Tasting No. 209 – April 29, 2019 – Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina

Club del Vino

 

Capri Ristorante, McLean VA

Tasting Overview   The  main objective of this blind tasting is to assess a sample of Cabernet Sauvignon wines from different regions in Argentina and if possible find out the region from which they proceed according to the description below. Although two out of three bottles of wine that Argentina exports to the world are Malbec, many winemakers are keen to making known other varietals produced in the country. Among these, Cabernet Sauvignon occupies a fundamental role because it is an old acquaintance of Argentinian viticulture with more than 15,000 hectares planted. Argentina offers at least three styles of Cabernet with a peculiarity, they all come from continental climates, something very rare to find in other parts of the world. These styles are:

a)  Warm climate Cabs: Produced in Mendoza, Maipú and Lujan de Cuyo from vineyards located between 700 and 950 of altitude where there is a warm and dry climate that helps the maturation of the Cabernets and endows them with an intense and voluptuous style with good body and structure;

b) Cold climate Cabs:  These are produced from vines planted in the Uco Valley  at altitudes between 1,000 to 1500 meters and stony soils where the red varieties ripen slower, especially those of long cycle like Cabernet Sauvignon. This combination of altitude and soils results in wines  with a refreshing natural acidity that gives a special character to the wines of the area. At much lower altitude, Patagonia, the South America’s southernmost wine-producing region is a desert, is also considered a cold wine region. Viticulture is possible only near the rivers, where meltwater from the Andes is abundant for irrigation. The classic desert climate of warm days and cold nights extends the growing season in the region, slowing ripening in the grapes and letting them develop rich varietal character while retaining acidity. The zone is closer to the Andes Mountains than to the Atlantic Ocean, but is at a much lower altitude than Mendoza and Uco Valley, averaging about 300m (1,000ft) above sea level.

c) Cabs from the North: These come from the Cafayate, in the heart of the Calchaquíes Valley. Here, at an altitude of 1,750 meters above sea level, Cabernet developed an expression easy to differentiate by its nuanced spices, herbal and menthol aromas. In this region the climate is extreme with a very marked thermal amplitude, that can reach 20 degrees centigrade during the ripening season. So the grapes ripen in the day but at night they concentrate acidity and an explosive aromatic. As with all the wines grown at high altitude in dessert conditions, these are deep and concentrated reds with a singular freshness.

Type of Tasting: Blind

Wines presenters: Ruth Connolly, Jaime Estupiñán

These are the wines:

  1. 2017 Mascota Unanime Chardonnay, Mendoza
  2. 2014 Mascota Big Bat Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza 
  3. 2016 Bodegas Fabre, Phebus Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Rio Negro, Patagonia
  4. 2017 Abstracto Quinto Imperio Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Vino, Tupungato, Uco Valley

This is the menu:

  1. Seafood Salad
  2. Mixed greens salad
  3. Agnolotti with Aurora sauce
  4. Grilled Steak with zucchini and roasted beans
  5. Dessert/Coffee

Participants: 

Mario Aguilar, Jorge Claro, Ruth Connolly, Jaime Estupiñán, Jorge Garcia-Garcia,  Jaime Jaramillo, John Redwood, Lucía Redwood, Jorge Requena, Alfonso Sanchez, Jairo Sanchez, Cristian Santelices, Ricardo Santiago.

(The information below has been compiled from various internet sources) .

2017 Mascota Unanime Chardonnay, Mendoza

The Wine: (WE) Apple and fresh pumpkin aromas announce a round, healthy palate with bracing acidity. Dried tropical fruit flavors of mango, papaya and pineapple are clean and solid. Everything about this partially malolactic Chardonnay is pleasing and of good quality. Drink now.

The Winery: The vineyards lie at the foot of the Andes Mountains, barely a thousand meters away from the Mendoza River. The vines receive fresh breezes descending from the mountains and blowing along the river, all of which contributes to the generation of wide temperature ranges. The soil is predominantly alluvial, with a clay-loam surface, and rock is found at a depth of 60 cm (23.4 in). And so it is that Finca La Mascota finds itself set in perfect surroundings, and one the most renowned and prestigious wine-growing regions in Mendoza. The vineyards cover 100 hectares of land, 97 of which are implanted with grapes. The main varieties produced are Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz among the reds; and Chardonnay among the whites. The oldest wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon lot which was planted 41 years ago. The average age of the vineyards is 30 years, ranging from the 5 year-old new blocks to the oldest ones planted in the 70’s.

