Malbec from Agrelo, North Mendoza (Lujan de Cuyo), Mendoza, Cuyo, Argentina
Purchased: 6 March 2017 – $19.99
Opened: 19 March 2018
James Suckling: 92
Tim Atkin: 92
Cellar Tracker: 87
Argentina is the world’s 6th largest producer of wine by volume, just behind the US and ahead of Australia. It produces about 6% of the world’s total wine. The country has 350-400,000 acres planted in grapes. Argentina has 4 main wine-producing regions: Atlantic, Cuyo, North, and Patagonia. Cuyo is the largest and most important wine-producing, macroeconomic region in central Argentina and includes the wine sub-regions of La Rioja, Mendoza, and San Juan; with Mendoza being the largest of the 3 by area, population, GDP, and wine production.
Argentina was the first South American country attempting to grow vines, beginning in Mendoza in the early 1800s. The initial plantings came from the Bordeaux region of France, including the ubiquitous Malbec. Eventually, Mendoza was producing world-class Malbec wines, on par or superior to those produced in France, mainly due to its high elevations in the foothills of the Andes, well-drained soils, and lots and lots of hot sunshine. Today the country produces 75% of the world’s Malbec.
The Mendoza region, lapping up onto the eastern foothills of the youthful Andes, is the largest wine producer in Argentina, accounting for 65-75% of the country’s total. A third of the country’s vineyards are dedicated to Malbec with Mendoza also producing the lion’s share of that variety. The Mendoza wine region is partitioned into another 5 sub-areas: Central Oasis, East Mendoza, North Mendoza, South Mendoza, and Uco Valley. North Mendoza, aka Lujan de Cuyo, designated as an appellation in 1993, contains an additional 6 micro-regions including: Agrelo, Barrancas, Las Compuertas, Perdriel, Ugarteche, and Vistalba.
Agrelo, named after a local village, is one of the most prestigious wine micro-regions in Lujan de Cuyo, North Mendoza, and all of Argentina. Its terroir was made for growing Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The vines grow at an elevation of 2900-3500′ above sea level in very dry air, and as such, the cloudless skies provide for an intense sun producing lots of heat. The soils are a thick, very sandy loam, encouraging deep root penetration into the cool gravelly subsurface. These subsurface gravels help to cool and protect the green vines above from the hot sun. An auspicious terroir responsible for creating Malbec second to none in the world.
Malbec grapes originated around Cahors in south-west France. It is a thinned-skinned, dark grape, requiring lots of sun and heat. It produces full-bodied wines with medium to high tannins and acidity. In France most of the Malbec is grown around the Cahors AOC on the low, gravelly terraces of the Lot River. In Cahors, a Malbec must contain at least 70% of this grape and is usually blended with Merlot and Tannat. In Argentina the grapes grow at much higher elevations than in France, producing a high acidity, high tannin wine with herbal-flower aromas and flavors versus the more earthly notes of its French sister.
Thomas Schmidheiny, a descendent of Swiss wine makers, set up shop in Agrelo in the year 2000 upon a land of nothing, “cero”, naming his new winery after that land of nothing: Decero. The land he chose is the highest in all of Agrelo; 3500′ above sea level. He planted all reds; Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Tannat grapes on his 270 acres, calling the vineyard Remolinos, named after the tiny whirlwinds or dust devils that commonly dance across vineyards in tandem with the lazy dry winds. They tease the white-hot summer sun, beaming down from on high, to come and join them in a tango of sleepy idleness and pointless play.
The Remolinos vineyard, with some variation, has soils that are similar to all of Agrelo, sandy loams over a gravelly subsoil. The growing season diurnal temperature range is 55-85ºF with rainfall averaging 0.75-1.5″ per month, dropping to almost nothing in the winter. Temperatures may approach freezing in the winter, but usually don’t.
The winery employs its labor intensive “amano”, by hand, process to its vineyards and wine making processes. In the vineyards, all the vines are planted, pruned, and picked by hand. The vines are relieved of their east facing canopy leaves to increase grape cluster exposure to the sun. The clusters are individually thinned to 1 or 2 per branch.
The 2014 harvest was cool and wet, delaying the grape picking by about a week and taking the entire month of April to complete. The grapes were individually selected on the vine, hand-picked, and sorted, grape by grape, repeating this process again and again throughout the harvest. The grapes, after crushing, spend 5-7 days in a cold soak and then 10 days fermenting in small stainless steel tanks. Most grapes are fermented at 78ºF while a small amount is subject to fermentation at 86ºF, ostensibly to increase texture. After fermentation the grapes spend an additional 15-18 days in the tanks for maceration. 90% of the wine is then aged in new and old French oak barrels for 14 months. The other 10% remains in the stainless steel tanks to preserve the original aromas.
A dark ruby-red wine with a light purple rim. Aromas of red fruits, mainly cherries, with some spice and flowers. Full-bodied and nicely balanced. The tannins are thick and the acidity is tad more than usual. Breathing for an hour definitely improves this wine. It leaves you with a nice long finish.
I’m not sure were I developed this habit but I prefer fruit, berry and cheese, bits and bites, when I drink a Malbec. I can’t remember the last time I had a full meal with a Malbec wine. I usually prefer thin slices of apple and pear, blueberries and sliced strawberries, and strong cheese. I once tried chocolate dipped strawberries with a Malbec and I’m certain I glimpsed heaven.
An outstanding wine at a fair price. Drink this year but likely good until 2023-2025. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.