Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec 2015

W Crios Malbec 2015Malbec from Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

95% malbec

5% bonarda

14.5% alcohol

Opened 2 Feb 2018

els: 9.0/10

Wine Advocate: 90

James Suckling: 90

Susana Balbo’s winery, established in the stunning, idyllic eastern foothills of the Andes Mountains, within the viticultural region of Uco Valley, is southwest of Mendoza, Argentina. The winery is surrounded by 52 acres of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot vines; producing 4 brands of wines with distinct and complex personalities that appreciate long, secluded years in their bottles: Crios, Ben Marco, Nostros and Susana Balbo Signature. The Bonarda grapes are sourced from surrounding non-Balbo vineyards.

The vineyards are at an average elevation of about 3700-3800 feet above sea level where the steppe climate provides a large swing in growing season temperatures ranging from daytime highs in the mid 80s to night-time lows approaching 50°F. The climate is arid and vines receive a paltry 1-1.25″ of rain per month. To compensate for the semi-desert conditions and the well-drained alluvial soils of Uco Valley, the vineyards are drip irrigated using the Andes’ snow melted water to provide just the right of amount of essential moisture to produce these flavorful wines.  This vintage’s growing weather was cooler and wetter than normal.

W Balbo Winery

Susan Balbo Winery

The grapes are hand-harvested and spend 25 days in maceration vats.  After maceration the wine spends 9 months in new French oak barrels.

The wine has ruby-red to purple color with a garnet to peach rim. A bouquet of fresh cherries and blackberries. On the palate the wine is very well-balanced and medium bodied.  Very fresh and cooling.

An outstanding wine at a very good price. Serve with lamb or beef steak. Get adventurous and try with a grilled tuna steak. Drink now, but should last until 2022-2023.  Decant and aerate for one hour before drinking.

$11.99 wine.com

Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2016

W Julia 2016.jpgMalbec from Uco Valley Mendoza, Argentina

100% malbec

13.0% alcohol

Opened 15 Jan 2018

els: 9.0/10

Wine Advocate: 91-90

Descorchados: 89

Wine Enthusiast: 87

Santa Julia is one of the three brands produced by the Zuccardi Family who have been active in Mendoza area vineyards and bodegas since 1950. The family founded the company in 1963. The Julia brand, named after the founder Jose Alberto Zuccardi’s daughter, was inaugurated in 1982 with the first wines exported in 1990. Today the wines are sold in 45 countries.

Santa Julia Bodega has 2 vineyards in the Uco Valley; Finca La Ribera of 210 acres, and Finca Vista Flores of 106 acres, both at an average elevation of 2900 feet above see level. Temperatures, during the growing season, range from the mid-80s°F during the day to the mid-40s°F at night.  Rainfall averages 1 to 3.5 inches per month with the driest month occurring during April.

The grapes are harvested towards the end of April, fermented at 77°F and allowed to macerate for 20 days. Part of the harvest is then aged in French oak barrels for 10 months.

The wine has a brilliant garnet to ruby-red hue with a faint narrow pink rim.  Light aromas of fruit, red berries and a hint of herbs. A taste of red fruits with a nice dry medium and balanced finish, like a kiss of a pretty, young girl.

An outstanding red wine at a great price.  Serve with cheese, pasta, or pizza. Tastes great slightly chilled: 62-65°F.  Decant and aerate for one hour before drinking.

$10.99  wine.com

Rutini Malbec 2013

W Rutini 2013Malbec from Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

100% malbec

14.0% alcohol

Opened 15 Dec 2017

els: 9.0/10

Cellar Tracker: 92

Wine Spectator: 91

Wine and Spirits: 89

Wine Enthusiast: 88

Felipe Rutini was born in 1866, into a winemaking family in the central Italian agricultural Province of Ascoli Piceno, which is less than 20 miles west of the Adriatic Sea. He graduated from the Royal School of Agriculture as an agricultural technician in the city of Ascoli Piceno. Disillusioned with the Italian unification and the constant wars in Europe, he made his way to Mendoza, Argentina at the young age of 18 and a year later founded the La Rural winery in the district of Coquimbito, currently located in the southeastern portion of the Mendoza metro area. People definitely made their mark earlier in life during the days of horses and steam.

His sons, after their father Felipe Rutini’s death in 1919, took over the winery and were the first to plant vineyards in the Uco Valley, around Tupungato, in the year of 1925. The winery eventually established two more vineyards in the southern portion of Uco Valley in the San Carlos Department. All 3 of these vineyards: Gualtallary, The Consultation, and The Altamira; totaling approximately 620 acres, are a source of grapes for this Malbec. In 1994, the Rutini winery and vineyards were sold to Argentinian investors including the wine makers: Nicolas Catena and Jose Benegas Lynch.