Read more at: http://www.mascotavineyards.com/en/home/#

2014 Mascota Big Bat Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza

The Wine: Toasty blackberry and prune are the key aromas on this plush Cabernet. A generous mouthfeel includes choppy tannins that will mellow in due time. Dark flavors of cassis and blackberry include spice and chocolate notes, while this finishes with ripe flavors of blackberry touched up by chocolaty oak. Drink this calm, slightly flabby Cab through 2021.

The Winery:  (See above)

2016 Bodegas Fabre, Phebus, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Rio Negro, Patagonia

The Wine: A compelling mix of cherry, plum and spicy aromas spell out Cabernet Sauvignon in block letters. This feels full, but also juicy, fresh and agile. Core berry flavors are lightly toasted and chocolaty, with coffee and lingering spice notes aiding a well-comported finish.

The Winery: Hervé Joyaux Fabre, owner and director of Fabre Montmayou, was born in Bordeaux, France, to a family of wine négociants. When he arrived in Argentina in the early 90’s looking for opportunities to invest in vineyards and start a winery, he was impressed by the potential for Malbec in Mendoza. He bought very old Malbec vineyards, planted in 1908, and built the Fabre Montmayou winery in the purest Chateau Style from Bordeaux.  As a true visionary, he bought very old Malbec vineyards, planted in 1908, and built the Fabre Montmayou winery with real boutique style and essence. Once the winery in Mendoza was established Hervé then decided to buy vineyards and a winery in Rio Negro, Patagonia. He realised the unique cool climate of this southern region combined with the “terroir” made it possible to create great wines that are very different in style from those produced in Mendoza. His passion and “savoir faire” did the rest, enabling him to begin producing exceptional wines that have achieved international acclaim and are enjoyed in over twenty countries. With constant care and personal style – essential elements for great quality – Fabre Montmayou combines modern winemaking, and the Bordeaux “savoir faire” to produce wines of unique personality, farmed using traditional methods and without herbicides in order to obtain the best grapes while respecting the environment.

Read more at: http://www.fabremontmayou.com/vineyards/patagonia/

2017 Abstracto Quinto Imperio Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Vino, Tupungato, Uco Valley

The Wine: James Suckling: “Very attractive, fresh red-plum and mulberry aromas with a gently spicy and peppery edge. A fresh palate that has a succulent, fleshy and gently grippy feel. Assertive and flavorful finish. Drink or hold.”

The Winery: This wine is produced and bottled by Finca Sophenia.Finca SOPHENIA is an argentine winery recognized as one of the top quality wine producers from Argentina. To achieve its goals, Roberto Luka, its founder and conductor, chose Gualtallary, Tupungato, Mendoza, one of the most prestigious regions to produce high quality wines. The result was quite rewarding and the wines have already been praised by the wine writers in Europe, America and Asia.  The wines started to sell worldwide in 2004 and succeeded to reach more than 25 countries.

Finca SOPHENIA’ s vineyards were planted over 130 hectares of the best virgin soil of this part of the world. This is a sandy and rocky soil with excellent natural drainage. The vineyards were implanted with selected French clones, which were grafted onto an American rootstocks, and of the following varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. An area of the vineyard has been reserved for the Malbec plants raised in Mendoza: low-productivity clones that were chosen for their aromatic properties, and whose stalks come from the most representative vineyards of this unique region, where the Malbec finds its clearest expression. The irrigation water comes from the Andes’ thaw. The system that distributes it was structured to obtain small berries and a low production per hectare. In this way, the results are wines of great complexity, high fruit concentration and capable to age well.

