You know your Bay Area wines: Cabernet from Napa, Pinot Noir from Sonoma and, now, Malbec from Mendoza.
Yep, California vintners are increasingly looking to the Southern Hemisphere to “round out their portfolio of wineries” as Tom Garrett of Revana Family Vineyard (who currently has a winery in Napa and one in Oregon’s Willamette Valley) put it. “The quality of the wines coming from Mendoza and particularly the Uco Valley is incredible,” says Garrett. “And they represent great value providing fantastic quality at a lower price.” Revana currently has 11 acres planted in Mendoza, primarily Malbec, but also other Bordeaux and Rhone varietals. Revana’s first vintage, 2011, released under the Corazon del Sol label (the name is still being finalized), will be available in the Bay Area later this year.
Malbec, once one of the noble Bordeaux varietals, has largely fallen out of favor with top producers there. According to Denis Malbec (no relation to the grape), who was the Enologist at Château Latour before moving to California and starting Captûre Wines, none of the first- or second-growth chateaus use it in their blends. Exiled to Argentina, the vine has, literally, taken root—enjoying mountainous terrain, high elevation and plenty of sunshine, Argentine Malbecs are full-bodied, fruit forward and boast substantial red-meat-craving tannins.
Rob Lawson, who was the winemaker at The Napa Wine Company, a custom crush and shared-production facility in Oakville, for years, is now working at a similarly minded operation in Argentina. As Consulting Winemaker for The Vines of Mendoza, Lawson works with private clients and California producers to make Argentine wine specifically for the U.S. market. His own label, The Fearless Rider, will be on the shelves soon. “Look,” says Lawson frankly when I tasted his wine. “These wines are not intended to blow you away with complexity.” But they are clean, flavorful and, perhaps most important, a great value (Fearless Rider retails for $12).
Recuerdo, a line of Argentine wines released last year by Michael Polenske and Paul Leary of Blackbird Vineyards, is also made at The Vines of Mendoza. The 2010 Malbec, which retails for $22 is a very reasonable addition to a portfolio that includes $125 bottles of Napa Valley red. The Recuerdo label also includes a $15 Torrontés, a light-bodied aromatic white wine that is now considered indigenous to Argentina.
With barbeque season right around the corner, here are some other Argentinian wines with California connections:
The 2009 Layer Cake Malbec from the infamous Jason Woodbridge of Hundred Acres is an $11 bargain.
The 2010 Malbec is just one of Joel Gott’s (of Gott’s Roadside) bold, affordable wines from The Show line. Hailing from a high-altitude vineyard in Mendoza, it comes to us for about $13.
The first vintage from The Hand of God label, a collaboration between Jon Staenberg (RivkaSimone wines) and Santiago Achaval (of Achaval-Ferrer) will appear stateside this spring.