The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2014

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Page 109 of 136

november 2014  /  the tasting panel  /  109 T he region of San Juan, Argentina is second only to Mendoza for the quan- tity of wine it produces. Together with Mendoza and La Rioja, San Juan forms what the Huarpe Indians called the Cuyo or "the land of deserts." Traditionally, the region has produced most of the base wines for Argentina's brandy, vermouth and Sherry-style wines, and it's home to vast stretches of Criolla Grande (Mission and Muscat de Alexandria cross) and Cereza (a pink-skinned cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Listán Negro) vineyards used for off-dry, commercial wines destined for the thirsty domestic market. But plantings of Malbec and internationally-grown varieties are on the rise here as growers add further value to their portfolios with higher-quality, higher- margin wines. At a recent trade tasting in San Francisco sponsored by Argentina's Federal Council of Investments (CFI), 14 producers from San Juan poured Torrontés, Viognier, Chardonnay, Bonarda, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Tannat and a rare example of dry Pedro Ximénez produced by Cavas SRL in Sarmiento. With the assistance of Sam Folsom, Lisa Klinck-Shea and their team at Folsom + Associates, Blind Tasting focused on evaluating Torrontés, Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec with the later variety performing admirably. As a region, San Juan may be warm and sunny (akin to California's Central Valley), but it has several high-elevation sub-regions, most notably the Pedernal Valley at 4,600 feet, working in its favor. Frequently compared to Mendoza's Uco Valley or Cafayate in Salta, plantings of Malbec here are on the rise. Pedernal is Spanish for flint, and these meager black soils not only help preserve acidity in the wines, but they also retain heat that protects the vines from cold nighttime temperatures. The majority of San Juan's vineyards are sited in Tulum Valley, which lies north of San Juan. While high-profile Malbec producers like Fincas Las Moras, which took the medal for Best Southern Hemisphere Malbec at Vinexpo Hong Kong in 2012, and Graffigna—founded in 1870, making it Argentina's second-oldest winery—weren't represented at this tasting, the emphasis on Malbec by producers who are seeking importers signals a shift towards quality, with value clearly in mind. Malbecs from San Juan's key sub-regions are listed in the order they were tasted. • Aromatic cedar and floral notes, medium tannins, red and blue plums with a grippy, plum skin finish; 2012. • Clean aromas of leather and animal, bright red raspberry and rich vanilla with medium tannins and a caramelized finish; 2014. • Spicy and earthy aromas, soft, deep flavors of dark plums with stony minerality, sweet wood tannins and a leathery finish; 2012. • Bright red and black fruit aromas, fresh and crisp with medium tannins, generous flavors of plum and dark spice with a lengthy finish; 2012. • Savory, earthy, violet aromas, lean and focused with blue and black fruit, medium+ tannins finishing with leather and cocoa; 2011. • Bright and clean with lifted red and black fruit aromas, medium granular tannins with baking spice adding some complexity to medium-intensity flavors; 2014. • Fresh, bright and balanced with medium+ grippy tannins, youthful dark fruit, little apparent secondary flavors and a medium finish; 2014. San Juan Mendoza Buenos Aires San Juan Malbec The Reveal: 1. La Guarda El Guardado, Pedernal Valley; 2. San Juan de la Frontera Las Invernadas, San Juan; 3. Finca del Enlace Tracia Honores, San Juan; 4. Casa Montes Don Baltazar, Tulum Valley; 5. Bodegas Bórbore Aya, Pedernal and Tulum Valleys; 6. José Yanzon, Ullum; 7. Viticola Cuyo, San Juan.

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