I’m in a wine club that meets once a month – it’s called Cru Bourgeois. There are 22 of us in the group, and each member takes turns hosting one of the monthly tastings with a partner, each person bringing 6 wines to share with some sort of theme to them. The wines are typically tasted double-blind, meaning you have to taste them and guess what varietal they are as well as where they are from. Additionally, people usually throw some sort of additional riddle in the mix, like asking you to rank them in order by year, or asking you to guess the highest rated wines in the group, or asking you to identify an outlier that they put in the set to throw you off. Once you have tasted each flight of 6 and have your guesses in place, we go around the room and each take a turn sharing our thoughts on the wine. (If you’re wondering if all this is nerve wracking, the answer is: absolutely!)
I recently took a turn at hosting, and wanted to share a bit about my wines here with you all, as I would definitely recommend them!
I thought long and hard about a theme for my tasting, and decided on wines from Chile and Argentina. In our club, we see a lot of Old World wines come through (France, Italy, Spain) as well as American wines, but I couldn’t remember anyone focusing on Chile and Argentina, so liked the idea of doing something different. Wines from these areas have come onto the scene as a serious player more recently, and we still turn to these areas for high value wines. Yet both areas are capable of producing high-end wines that can stand among the best in the world. And they’ve looked to Bordeaux, the very image of Old World wine sophistication, for help.
You’ve probably heard of Bordeaux blends. One of the most important things to know about Bordeaux wines is that they are a blend of grape varieties. The red Bordeaux Blend is one of the most copied around the world and it includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec (with tiny amount of Carménère).
I turned to two respected producers from the area and decided to showcase a mini-vertical of each producer, spanning a 3-year period.
Wines from Argentina
Bodegas Aleanna Cabernet Franc “El Enemigo” Gran Enemigo Gualtallary
While Cabernet Franc makes up less than 1% of the country’s vines, this red variety punches above its weight in Argentina, yielding some of the most exciting wine releases in recent years. Plantings of Cabernet Franc have doubled over the last decade, making it one of Argentina’s fastest-growing categories.
Not only popular with winemakers, this red Bordeaux variety is a favorite among Argentine sommeliers and commonly appears on wine lists in the country’s top restaurants and bars. The numbers still pale in significance compared with the amount of plantings of Argentina’s heavyweight grape, Malbec. But what’s most telling about the Cabernet Franc trend is that the wines are almost exclusively high end.
By far the largest and best-known winemaking province in Argentina, Mendoza is responsible for over 70% of the country’s enological output. Mendoza is divided into several distinctive sub-regions, including Luján de Cuyo and the Uco Valley—two sources of some of the country’s finest wines.
The producer I chose here is known for some of the best Cabernet Franc wines in the area. Translating to “The Enemy”, El Enemigo was named in reference to the defining battle that’s fought within to make outstanding wines. Though a relatively young Argentine estate that started in 2007, its founders are anything but inexperienced. Winemaker Alejandro Vigil is a soil expert who was chief winemaker at Bodega Catena Zapata for 13 years running, and partner Adrianna Catena is Catena Zapata’s Nicolas Catena’s youngest daughter, whose dream is to continue her family’s legacy. El Enemigo’s leading wine Gran Enemigo Gualtallary is a single vineyard plot, located in the northernmost sub-region of the Uco Valley in Mendoza.
Here are the Argentinian wines I poured:
- “El Enemigo” Gran Enemigo Gualtallary 2011 from Mendoza, Argentina
RP 98, WE 93, WS 92
- “El Enemigo” Gran Enemigo Gualtallary 2012 from Mendoza, Argentina
RP 98, WE 92, WS 94, JS 98
- “El Enemigo” Gran Enemigo Gualtallary 2013 from Mendoza, Argentina
RP 100, JS 99
The 2013 vintage is linked above and is still available for $99. If you have $99 to spend on a bottle of wine I HIGHLY recommend this wine. I will tell you most other Robert Parker 100 point wines are not still available at this price point! I plan to invest in a couple more of these bottles to cellar.
Wines from Chile
Almaviva Red Bordeaux Blend
The Chilean economy boomed in the 1990s. The government was transitioning back to a democracy and this gave wineries greater opportunity to export to Europe and the United States. The wines created a stir internationally due to their great potential for quality and good value. Seizing the opportunity, larger US and French wineries rushed to set up operations in Chile, creating new wineries and buying up vineyards. The land grab that happened during this time is what has shaped the most popular Chilean wines we drink today. Now Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape in Chile and the country prides itself on its exceptional Bordeaux-style blends.
The region of Maipo follows the Maipo river valley to the south of Santiago out to the Pacific Ocean. The valley receives cooling winds from the ocean and has a much more Mediterranean climate. The sweet spot in this transverse valley for Bordeaux varieties is found around the towns of Pirque and Puente Alto at the base of the Andes. This area, called Alto Maipo, is famed for its full-bodied red blends, which are reminiscent of the Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, exhibiting notes of black currant, black cherry, fig paste, and baking spices. If you’re a fan of full-bodied reds in a California style like I am, this is your place.
Almaviva was founded 20 years ago, in 1997 in Chile’s Maipo Valley. A collaboration between Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild, and Concha y Toro, the goal was to create a ‘grand cru classé’ in Chile. Its first vintage was 1996. 60 hectares of suitable vineyards were identified in Puente Alta, the highest point in the valley, where mostly Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on the alluvial soils along with other grapes of Carmenère, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Produced under the joint technical supervision of both partners, the first vintage achieved immediate international success upon its launch in 1998.
Here are the Chilean wines I poured:
- Almaviva Red Blend 2010 Bordeaux Blend from Maipo Valley, Chile
(RP 92, WE 94, WS 94, JS 97)
- Almaviva Red Blend 2011 Bordeaux Blend from Maipo Valley, Chile
(RP 93, WE 93, WS 92, JS 95)
- Almaviva Red Blend 2012 Bordeaux Blend from Maipo Valley, Chile
(RP 93, WE 92, WS 92, JS 96)
I served earlier vintages of these wines that I bought on auction, and can only find the 2015 vintage of Almaviva readily available online – this wine DID get 100 points by James Suckling so is worth a try!
While I would consider the wines I shared in this article investment wines at over $100 per bottle, their value is substantially more. If you bought wines of this quality from Bordeaux, they would easily be north of $500 per bottle.
But, even at the $20 and under level, you can find some fantastic wines from these areas. Keep an eye out for wines from Chile and Argentina to continue to bring high-value to your wine fridge.