Read more at: http://www.sophenia.com.ar/eng/index.php

CV Members Rating (TBA)

View full evaluation here: 209 Summary of Scores

Best Rated Wine: 2014 Mascota Big Bat Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza

Best Buy: 2016 Phebus Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Patagonia

Technical Notes 

(Material abstracted and adapted from information posted on the Wine Searcher website:   http://www.winesearcher.com and information from the Wines of Argentina website:  http://www.winesofargentina.com)

Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the most famous red wine grape variety on Earth. It is rivaled only by its Bordeaux stablemate Merlot, and its opposite number in Burgundy, Pinot Noir.   Cabernet Sauvignon wines always seem to demonstrate a handful of common character traits: deep color, good tannin structure, moderate acidity and aromas of blackcurrant, tomato leaf, dark spices and cedar wood.  They also are frequently used in blends in combination with merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot, carmenere, shiraz, and lately tempranillo.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the product of a natural genetic crossing over the past few centuries between the Bordeaux grape varieties Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, a fact which makes the variety’s global fame and dominance more impressive.

Key reasons for Cabernet Sauvignon’s rise to dominance are:

a) its adaptability to different soil types and climates. It is grown at latitudes from 50°N (Okanagan in Canada) and 20°S (northern Argentina), and in soils as different as the Pessac-Leognan gravels and the iron-rich terra rossa of Coonawarra.

b) its retention of an inimitable “Cab” character and simple economics. The familiarity and marketability of the Cabernet Sauvignon name has an irresistible lure to wine companies looking for a reliable return on their investment.

c) its vigor. Cabernet Sauvignon produces a dense leaf canopy and relatively high grape yields, giving wine producers a fairly open choice between quantity and quality. Careful vineyard management is essential. Late-flowering and late-ripening, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes mature slowly, both of which can affect wine quality, depending on weather and harvest time.

Source: By Lewison – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8746519

Argentinian Cabernet Wine and Wine Areas Covering just over one million square miles (2.800.000 square kilometers), Argentina is one of the most important wine-producing countries in the New World, and the largest wine producer in South America. The high-altitude deserts of the eastern Andes have given rise to a high-quality wine industry.  While Malbec is the major grape, there are also pockets of production of cabernet sauvignon wines, principally in Mendoza (Andean foothills), Salta (Cafayete in the Calchaqui Valley and Molinos), Jujuy, Catamarca, and Patagonia (Rio Negro and Neuquen).

Mendoza and Environs. Most viticulture in Argentina takes place in the foothills of the Andes, and most famously in Mendoza, where desert landscapes and high altitudes combine to make a terroir that gives rise to aromatic, intensely flavored red wines. Vineyards in Mendoza reach as high as 5000ft (1500m) above sea level. Here, increased levels of solar radiation and a high diurnal temperature variation make for a long, slow ripening period, leading to balanced sugars and acidity in the grapes.

Nearly three-quarters of Argentinian wine production takes place in Mendoza, and in addition to Malbec, there are significant plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Bonarda. Mendoza’s position in the rain shadow of the Andes means that there is little rainfall, and irrigation is supplied by Andean meltwater.

Further north, the regions of Salta and Catamarca are even higher, and a world-topping vineyard owned by Bodega Colome in Molinos sits at 9,900ft (3000m), which is higher than the peak of Mount St. Helens in the Pacific Northwest of America. The area’s low latitudes – i.e. closeness to the equator – are tempered by the high altitude and cold mountain air.  Argentina’s signature white grape, Torrontes, is grown here, making an aromatic, floral white wine.

Closer to the Atlantic coast, Patagonia in the south is home to two wine regions, Rio Negro and Neuquen, where cabernet sauvignons are produced.

Argentina has a long viticultural tradition, dating from the 1500’s.   Until very recently, Argentinian wines were exclusively domestic; over the last two decades, producers have raised quality levels and successfully consolidated an international export market. Argentina has risen to become the fifth-most-prominent wine-producing country in the world, following France, Italy, Spain and the USA.

Salta, in the far north of Argentina, is home to some of the world’s most extreme vineyard sites.  Located at lower latitudes and higher altitudes than anywhere else on Earth, these sites benefit from the balance these two factors contribute to wine-growing. The cold temperatures of high altitude are mitigated by the high temperatures of the lower latitudes.

