By Celia Strong
It’s always nice to be able to revisit an old friend. Like old pals we haven’t seen for a while, old wine “friends” revisited also can be full of surprises.
For this visit, we’re going back to Argentina, the fifth-largest wine producer in the world. Although the roots of Argentine wine and food are in Spain, influences from Italy and France have played significant roles. Their most successful and renowned red variety, Malbec, came from France. Their white variety, Torrontés, is a descendant of Italy’s Malvasia.
Grape growing in Argentina was always successful because the soil and climate were made for it with hot, dry air, low rainfalls, high elevations for vineyards so that the hot grapes could cool during the night, low humidity that kept vine diseases at bay — and experienced immigrants from all the European wine-producing countries to work in the industry, from grape growing to winemaking.
As the industry grows and learns more about different regions, it is expanding to new areas in Argentina. In November 2010, wine was legally declared the national liquor. Nice!
Terrazas de Los Andes is a winery founded by Moët-Hennessey in 1996. Its name means “Terraces of the Andes.” An old winery, from 1898, located in Luján de Cuyo in Mendoza was refurbished. Luján de Cuyo is one of the best high-elevation sub-regions in all of Argentina, and high-elevation wines have led the success of Argentine reds and whites. At Terrazas de Los Andes, each variety is grown at its own best elevation. They have eight vineyards, planted on terraces at various altitudes from 3,000 to more than 4,000 feet above sea level on the eastern slopes of the Andes.
Beyond finding the best climatic area for each variety, Terrazas uses precision viticulture techniques, including soil analysis and electro-conductivity mapping, to boost the quality and performance of its grapes. They produce several tiers (price levels) of wines — Altos for everyday, Reserva, and two single vineyard wines from vineyards planted in 1929 and 1945. (One of these is partnered with the famous Bordeaux Ch Cheval Blanc.)
Since Argentina is known for Malbec, our first wine is Terrazas de Los Andes Reserva Malbec. Like most Argentine Malbecs, this wine has an intense color, deep ruby and purple. It is 100 percent Malbec from the Las Compuertas vineyard in Luján de Cuyo and Paraje Altamuras in the Uco Valley. The grapes are hand harvested, cold fermented, aged in French barrels for about a year, lightly filtered before bottling and released after six months. This wine has floral and black fruit (blackberry, dark currant, plum) aromas and flavors along with herbaceous notes and menthol. It is medium bodied, well balanced and vibrant with juicy textures. For $16.99. (Used to be $20.99, but now you know why we’re revisiting!)
Terrazas de Los Andes Reserva Chardonnay is a little lost treasure, because we usually buy our Chardonnay wines from anywhere but Argentina. This wine has a delicate harmony of freshness, brightness and subtle complexities, all from grapes grown at over 4,000 feet elevation. Hand harvested, whole clusters are pressed, and after fermenting (half of it in French barrels and half in stainless steel), it is aged on its lees for eight months. Three months of bottle aging get it to us ready to drink. It is golden yellow with green tinges, and has aromas and flavors of ripe peaches, pineapple, lime zest, coconut, toasted hazelnuts and butter. It is crisp, minerally and smooth in your mouth. Also for the new price of $16.99.
Terrazas de Los Andes Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon is as stellar as our first two wines. Also made entirely from grapes grown in vineyards owned by Moët-Hennessey, this wine is a combination of fruity, floral and spicy with balance and freshness. These grapes are treated much the same as the Malbec. It is a reddish purple color, and has blackberry, fig, black olive and geranium aromas and flavors. There are soft, balanced tannins and a lingering finish. Very definitely a food wine available at the new $16.99 price.
Last, and maybe most interesting, is Terrazas de Los Andes Reserva Torrontés. Made from a grape that is unique to Argentina and is good for sipping, aperitifs, and a multitude of food pairings, this wine does not have any barrel aging, so it is crisp and minerally with awesome acidity. Pale yellow with a range of tropical fruit aromas and flavors — mangos, litchi nuts, pineapple, melons, star fruits, jasmine, and white roses. Think shellfish and sushi. For $14.99.
What a great revisit! And what great “new” wines for us to enjoy!
Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.