Vine Connections and Pioneer Wine Company hosted a seminar and tasting event for Houston's wine trade and media at Backstreet Cafe yesterday. All but two of the wines were from the Salta Province of Argentina.
Salta is the most northern wine region in Argentina lying close to the Bolivian border. The climate is very extreme due to the high altitude. Plantings start at 5,000 feet above sea level and climb to 9,000 feet, making these vineyards the highest in the world. The intense sunlight the area receives helps to create grapes with more anthocyanins, these are the color pigments which result in softer tannins, lower astringency and more intense flavor. The wines produced are extremely pure, concentrated and terroir specific. Torrontes Riojano which is considered the best of the three Torrontes clones is the most widely planted grape with plantings of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat increasing.
The seminar started with a tasting of four Torrontes wines, three from different areas of Salta and one from Mendoza. All were produced from ungrafted vines, were stainless steel fermented and were from the 2011 vintage. When compared side by side, the three from Salta were lighter in color than the one from Mendoza. The three from Salta had similar aromas with differences in the amount of fruitiness vs floral notes while the one from Mendoza had a more cosmetic type floral aroma. Upon tasting the wines, the three from Salta were more crisp with fresh fruit flavor while the one from Mendoza was decidedly somewhat flabby and a bit bitter. We were all assured that the one from Mendoza was considered one of Mendoza's better examples.
Trying to pick my favorite of the three was a bit difficult, there were small differences in the acidity levels and body of each, but in the end, I think that the 2011 Hermanos Torrontes was my favorite. It is produced from a vineyard with 25 year old vines on sandy soils located in town in Cayfayate at an elevation of 5,575 feet. It fell in between the other two for both body and acidity with fresh floral and peach aromas and peach/lychee flavors. Again, I made myself choose as all three were lovely expressions of Torrontes. I found out later that my choice is also slightly less expensive than the other two retailing for around $15.
At the walk around tasting after the seminar, the first wine I tried was the 2011 Finca Las Nubes Malbec Rose which also has 10% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. The name translates to Farm of the Clouds which refers to its location at 6,068 feet above sea level in the Cafayate Valley. I really enjoyed it. It was not as aromatic as the Torrontes wines. It was dry with a strawberry/mineral character and was nicely refreshing. Priced at approximately $20. It, like the Torrontes, would make an excellent "patio pounder" for our hot Houston summer.
Moving on to the Malbecs, without a doubt, the 2005 Yacochuya Malbec was the absolute best, it was also the oldest wine presented and one of the most expensive retailing around $85. It was being poured by Virginie Rolland, niece of famed winemaker/consultant Michel Rolland, who along with the Etchart family had worked to produce this wine. It was sourced from 60 year old vines from an estate vineyard located at 6,600 feet in the Calchaquies Valley in Cafayate. It was rich, with good acidity, nice structure, a creamy mouthfeel with black cherry, coffee, chocolate and smokey characteristics. Truly fantastic, but only 100 cases produced so get it while you can.
Because there were several Malbecs represented, I am going to name my second favorite which was a bit more affordable at approximately $35. The 2011 Domingo Molina Malbec M Squared is 100% Malbec sourced from two vineyard sites, Rupestre and Yacochuya. It is so new that it has not yet been labeled but definitely worth looking for. It had more upfront fruit flavors of ripe dark berries with a nicely balanced structure; it was just a very good young Malbec. The Domingo family also produces the Hermanos line.
My last top pick was the 2011 Coquena Tannat with a blueberry flavor, good acidity and smooth tannins priced about $20. This Coquena line is produced by the Etchart family from a vineyard area 5,576 feet in the mountains above the town of Tolombon.
The Torrontes in this line was my second pick of the Torrontes, I tasted both the 2010 and 2011 vintages. While Torrontes is a wine that you want to drink while young, there was not really any difference between the two yet, a testament to both the consistency of the vineyard and the winemaker's process. It is priced slightly higher at about $20 a bottle. I felt it was a bit more floral, with slightly higher acidity and a slightly lighter body than my other choice.
Of the approximately twenty wines I tasted, I felt, at minimum, they were all good with a great quality to price ratio. The wines I listed above were truly delicious and I would highly recommend each one.