One of the primary reasons I moved to Argentina was to immerse myself in their wine world, so needless to say, it is no surprise that on my second day in the city we had already visited several wine stores and reserved two spots for a small tasting the next week.
A few days later, I found myself in the beautiful cellar of Lo de Joaquin Alberdi Vinoteca in Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires.
Surrounded by two Swiss, two Chileans, two Americans, one Arabic man and a handful of Argentines while sitting in the small yet cozy cellar, I couldn’t help but feel that this was going to be a very different tasting… even before the wines had been poured. Turns out, I was right. And I was in for a pleasant surprise.
The guests of honor were two representatives from Achaval Ferrer, a winery in the Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza, Argentina, and proud vintners for the bodega which boasts the highest rated wines in the entire country. We tasted three wines: the 2009 Malbec, 2007 Quimera, 2008 Dolce made from Malbec.
If you are like me, you have been to a tasting… or two… or three. We’ve heard the rehearsed speeches, the ins and outs of the wine making process, how long wines are aged in oak and which oak barrels are used… we’ve heard it all. But what I heard at the Achaval Ferrer tasting was unlike anything that had been presented to me before, and I loved it: the representatives presented us with three wines, and then used them to explain three separate philosophies of winemaking as developed by the winemaker. I loved the ingenuity as much as I loved the wines.
Our first sampling was the 2009 Malbec. Here, the winemaker’s philosophy is to allow the true flavors of the grape to come through, and that is exactly what the 2009 Malbec accomplishes: the true essence of the Malbec grape, not over-influenced by oak or other winemaking factors such as oxidation. It is Malbec at its purest, with its bold, fruity flavors and slightly peppery finish. It is elegant in its own right, but it has a backbone to it that one must respect.
The second tasting, the Quimera blend, expresses a different aspect of winemaking philosophy: allowing the winemaker’s influence to shine through. With the Quimera blend, the winemaker blends three grapes (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) when the grapes have just been picked, relying on his natural instincts as to what levels of each grape are necessary to achieve the most premium blend. Those in the wine world know that this is an absolutely nutty concept: winemakers typically press and ferment each varietal separately, and then combine them in a laboratory until they create a blend which is the perfect amount of each grape. To combine the grapes prior to fermenting is to commit to a blend before knowing what it will taste like, and it is a bell that a winemaker cannot unring. One has to admire the confidence in the winemaker to make such a bold choice as to make Quimera in this way. The end result–which differs from year to year–has been absolutely phenomenal for every vintage I have tried.
Finally, the third wine philosophy is to make wine which is an expression of the terroir. The “Finca” lines of Achaval Ferrer are single vineyard Malbec growths designed for the terroir of single vineyards called Finca Bella Vista, Finca Mirador, and Finca Altamira. All three exhibit different characteristics, and the winemaker’s purpose it to illustrate how dramatically the terroir effects the grapes and subsequent wines.
There is no doubt that the wines of Achaval Ferrer are high quality. But after tasting them and many others wines from Argentina and around the world, I have to admit that there is something special about their production. The wines are absolutely seamless in a way which few wines are, and have an elegance that you do not find in many wines. When I hear people say, “Oh, I wouldn’t know the difference between a $20 bottle of wine and a $75 one”, I immediately think of Achaval Ferrer and wish that I could instantly produce a bottle for this novice wine drinker. There is no doubt that even the most novice wine drinker could distinguish the high quality of this wine from others, much like how we do not have to be tomato connoisseurs to know the difference between a beautiful, perfectly ripe heirloom tomato and a store bought, genetically-engineered-to-be-perfect-but-sadly-flavorless one.
But back to the tasting, and that small cellar at Joaquin Alberdi Vinoteca. The representatives stayed with us for hours, chatting about the wine industry in Argentina, their wines at Achaval Ferrer, and trends of worldwide production. A handful of us stayed and finished the bottle of Dolce (which, by the way, is excellent. They actually lay their grapes out and dry them first, given them a raisin quality, and then use the juice from these dried grapes to make the Dolce dessert wine. The result is a very different flavor than most sweet wines, which are left on the vine to shrivel and seem–to me–more syrup-like.)
It wasn’t just the wine that was so great. That day, it was a little bit of everything: the mix of cultures coming together in one room because of a common love, the dark underground cellar and the intimacy it created, the bottles lining the walls, the dim lighting, the conversation centered on wine, and the elegant samplings all worked together to create one very beautiful evening. It was the most perfect introduction to the wine industry in Argentina. If I wasn’t in love before, I was after this evening.
Lo de Joaquin Alberdi Vinoteca is located at Jorge Luis Borges 1772 in Palermo. 4832-5329 www.lodejoaquinalberdi.com.ar