Like a sommelier between service, Chris Wilson set himself just 90 minutes with which to taste the best Argentine wines on offer at this year’s exciting Barullo event. The strategy was to taste one Malbec, one non-Malbec from as many producers as possible and what he discovered serves as a fascinating cross-section of classic and innovative wines on show.
Malbec with no oak, Malbec blended with Pinot, an egg-fermented rosé with six months fermentation, there were lots of fascinating discoveries at Barullo, this year’s Wines of Argentina showcase.
Time was short at the recent Wines of Argentina Barullo tasting, so I set myself a simple task of tasting two wines from as many producers as possible; one Malbec and one non-Malbec.
It proved to be an interesting and fruitful experiment; not only did I get to whizz around the room and talk to more producers than I thought possible, but I was also pointed towards wines (non-Malbec in most cases) that were off-the-beaten-track and demonstrated just how mould-breaking many Argentine producers are.
But first let’s take a look at the pick of the Malbecs (in some cases Malbec-dominant blends).
Alpamanta Natal Malbec 2013
Un-oaked, un-inoculated, biodynamic, un-fined – they’ve throw the kitchen sink at this; or more correctly they haven’t. This is a pure expression of the grape and the fruit really does speak for itself; there’s raspberry jam and candied cherry characters and an attractive spicy finish. Lively with fresh grape tannins.
Zorzal Eggo Tinto de Tiza 2014
The Zorzal wines are new to the UK, recently brought in by Hallgarten’s Steve Daniel. Their USP? All the top wines are made in concrete egg-shaped fermenters, an approach that winemaker Matías Michelini told me adds “purity, character and texture” to the wine. This 85% Malbec, 7.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7.5% Cabernet Franc blend certainly ticks those boxes and is refined and classy with black pepper notes and brooding tannins. No oak here either, making it a very modern Malbec.
Michelini Brothers JiJiJi Malbec Pinot Noir 2015
Interesting 50/50 blend of Malbec and Pinot Noir, very interesting production method. Taste this and there’s more than a whiff of Beaujolais about it… and that’s down to the whole bunch fermentation carbonic maceration process. It’s also co-fermented. The result is a light, but spicy wine with great purity and a red vermouth edge. Very drinkable.
Monteviejo Festivo Malbec 2015
Another ‘no-oak, just fruit’ Malbec, and delicious with it. Plum and ripe red berry fruit, easy drinking, very approachable. This would make a great by-the-glass wine.
Mauricio Lorca ‘Lorca Lorca’ Malbec 2016
Another wine that I was assured we’d see a lot of in the on and off trades in the coming 12 months is this 100% Malbec from Mauricio Lorca. It’s very keenly priced (£5.50 trade) and is packaged in two labels for cross-sector trade. The wine itself is bright and punchy with classic dark fruit character and a clean, herby finish.
Matias Riccitelli Hey Rosé! 2016
Technically it’s a Malbec as this rosé is made from 100% Malbec, and it looks great in its fluted flint bottle. Riccitelli’s artwork follows the superhero cartoon theme of its sister wine Hey Malbec!, and it’s a welcome addition to the range. Bright, breezy and briny it’s the perfect summer serve and should do very well nine months from now.
And now the best of the non-Malbecs…
Alpamanta Breva Syrah Rosé 2015
With an appearance of cloudy pink lemonade, this made a statement right from the start. It’s a natural wine made in an egg-shaped fermenter with three days skin contact and a fermentation that lasts five to six months. That’s a long time by anyone’s standards and is achieved by fermenting at low temperatures and keeping a keen eye on the reducing sugar levels. The wine itself has a rhubarb edge and a sweetness of fruit, but it’s dry and zippy. Very Provence in style.
Zorzal Franco 2015
Named after the grape variety it’s made from – Cabernet Franc – rather than the Spanish dictator, the fruit here is grown on limestone soil at 1,400 metres above sea level. Made in a concrete egg, where it stays for a year in total, its sees no oak and is fresh and herbal with pink peppercorn and cherry lipstick notes. Only 13% ABV too.
Michelini Brothers JiJiJi Chenin Blanc 2016
This was probably the most exciting wine in the room. It was certainly the most racy; not that you’d be able to guess from the grape variety. Chenin Blanc never tastes like this – it’s so salty and limey, like a tequila slammer without the tequila. What gives it this zip and eye-popping acidity? It’s picked early and the fruit is very clean. Simple. Would work so well with ceviche and myriad other acidic/salty foods… anchovies, almonds, olives.
Monteviejo Petite Fleur Torrontés 2014
The word is that Torrontés is going out of fashion, and it’s easy to see why with so many really floral high pH offerings on the shelves. This example from Salta is different – of course there are the hallmark lifted honeysuckle/floral characters and some confected fruit, but to counter this there’s green apple acid and spice. The tangy finish ties it all together.
Michelini Brothers Eterno Retorno Bonarda 2013
A really chunky wine but with its muscle and tannin there’s also an elegance. Its fruit is dark and brambly and harks of the hedgerow, then the hefty tannins kick in but they are soon tamed by a sweep of vanilla and cedar. The best Bonarda on show.
Matias Riccitelli Old Vines Patagonia Semillon 2016
There’s so much going on in this new-to-the-UK wine from the forward-thinking Matias Riccitelli; marzipan, smoke, bruised apple. It’s this cider-apple tang that first hits you then the other characters come out to play. It’s rich and weighty with a saline freshness and great length. This should be a shoe-in with the sommelier crowd.