By The Glass
Quality is high, prices low for Argentine wine
WINES from Argentina are definitely on the rise -- now the third largest import into America, and among the least expensive from any country.
When I visited Argentina four years ago, I knew it had great potential and that it was just a matter of time before the country became a major player. That time is now.
The vineyards and land are as nice as California's Napa or Sonoma, but prices for land and labor are so much lower -- which results in less expensive wines. The quality has never been better, from the least expensive to top-end bottles that can sell for more than $100.
Malbec is the signature red-wine grape from Argentina. It has mutated from the original strain from Bordeaux, France, where it is typically used in small percentages in blends, and provides very bold, full and lush reds. It typically has very ripe and integrated tannins.
Torrontes is Argentina's signature white-wine grape and people should get to know it better. This very clean, refreshing and lively white wine fits right into our warm weather and diverse food choices. If you like sauvignon blanc, chances are you'll like torrontes.
The 2005 Argentinian vintage is excellent. The hearty but refined reds are perfect for summer barbecues, and the refreshing whites are great with lighter meals and seafood.
A handful of suggestions:
2005 La Garto Merlot ($19.99): To be honest, the merlot was always the weak link in previous vintages, but in 2005 it may be the star. Lush, voluptuous and luxurious, it is easily the best $20 merlot on our shelves. Those who love California wines for their fruit, soft tannins and refinement will go nuts for this wine!
2005 El Felino Malbec ($19.99): While showing good fruit and very refined tannins, this wine is still a bit reserved -- nothing a good airing or some time in the bottle won't cure. Expect ripe raspberry, boysenberry and white pepper, with rich and silky tannins.
2004 Obvio Malbec ($11.99): A good introduction to malbec, this is a solid, varietally correct wine. Superdark, with lush fruit, it's a big wine with soft, gentle tannins and no oak, resulting in a fruit-driven wine.
2005 Obvio Torrontes ($11.99): The best way to describe this wine is ZINGY. Torrontes usually produces a wine with floral qualities and good citrus fruit. It is dry and usually doesn't see much oak, if any, which means it is very pure. There is good structure and the acid always makes this a good palate-cleanser. Excellent with seafood, goat cheese and cured meats like salami.
2006 Norton Malbec ($9.99): Deep red, with violet hints and sweet, spicy aromas. A moderate-style malbec, Norton offers pleasing ripe fruit flavors with no fanfare; this wine simply tastes good and pairs well with a wide variety of foods; try it with grilled tri-tips.
2004 Norton Malbec Reserva ($19.99): Made from 80-year-old vines (some of the oldest in Argentina), this years' version is very creamy, with layers of black berries and raspberry, followed by cocoa, mocha, a touch of dark chocolate and a splash of coffee. Juicy and plush, with a solid core of integrated tannins, this outstanding wine is complex enough to improve over time.
2006 Crios Torrontes ($12.99): With an intense floral and citrusy aroma, the Crios is similar to a viognier with the crispness of a sauvignon blanc. No oak, which makes it perfect for light meals and warm nights.
Jay Kam is president of Vintage Wine Cellar.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org