Bargain Bin: Two from Argentina
If I wanted to play a quick game of "pin the tail on the wine-bargain region," I'd turn without hesitation to the western side of the Southern Hemisphere and stake my claim on Argentina.
Sure, decent inexpensive wines can still be found around the world, even in these days when critical reviews and wine-geek buzz can quickly boost the prices of more sought-after bottles. Spain and Portugal, the less familiar regions of Italy and France, and plenty of New World destinations (including the U.S.) offer good cheap wine to slake the bargain-hunter's thirst.
But I'm finding more and more that when I seek the intersection of consistent quality and value, the wines of Argentina rarely disappoint.
In support of this hypothesis, let's take a look at two recently arrived Argentine reds, fresh from the 2003 vintage, that offer unusually good value in the $6-$7 range, which in the current market comes close to the absolute bottom price point for quality wine.
Tierra del Fuego Red is named after the "land of fire," the wild and blustery region on Argentina's southern tip, but this is purely marketing; don't get the idea that you'll find vineyards way down there. The wine, in fact, comes from Mendoza, Argentina's primary wine region on the flanks of the Andes. It's made by French producers Jacques and Francois Lurton, who own vineyards and wineries around the world, in France, South America and Down Under. Tierra del Fuego is a blend of Sangiovese, Bonarda and Malbec grapes, a light, crisp and tart red wine that's easy to enjoy with food.
Founded in 1883, Trapiche stakes its claim as one of Mendoza's first "modern" wine producers in a region where vines have been grown for more than 300 years. Its Malbecs are consistently reliable, and the hearty 2003 is an unusually full and hearty rendition for a bargain-basement price.
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Tierra del Fuego 2003 Mendoza Red Wine ($5.99)
This very dark reddish-purple wine appears almost black in the glass. Ripe black-fruit aromas, plums and black cherries, are surrounded by warm notes of caramel and a whiff of smoke. The wine is lighter in the mouth than on the nose, light-bodied and tart, cherries and crisp apples laced up with lemon-squirt acidity and an almost imperceptible astringent burr of tannin. U.S. importer: Ex Cellars Wine Agencies Inc., Solvang, Calif. (Sept. 17, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with a chicken pilaf accented with aromatic hints of cinnamon and star anise; a good match for beef from burgers to steaks.
VALUE: At a low-end $6, what's not to like?
WHEN TO DRINK: Not an ager, but should keep on the wine rack for a year or two.
WEB LINK: As noted in previous articles, the Lurton Website is a high-tech venture in Flash and music, requiring a modern computer and fast Internet connection to get the most out of its French and English content. You'll find a short page of information on Tierra del Fuego under "Wine and Vineyards."
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Look up Tierra del Fuego on Wine-Searcher.com, click
Trapiche 2003 Mendoza Malbec ($6.99)
This very dark garnet wine shades to clear reddish-purple at the rim. Jammy fruit, cherries, spice and smoke on the nose; full-bodied, tart and gently tannic, ripe black-cherry fruit and a hint of strong black coffee on the palate. Firmly structured with fresh-fruit acidity, it adds a distinct whiff of licorice in the finish. Bigger and more robust than many Malbecs, it's a hearty mouthful of red wine. U.S. importer: Frederick Wildman and Sons, NYC. (Sept. 20, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Good with any red meat, it was a perfect match with a hearty meal fashioned from leftovers, an exotic take on "red-flannel hash" made with leftover beef short ribs and Indian-accented beets with home-fried potatoes.
VALUE: A lot of wine for $7, one of the year's best buys so far at this low-end price point.
WHEN TO DRINK: Good now, should stay good for a few years.
WEB LINK: The winery's English-language Web pages start here:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Check for vendors and prices for Trapiche's Malbecs on Wine-Searcher.com:
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Friday, Sept. 24, 2004