The vineyards are situated 3100 to 4100′ above sea level in the shadow of the Andes Mountains and the 21,500′ Tupungato volcano. The soils are well-drained, alluvial to colluvial, rocky sands to loams, one to four feet thick. Temperatures reach into the 80s during the growing season days and dip into the mid-50s at night.  Rain varies from 1 to 3.5 inches per month.

The grapes are manually harvested and the wine spends 12 months in new French and American oak barrels. Later vintages are stored in new and second use oak barrels.

It is a dark plum-colored wine with blackberry and earthy aromas. Huge tannins and shanghaied acidity produce a long grope of a finish. I drank a bottle of this wine several years ago and it was mediocre, plain and uninteresting, at best.  It has aged well in the bottle and exhibits a greater punch and grab now. Also it was about half the price a few years ago, re-enforcing the maxim: buy early, drink later. Serves well with red meat.

An outstanding wine. Decant and aerate for one hour before drinking.

$32-40  wine-searcher.com

Susana Balbo Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

W Balbo 2014Cabernet Sauvignon from Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

95% cabernet sauvignon

5% merlot

14.3% alcohol

Opened 21 Nov 2017

els 9.2/10

James Suckling 93

Wine Advocate 91

Vinaceous 91

Susana Balbo’s winery, established in the stunning, idyllic eastern foothills of the Andes Mountains, within the viticultural region of Uco Valley, which lies southwest of Mendoza, Argentina; is surrounded by 52 acres of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot vines; produces 4 brands of wines with distinct and complex personalities that appreciate long, secluded years in their bottles: Crios, Ben Marco, Nostros and Susana Balbo Signature.

The vineyards are at an average elevation of about 3800 feet above sea level where the

W Balbo Winery

The Susana Balbo Winery and Vineyards. Photo by Susana Balbo Winery.

steppe climate provides a large swing in growing season temperatures ranging from daytime highs in the mid 80s to night-time lows approaching 50 degrees Fahrenheit, with arid conditions that receive a paltry 1 to 1.25 inches of rain per month. To compensate for the semi-desert conditions and the well-drained alluvial soils of Uco Valley, the vineyards are drip irrigated from the Andes’ snow melted water to provide just the right of amount of essential moisture to produce these flavorful wines.

The grapes are hand-picked and fermented in concrete vessels and finished with 13 months in 70% second use and 30% first use French oak barrels.  The wine has a clear, bright ruby color with aromas of black berries and a very subtle hint of mint and earth. A long, full, dry finish with close to perfect tannins. Wonderful.

An outstanding wine. Decant and aerate for at least one hour.

$20.99 wine.com

Trivento Malbec Reserve 2015

W Trivento Malbec 2015Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina

100% malbec

13.5% alcohol

Opened 29 Oct 2017

els 8.9/10

Decanter 95

Guia Descorchados 90

Bodega Trivento, the Three Winds Winery, sources its Malbec grapes from the Andean alluvial and colluvium soils of Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley, south of Mendoza, Argentina. The vineyards are at an altitude of approximately 3400 feet, soaking up 250 days per year of intense sun, in the dry, thin air; temperatures ranging in the summer growing season from highs of 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the days to 55 degrees at night. The semi-arid climate sparingly doles out less than 1.5 inches of rain per month during the growing season, forcing the growers to add drip irrigation to  assuage the vines thirst.

This inexpensive wine has a wonderful, clear, ruby-red color begging you to further investigate its aromas of cherry and strawberries, its soft tannins, and velvety, favorable finish. Chocolates and pasta will pair well with this Malbec.  Remember to decant and aerate the wine for an hour or two, it will help immensely.

$8.99 wine.com.

Tercos Bonarda 2015

W Tercos Bonarda 2015Bonarda from Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Cuyo Region, Argentina

100% bonarda

13.9% alcohol by volume

Purchased: 12 July 2017 – $19.99

Opened: 8 September 2017

els:  9.0/10

James Suckling:  93

Insider: 92

Natalie Maclean:  90

Wine Align: 86

Wine Enthusiast: 82

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 in excess of 500,000 acres planted in grapes. Red grapes account for about 55% of the total grown in the country with rose and whites accounting for the rest.  The country grows more than 100 varietals of grapes but the 6 main ones make up almost half of the total acreage planted. Four varietals account for 79% of all red grapes planted and 42% of the total for all red, white, and rose grapes: Malbec 36% total/20% red, Bonarda 17%/9%, Cabernet Sauvignon 14%/7%, and Syrah 11%/6%.  Two varietals account for 35% of all white grapes planted or 7% of the total of all grapes: Torrontes Riojano 20% white/4% total and Chardonnay 15%/3%. 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 country’s 2nd most planted grape, on 47,000 acres, is Bonarda, aka Douce Noir, Corbeau, and Charbono accounting for almost all of the world’s total acreage.