Cafayate is a wine-producing region in the northwest of Argentina. Located within the Calchaqui Valley, Cafayate is arguably the best-known wine region in Argentina outside of Mendoza.  The small town of Cafayate is near the southern border of the Salta province.  The Calchaqui Valley, a catch-all name for a series of valleys on the edge of the Andes mountains, surrounds Cafayate and has some of the most spectacular landscapes in Argentina, changing rapidly and dramatically from desert to mountains to sub-tropical forest.

One of the highest places in the world suitable for viticulture, Cafayate sits at 5600ft (1700m) above sea level, at a latitude of 26°S (which it shares with the Kalahari desert in Africa). This high altitude defines the terroir of the region, making it suitable for viticulture despite its close proximity to the equator. The altitude means the sunlight Cafayate receives is more intense than in lower-lying regions, causing the grapes to develop thicker skins as protection against the solar radiation.

The altitude also explains the cold nights, fueled by westerly evening winds from the snow-capped Andes. Temperatures can be around 60F/15C colder than during the day, and it is this diurnal temperature variation that extends the growing season and leads to balance in the finished wines.  Soil types in Cafayate are varied, consisting mostly of free-draining sandy loam, with some more-pebbly pockets. These dry soils cause stress in the vines, leading them to produce less vegetation and fewer grapes, reducing the overall yield and contributing to the high levels of concentration in the resultant wines. Cafayate has a desert climate with low rainfall and humidity, and the vines need irrigation from the meltwater rivers in the area to keep them hydrated over the summer.

The terroir in Cafayate is particularly well suited to the Torrontes Riojana variety, which produces floral, crisp white wines with a surprising depth of flavor. Full-bodied, richly structured wines made from Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon are also produced in Cafayate.

Salta’s mountainous landscape creates a rain shadow over the vineyards below, ensuring clear skies and low levels of precipitation. The convenient flipside is that the mountains also provide irrigation, sending a reliable supply of meltwater down from the snowy peaks. This mesoclimate benefits from a wide diurnal temperature variation, which allows the grapes to develop phenolic ripeness while retaining good acidity. Summer temperatures in Salta reach 100F (38C) in the day time, while dropping to as low as 55F (12C) at night.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Tannat are the most prominent red-wine varieties in Salta, while Chardonnay and Torrontes account for the region’s most respected white wines. The region has a similar alluvial soil profile (sandy topsoil over a clay base) to Mendoza, 500 miles (800km) to the south, which explains why these varieties do so well in both regions.

Salta’s key wine-growing areas are Cafayate and the world-topping vineyards of Molinos. Cafayate in particular is quickly gaining an international reputation for tits high quality wines as well as for the quirks of its terroir.

Catamarca & Jujuy. Catamarca  is a wine-producing region in the north-west of Argentina in the midst of the Andes mountain range. This remote corner of Argentina  has only recently become associated with wines of export quality.  Viticulture in Catamarca is largely concentrated on the banks of the Abaucan River, from the high-quality region of Fiambala to the more-productive region of Tinogasta in the south of the province.

Jujuy  is the northernmost viticultural area of Argentina with some of the world’s highest vineyards.   It is a relatively small wine region and is less commercially established than some of its neighbors.  Despite its proximity to the equator (at a latitude of 23°S), Jujuy’s extreme temperatures are moderated by the high altitude of the region which also raises the intensity and duration of sunlight available to its vineyards. Vineyards in both Catamarca  and Jujuy are located amid mountainous terrain – some reaching altitudes of 9840ft (3000m) above sea level.

La Pampa is a gently undulating plain with elongated depressions running from west to east and forming fan-shaped valleys. On average, these depressions are 62 miles long by 3 to 6 miles wide, with altitudes ranging between 328 feet above sea level to 131  feet below sea level. It has approximately 531 acres of vineyards. The main varieties produced in this province are Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Neuquén contrasts sharply with the aridity of the mountainous northern region.  San Patricio del Chañar, 37 miles to the northwest of the province’s capital, has  seen more than 3,460 acres planted and five wineries built in the last few years. The climate is ideal for the development of wine growing. Vineyards stand at 1,300 feet above sea level. The region receives 7 inches rainfall and has temperature ranges exceeding 68° F difference between day and night during the ripening period.All these features come together to ensure extremely healthy grapes with great concentration of colors and aromas, slowly developing tannins and perfect levels of acidity, which will then yield high quality wines.  However, cabernet sauvignon production is not mentioned in the sources visited.

