by Andrew Chalk
Alamos, the Argentine winery best known for its popular Malbec, came through town recently in the personage of Jimena Turner, Director of Wine Education for Wines of Catena, and showed me the full range of their wines that are distributed in the U.S. market. If you are Argentinian, you get the surname ‘Turner’ if your mother marries a Welshman of English extraction at some point in her life.
Jimena showed me that Alamos and Argentina are more than just Malbec. We tasted through their range of wines starting with their Torrontés. This native white grape produces aromatic wines with a bouquet and taste of citrus fruit and often additional flavors of tropical fruits. It is usually not aged in oak, stainless steel being the preferred medium in order to leave the fruit flavors as natural as possible. Ageing time is short, a matter of weeks, so this is a wine very much “made in the vineyard”.
The key to the character and complexity of the fruit flavors in Torrontés is the terroir (climate and soil) where the grapes are grown. It has really only been discovered in the past few years that the best location is not in the heart of the Argentine wine industry in Mendoza (the region where 70% of the country’s grapes are grown) but several hundred miles north in the foothills of the Andes in the Cafayate region of Salta at altitudes of up to 9,800 ft. (the highest vineyard in the world is here).
Alamos, has established a winery in Salta where crushing and fermentation takes place. The grapes are hand-harvested and fermentation takes place at low temperatures (55ᵒ) for three weeks.
The finished wine can be paired with a fairly large variety of foods. Smoked salmon, Asian food (including spicy dishes) and foie gras with fig purée have all been suggested.
Argentina made Malbec its own. More wine drinkers probably think the grape is Argentinean than think it is french. Torrontés is a native Argentine grape but the country has not, hitherto, run with it as the white grape of Argentina. Wines like the 2013 Alamos Torrontés, $13 (the vintage just coming into distribution) have the potential to change that.
There were two red wine highlights in our tasting. The first was 2013 Alamos “Red Blend” ($13), composed from small proportions of Malbec and Tempranillo but, most significantly, around 50% Bonarda. Bonarda is a grape that we hardly ever hear about but is, in fact, the second most widely planted red variety (after Malbec) in Argentina. Argentina is the 6th largest wine producer in the world and still most of the wine, and most of the Bonarda, goes to satisfy domestic demand. The story of Bonarda is similar to the story of Malbec. It is a French variety that played a small role in that country’s viticulture but when it was transported to Argentina emerged as a varietal in its own right.
The interesting thing about Alamos Red Blend is that it is a transitional wine enabling Alamos to introduce us to Bonarda. It is a wine that is easy to approach and what we discover is a grape that makes wines that are dense purple or red with lower tannins than Cabernet variants and has moderate acidity. The Alamos Red Blend is immediately drinkable with a wide variety of food including red meat, pasta, duck and game birds. It is also pleasant to just quaff.
The other red highlight was the 2011 Alamos Malbec Selección, Mendoza ($20). Selección here means “reserve”. This is Alamos’ best Malbec. The color is an intense, opaque ruby. The restrained nose betrays a young wine that exhibits dark fruit of blueberry and plum. The wood component is subdued but clearly present. In the mouth, the oak is confirmed, black pepper and thyme is evident and the dark fruits discovered in the nose are confirmed. The wine has a medium finish and would be best stored for 3-5 years to give it its deserved time to evolve.
By comparison, consider the Red Blend to be the innovation and the Selección Malbec to be an affirmation of Argentina’s premier grape. We also tasted a good value Chardonnay ($13), the regular Malbec ($13), and a fruit-driven, minimally oaked Cabernet Sauvignon ($13). The range shows consistent easy-drinking and versatility with food. All of these wines are widely available on supermarket shelves.