Argentinian wines are evolving.
They were the fifth most imported wines into America in 2014, only 3,000 gallons behind France, according to the 2015 Beverage Information Group Wine Handbook. And their presence and quality seem only to be expanding.
I recently had opportunity to sample wines from a classic Argentinian brand, Pascual Toso. Located in Mendoza, this winery traces its roots back 125 years, and is emblematic of how far Argentina has come.
Especially in the premium category. During the tasting, held last week at NYC’s Bedford & Co., Pascual Toso Chief Winemaker Felipe Stahlschmidt poured a pair of big bold blends. Lovers of dark California reds would do well to check out the following.
The Finca Pedegral 2014 (SRP: $73.99) is 62% Cab Sauv, 38% Malbec. The grapes come from a single-vineyard in Barrancas with very stony soil. Cold maceration precedes 72-hour fermentation. Maceration in stainless steel is 25 days, followed by 18 months barrel-aging. The Cab Sauv rests in new American oak, while the Malbec gets new French.
The result is deeply concentrated fruit flavors. Quite the robust wine, the Pedegral can stand up against the heaviest of red meats and stews, and will age well in cellars — probably forever. Only 300 cases were produced.
The eye-opening bold reds continued with the Magdalena 2013 ($129.99). This wine ferments for 10 days and then macerates for 15. It ages in new French oak barrels for 18 months, and then one year in-bottle before release.
Whereas the Pedegral was concentrated, the Magdalena was complex. On the nose and palate are subtle fruit flavors in layers, from raspberry to vanilla, chocolate to spices. This is a highly drinkable wine, dense with character. Enjoy it alongside an array of red or white meats, or dishes with creamy sauces. Pascual Toso produced 300 cases.
Also surprising was the quality of the Syrah. Pascual Toso’s Alta Syrah 2014 ($49.99) contained sweet tannins balanced by plenty of spice. Berry fruit flavors were interwoven with vanilla and cocoa. Syrahs can be tough to predict due to the variety of their production styles worldwide. In Argentina’s climate this grape ripens so quickly that many producers consider it not worth the trouble.
But here’s a classic, balanced, spicy Syrah, tailor-made for sausage, brisket, or gamier meats. The difficulty of growing this varietal in Argentina is well worth it.
Power blends and classic Syrah are part of the evolution of Argentinean wine. Of course, we also sampled plenty of what the country is already known for: Malbec and Cab Sauv.
Pascual Toso makes an array of both. We tasted their Estate Malbec 2014 ($13.99), Reserva Malbec 2014 ($24.99), Alta Malbec 2013 ($49.99), Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($24.99), Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($49.99), and Barrancas 2014 ($19.99), a blend of 60% Malbec and 40% Cab Sauv.
The Estate Malbec contained a lot of black fruit flavors for such an approachable price point. It’s an ideal, entry-level, Argentinian Malbec for the curious consumer.
Also of particular note were the two Altas. Both were clear upgrades over the (tasty) Reservas in terms of complexity, density, and drinkability. The Alta Malbec was rich with black fruit and various spices before a lasting finish. Judging price-to-quality, this was the evening’s top performer.
Stahlschmidt also poured us Pascual Toso’s sweet, chalky, yeasty Toso Brut NV ($12.99), which finished with a nice crisp bite.
Kyle Swartz is associate editor of Cheers magazine. Reach him at email@example.com