months in French oak barrels which typically have a life of 3 years with 1/3 replaced each vintage.

To learn more or visit the source of today’s story, check out the Cuvelier Los Andes website here. They have a very cool, very detailed tab discussing their vineyards which I recommend reading.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Grand Vin

77% Malbec, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot; 15% ABV

The 2014 Grand Vin is opaque deep purple in color. I gave this a good hour to decant, which I think is appropriate at this stage. The nose showcases pronounced aromas of blackberry, black plum, black cherry, tobacco, eucalyptus, clay, clove, cedar, and chocolate. Meanwhile on the palate I get pronounced notes of blackberry, blueberry, red plum, sweet tobacco, vanilla, charred oak, and cocoa powder. This dry red is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $40. To be perfectly honest, I am still trying to find a Malbec (or in this case Malbec-dominated blend) that I really like. While I think this is a very solid attempt to win me over, I did not know it was 15% ABV when I purchased it and the overall largess and opulence is a bit much for my terroir-driven preferences. This being said, objectively for the typical Malbec lover and lover of bigger, bolder wines I think this offers solid value at $40 because it does have a complexity and elegance I haven’t yet found in the variety. It’s a great wine, just a bruiser for me.

Chacra’s Experimental Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Bodega Chacra

I was so thoroughly impressed with the 2018 Chacra Mainqué Chardonnay that I reviewed almost two weeks ago (Beautiful Union of Burgundy and Patagonia) that I decided to try another wine from them today.

To review, Bodega Chacra is a small winery established in the Río Negro region of Patagonia in 2004 by Piero Incisa della Rocchetta. Piero’s goal is to create transparent, honest wines that showcase his unique terroir through organic and biodynamic viticulture, so he eschews the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Instead, Piero uses vegetable and mineral preparations in his compost alongside a range of biodynamic practices ranging from the horn manure preparation and horn silica preparation to the German chamomile preparation and oak bark preparation. Detailed explanations of each biodynamic preparation can be found here. Chacra’s vineyards produce low yields and fruit selection is incredibly rigorous come harvest, so only the best and healthiest grapes make the wine. Maceration and fermentation occur in small tanks with an emphasis on skin contact, and the wines age in extra fine grain French oak barrels. All of the Pinot Noir is bottled 100% natural and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Sin Azufre Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 12.5% ABV

The 2018 Sin Azufre Pinot Noir is opaque pale purple in color. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of dusty red cherry, brambleberry, violet, leather, tilled rocky soil, slight barnyard, crushed rock, graphite, and a hint of oak. There was some olive on the nose but that blew off after an hour. On the palate, I get notes of dried tart cherry, dusty raspberry, brambly blueberry, rose petal, sweet tobacco, black tea leaf, dried earth with finely crushed rock minerality, green underbrush, and clove. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $35. This is a difficult one for me on a value perspective. When it comes to the majority of today’s wine drinkers, this would not be a good value simply because I don’t think the average consumer would like it. When it comes to the explorers or those who want to liven up their palate and are familiar with “natural” wines, I think this is a great value. Pair this with rosemary and thyme chicken, roasted duck breast, or charcuterie with Brie or Gruyère cheese.

Value Argentinian Malbec

Today’s Story: Anko

Anko (which means “high water” in the native Indian language of Salta, Argentina) is a small winery founded in 2008 by Fernando Saavedra Jr. and his father in mountainous northwestern Argentina. Along with Anko’s winemaker Alejandro (Colo) Sejanovich, Fernando strives to create terroir-driven Malbecs that display the unique growing conditions of Salta, a “high altitude oasis” amongst the rugged, mountainous deserts of the region. Anko’s winery and vineyards sit at an average elevation of 5,700 feet above sea level in Estancia Los Cardones, named for the cacti that grow there, and the thick-skinned fruit experiences extreme sunlight and creates powerful, concentrated, and structured wines.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Malbec

100% Malbec; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Malbec is deep purple in color and almost fully opaque. This needs about 30 minutes to truly open up but once it does the nose showcases aromas of plum, blackberry, black cherry, tomato, sweet tobacco, baking spice, pepper, and oak. On the palate, this Malbec displays notes of juicy red plum, blueberry, maraschino cherry, rose petal, mint, ground green cooking herbs, cocoa, and vanilla. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with moderate acidity, medium fine-grained tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $20. This was named Wine Spectator’s #1 Top Value Wine and #1 Top Value Malbec last year, and I can certainly see why. While I don’t drink a lot of Malbec, this is very enjoyable and would pair incredibly well with herb-roasted pork, a buffalo burger garnished with blue cheese, or mushroom-stuffed roasted peppers.

Going Against the Grain

Today’s Story: Susana Balbo

Susana Balbo’s career in wine is truly incredible and her broad range of wines and critical acclaim speaks to it. Susana originally hoped to study nuclear physics, however her family would not let her leave Mendoza to pursue it because the pathway was “unconventional” at the time. Instead, Susana remained in Mendoza and took up her family’s business of viticulture. Polar opposite of a degree in nuclear physics, Susana graduated with a degree in Oenology in 1981 and still managed to challenge the status quo by becoming the first women in Argentina to do so.

After working throughout the world as consultant to wineries in Spain, Chile, Italy, Brazil, Australia, and California (the first women from Argentina to do so, no less), Susana created her own winery in 1999. Located in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Susana Balbo Wines prospers from their location at the foothills of the Andes Mountains where the ice melts into pure water during spring and summer for use in the vineyards. Like many higher-quality wineries nowadays, Susana Balbo Wines is committed to sustainable practices like avoiding chemical and machinery use in the vineyards, utilizing drip irrigation on the vines, and using pruning waste to nourish the soil.

To truly appreciate the history and significance of Susana’s career, I highly recommend trying some of her wines if you see them at your local store. While I am reviewing one of her “entry level” offerings today, her Nosotros Single Vineyard Malbec received outstanding notes and is worthy of seeking out. Hopefully I can review one for you someday soon.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Signature Malbec

90% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% ABV

I’ve had an opportunity to taste Susana Balbo Malbecs on multiple occasions, but they have all been more recent vintages so I was intrigued by this bottle (served to me blind) with eight years of age. Today’s wine is medium purple to ruby in color with moderate staining on the sides of the glass. On the nose we have aromas of blackberry, blueberry, anise, sweaty locker room, and flint. The palate is not complex and the wine is very easy drinking, showcasing notes of plum, dates, cigar box, and baking spice. Good value for the money, this is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a medium length finish. This bottle makes me excited to try her higher-end wines in the future.

Price: $20, a solid price-point for Malbec. Pair this with a burger, skirt steak, or dark meat chicken.