Río Negro  is the southernmost vine-growing region in Argentina. At an altitude of 1,200 feet, the High Valley of Río Negro is a 75 mile-long, 5 mile-wide  river oasis in the vast, arid, wild Patagonian plateau.  It has a markedly dry, continental climate, with an annual rainfall of less than 7.5 inches and very low relative humidity. Winters are cold and summers warm and dry, with abundant sunshine and great thermal amplitude. Winds blowing constantly from the southern Andes increase air dryness and allow for outstanding sanity in the vineyard. The uniqueness of the landscape confers Patagonian wines a well-defined personality. All of them stand out for the perfect balance of alcohol and acidity resulting from the slow ripening of the fruit.   However, cabernet sauvignon production was not mentioned in the sources consulted.

 

HIGH ALTITUDE WINES

(Taken from an article from Wine Searcher by Wink Lorch)

While much of the touted virtues of high-altitude wines can be dismissed as spin, but there is some basis in fact. Three main things make high altitude wine a big deal.

Mountain freshness. The higher you go, the more the average temperature drops, and this means potentially lower alcohol and higher acidity, both increasingly sought after for lighter, fresher wines, such as those from Alpine areas. The diurnal changes in temperature (difference between day and night levels) are greater, preserving the acidity. The freshness can also be increased by wind chill in a vineyard on a mountain slope (not essential for high altitude, but often the case). And, mountain slopes often have rocky soils bringing out those sought-after notes of minerality.

Mountain intensity. At very high altitudes, such as in Argentina’s high Andean vineyards, the vines are subject to intense sunlight, especially UV-B radiation. This gives grapes more antioxidants and thicker skins, equating to more color, tannin and flavor intensity in reds, and longer aging ability too – all desirable attributes.

Mountain savior? Climate change has not only created unpredictability, but it has also meant that the world’s traditional grapegrowing areas are warming giving higher sugar and lower acidity levels in the grapes leading to unbalanced, over-alcoholic wines. Moving the vineyards higher up leads to longer growing seasons and higher acidities in the grapes, one practicable response to climate change.

What’s high? An altitude measure for a vineyard is almost meaningless unless the latitude is discussed in the same breath. High altitude in vineyards in Europe go from around 500 meters (1640 feet) upwards. In South America, there are thousands of acres of vineyards at 1000m and higher, and the continent includes the world’s highest commercial vineyards, owned by Colomé, at more than 3000m (9850 feet).

And how does latitude come into it? The closer you are to the equator, generally the hotter it is, hence both the permanent snow line and the tree line are higher. At the typical latitude of fine European vineyards – 45 degrees north – there’s year-round snow above 2800m, and very few vineyards reach 1000m (3300 feet). Over in Limarí or Elquí in Chile, or Salta in Argentina, South America’s northernmost internationally known vineyard regions are much closer to the equator at 25-30 degrees south. Here, the permanent snow line moves to well above 4500m and the high-altitude vineyards only begin at 1500m.

Are there downsides for vineyards at high altitude? You bet there are – hence, in traditional Alpine wine regions, vineyard altitudes have actually come down over the past 100 years. Apart from the sheer impracticality of farming on a mountainside, there is a greater risk of frost damage, more exposure to certain vine diseases and mostly the problem of not getting grapes fully ripe due to wind chill. High-altitude viticulture is not for the fainthearted.

What’s special about the taste of high-altitude wines? The freshness is the overall hallmark for reds and whites, together with a delicacy of floral and fruit characters. Yet there will also be intensity of flavor, and potentially deep colors and big tannins for certain reds. All this and their stories of so-called “heroic viticulture” make these wines a big deal.

 

 

 

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