Cuyo Region, in the western Andes foothills of central Argentina is the country’s main wine-producing area that includes the provinces of San Juan, San Luis, Mendoza, and La Rioja. The region covers a 450 miles, north to south, from the village of San Blas de los Sauces in the north to the small city of General Alvear in the south. The region accounts for almost 80% of country’s wine production. The area is one of the driest wine-producing areas of the world requiring some form of irrigation for the all the vineyards.

The Mendoza region, lapping up onto the eastern foothills of the youthful Andes, is the largest wine-producing area in all of 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 region’s vineyards range from 1600-5600′ above sea level. The Mendoza wine region is partitioned into another 5 sub-areas: Central Oasis, East Mendoza, North Mendoza, South Mendoza, and Uco Valley.

The Uco Valley, striking in a north-south direction, just east and parallel to the Andes Mountains, is 45 miles long and about 15 miles wide on average. The northern edge of valley is situated at the small town of San Jose and the southern limit is anchored by the tiny village of El Cepillo. The valley is crossed by the braided Tunuyan and Tupungato Rivers, sourced from the snow packs high in the Andes Mountains. There are over 60,000 acres of vineyards ranging from 2800-5600′ above sea level in the sub-region. The main varietals grown are Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Malbec accounts for almost 45% of all acreage planted. Soils throughout the Uco Valley are alluvial and consist of a rocky, clayey sub-soil overlain by a stony, sandy surface. The soils are immature, infertile, and well-drained; perfect for growing grapes. The dry valley sits in the rain shadow of the mountains requiring irrigation for the vineyards. Growing season temperatures range from 50-85°F with rainfall averages of 1-3.75″ per month.

Tupungato is located in the northern third of the Uco Valley, in the shadow of the Tupungato volcano and about 40 miles south of Mendoza. About a third of the acreage is devoted to vineyards with Malbec and Chardonnay the undisputed kings of the area. The soils are immature, stony and well-drained. Growing season temperatures range from 50-85°F with rainfall ranging from 0.5-1.33″ per month.

Bonarda, also known as Douce Noir, Corbeau, and Charbono, is the country’s 2nd most planted grape.  It is planted on more than 47,000 acres which is more than 99% of the world-wide total. The grape is thought to have originated in northern Italy along the Po River valley 3000 years ago, first planted by the Etruscans and brought to Argentina by Italian immigrants. It is a thick-skinned, medium-sized blueish-black grape producing a deep red wine high in tannins.  It has aromas of black fruit, plums, and anise. A full-bodied wine with great structure and long aging potential.

Ricardo Santos, owner of the Norton Winery, was the first producer in Argentina to export Malbec wines to the US in 1972. Santos sold this winery in 1989 and purchased vineyards around Mendoza, Maipu and Russell. The Ricardo Santos Bodega and Vineyards, today run by Ricardo’s sons, Patricio and Pedro Santos, has its winery located just south of Mendoza in Russell, Maipu. The winery was built in 2005 and has a capacity 700,000 liters or 185,000 gallons per year.  Its air-conditioned cellars accommodate 300 oak barrels. The winery produces 5 reds and 1 white under two labels:  Ricardo Santos and Tercos.

Tercos was developed by Pedro and Patricio Santos. The wine’s iconic, humorous and possibly triple entendre wine label of 4-donkeys in 3-piece suits is suggestive of a play on the word stubborn, the literal Spanish to English translation of Tercos, insinuating the difficulty of producing a superb wine from the local dry and poor volcanic-alluvial soils, and finally, they may be donkeys, but they dress up rather nicely.

The Bonarda grape is grown at their Finca La Pitonisa vineyard, or in English, the Witch Estate, which is in the evening shadows of the inactive Andean stratovolcano Tupungato towering another 17,799′ over the 3600′ above sea level vineyards. The volcano contributes to the silica rich, sandy loams of vineyard soils, containing various amounts of aluminum, calcium, sodium, magnesium, zinc and iron which augment the flavors and body of this wine. The vines were planted between 1977 and 1990 placing them mostly into the old vine category of lower yield but concentrated grapes. The grapes for the 2015 vintage were harvested in the 3rd week of April.

The grapes were picked, crushed and fermented in stainless steel tanks for 23 days at 77°F.  In December the wine was transferred to 15,000 3/4 liter bottles.

This is a satisfying wine with a pleasing, dark ruby-red to violet color. The aroma is easy with berries, plums and raisins in the forefront with a hint of cloves and spice. The taste is very smooth all around and the balanced finish lasts well into your next sip.

Bonarda compliments so many dishes and entrees, but I usually take a simple path and prepare a plate of thinly sliced sausages such as hard salami and summer sausage with some mild cheddar. Toss in a handful of salted cashews and seedless grapes and you’re all set. Bon appetit.

An outstanding wine at a great price. Drink this year but it’s likely good until 2025. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.

$12.99 wine.com

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