Last year at the Oregon Wine Symposium, I remember seeing a marketing seminar in the program for wineries building their brand and they described it as something for new and established wineries. I thought there might be a story there somewhere but I knew I would have to look hard. So I attended and brought away from it one statement that reverberated throughout the marketing realm area somewhere in my crowded (and I do not know why because I keep killing cells to make more room) little brain.
The statement was to the local winery owners and their marketing staff, which at the time included me. “Your competition is not just the three surrounding wineries in your AVA, your competition are wineries everywhere around the world—because in most places you will find wines from every continent available in your area.” As much as Willamette Valley, Burgundy, Napa, Sonoma and all other growing regions will have die hard loyalists (like the guys who used to only drink Lone Star beer in Texas because they thought it was patriotic to stay local), most people like choices and when it comes to wine they are a very open to trying different things.
Enophiles are an adventurous group. When I sold retail wine we had over 600 selections and for the most part (without guidance), they would step up to the shelf and say, “I haven’t heard anything bad about this one, I’ll give it a try.” That adventurous spirit led us to create Enobytes.
I wanted to be the voice that was not afraid to say, “Hey, if you don’t like these qualities you might not enjoy this wine!” If you want to keep your customers happy, one word of advice is to move quickly from that statement to, “I’ve got a new wine over here I’m sure you will love”. I am proud to say most often I was pulling them to an Argentinean wine.
On one occasion though, I had the strangest response from a frequent customer who was a red wine buyer looking to buy more quality than his dollars could buy in American, French or Italian wines. I brought him over to our Malbec section. He had always taken my suggestions in the past so I was confused when he read the bottle and then put it back on the shelf after reading the label. Politely I asked if I could answer any questions and he said, “Just between you and me I do not buy South American wines because I do not trust the water down there.” It was a fantastic opportunity to teach the basics of fermentation and explain why they do not put water in the wine.
I often write about and review wines from Argentina mostly because I personally like to drink them and have for more than twenty years now. I have a few readers and contemporaries that often enlist my assistance if they are heading to Argentina for suggestions of wineries to visit especially if they are going outside the usual Mendoza areas. If you’re there in Mendoza don’t miss Uco Valley.
Despite the fact that I have never been to Argentina, for some reason I am considered the guy to ask in the Northwest if you are going to Catamarca or Salta. I am confident that status of having never been there will change soon. It has been my pleasure to watch the market share for Argentinean wines here in the USA expand and expand quickly over the last couple of years. I remember how proud I was in 2005 to start educating people about a couple of grapes called Torrontes and Bonarda. I felt like a magician who had learned a new trick. Funny, how it took almost 200 years for us to learn about that variety here in North America. The viticulture down there has a five hundred year history just from immigrant Italians and Spaniards, so they have a little history in winemaking.
The area is so superior for many reasons—one being the lack of pesticide use due to elevation. I wonder why more marketing departments at Argentina wineries are not telling their United States customers about that fact. Also, it would take a book to accurately describe the many different soil types available in the region.
Of note, there is probably more European and American investors making their way down these days to get a piece of the pie. It seems a popular business model these days if you cannot produce a product better than your competition just buy them. The small guy gets paid and the homogenization then starts. It does not always mean the wine suffers and in most cases, modern wine making technology always brings quality unless short cuts start to happen. We all know there are always going to be producers who want to take shortcuts. In the end, the wine will suffer and so will the sales. Keep it real please!
I have a few favorites presently and my reviews will follow.
2007 Malbec Finca Lalande 13.8% | $15 | 91
Biodynamical produced fruit sets the standard in this wonderful project from the Lalande family known for producing great wines in Bordeaux. It seems as though many big names are setting up shop in Argentina and for good reason—the fruit is fabulous. This wine proves that statement one more time–berrylicious, bold and spicy all at the same time. This one will be a hot seller. Get it before it’s gone.
2009 Torrontes Colome Salta Province Valle Calchaqui Argentina 13.5% | $14 | 88
This winery is a division of the Hess family of wines and as of late has been making a pretty good splash in the press and social media. I sampled this one during a recent mock master test and enjoyed it enough for it to be one of my selections of the leftovers. Elevation of the vineyards sits at 6500 to 7500 feet above sea level. No pesticides because no bugs. It has hints of honey and orange peel with the intensity of any well-made Torrontes with an “all in your face” flavor. Floral, fruity but not sweet, this is a wine to explore culinary pairings and I will make another couple of dozen dishes to find the outer boundaries of this wonderful varietal. Although I have tasted more spark and punch from other Torrontes, this one is a good entry level wine to acquaint yourself with the varietal.
If you are looking for something racy between a dry Gewürztraminer and a sporty Sauvignon Blanc, give this varietal a shot—it will shock you like the first Viognier you ever tasted. It takes a back seat to full creamy flavors but it will stand up to heat; a workhorse culinary starter that can also stand in for main courses and dessert.
2008 Malbec Arido Mendoza 14.5% | $10 | 90
This is another solid value Malbec from Argentina. The steady flow of great offerings from Mendoza producers is amazing. This one has character, individuality and personality. Another thing it has going on is its consistency.
We have tasted this 2008 on three different occasions from two different retailers and each time I drink it I am thrilled we have access to wines of this quality. Fruity and dark in the aromas and full throttle full-bodied on the palate, the flavors started with ripe fruit flavors of plums and blackberry giving up a jammy characteristic. The tannins were not as tight as many Malbec’s but the earthy woodiness presented a fairly rustic, yet versatile wine that will be a welcomed guest at my dinner table almost any night of the week.
2009 Malbec Terrazas de los Andes Mendoza 14% | $12 | 89
This is a solid effort grown at what this Argentinean Moet-Hennessey project states as the perfect altitude for Malbec in Argentina (3500 foot elevation). A solid core of berry fruit aromas mingle with fresh tanned leather, spice and fresh tobacco.
This winery has the PR machine working fulltime but they should know they have a product to be proud of. Full flavored and layered with a bit of sophistication, this wine rises above what you were expecting—a pleasant experience that rarely presents itself these days. Regardless of the hook, the substance goes way beyond the chorus. This wine delivers solid harmonious notes and big flavors.
Wrapping it up, all of these wines do well in my local area of Portland, Oregon because they fill a niche. They also pack a punch when it comes to quality and the prices are reasonable.
So now that I have started a dialog about my recent Argentinean experiences please share yours with us. If you have an Argentinean wine that is a favorite and we have not posted about it let me know. I will track it down and drink it!
Eat well, Drink well, Live well! ~Marc