Thursday, January 13, 2011


There are many different styles of producers in Mendoza. On one end of the spectrum is the boutique winery such as CarinaE where vintage variation adds intrigue and novelty; on the other is the large company that uses branding as a focus. Argento is one of the latter, though this does not make the wines any less interesting or delicious. In fact, a company like Argento can be a boon for the Mendoza wine industry. By providing customers with reliable quality and a consistent wine character year after year these producers boost consumer confidence in a region with which many are unfamiliar.

Argento was founded by a joint venture between Bodega Esmerelda (of Catena Zapata) and Bibendum, the largest private importer in the UK. Bibendum already had a customer base and an idea of a wine style but needed a brand. The style Bibendum’s customers desired was an easy drinking, fruit forward wine with elegance that could be appreciated with or without food. In 2000 this brand was realized.

Argento sources all grapes used to make the wines from vineyards all around the Mendoza area. Long-term contracts with growers ensure that Argento’s staff has intimate interaction with the wines from farming the vines to vinifying in the cellars (Esmerelda’s cellar, to be exact). Blends are made from different vineyards each year to maintain the aroma and flavor profiles and structure of the wines from vintage to vintage. To satisfy the markets in all 50 of the countries where Argento has a presence, even the bottle closures are tailored to market preferences: synthetic closures in Brazil, screwcaps in the US.

Terroir is an interesting subject at Argento. Though the company recognizes that different regions and vineyards offer different potential, Argento is focused on providing a dependable brand for consumers. Thus they are less interested in the optimal expression of a particular plot of land and more interested in how to mix and match flavor and aroma profiles to repeat with precision the Argento wines year after year.

I insisted on visiting Casa Argento while in the Mendoza area. I fell in love with their peachy, crisp Chardonnay while working in a retail shop in San Francisco. I probably consumed on the order of cases myself, and sold a few bottles to customers too. Happily, I was welcomed to the estate by Paula Lucero, Argento’s PR and Hospitality Manager, along with Sebastian San Martin, the winemaker, for a tasting and lomito lunch.

The Casa is located a few minutes out of Mendoza in Chacras de Coria. It is a perfect place for a tasting and lunch or dinner, complete with a guest house and beautiful gardens. Here we tasted through Argento’s wines while Sebastian gave us information about the region, the grapes, and the terroir:

2010 Argento Pinot Grigio

This wine should be called a Pinot Gris, as it is teeming with baking spices, minerality, white and pink flowers, and a little tropical fruit. This grape was brought to Mendoza by accident: in 2000, Lurton ordered Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines to plant in the area but got a palatte of Pinot Grigio instead! And a good thing, too… this was a favorite, and a bottle was, of course, taken home for dinner.

Some informative notes: The winemaker keeps the crisp Pinot Gris style by using a reductive New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc yeast and inert gas during vinification to avoid oxidation, keeping fermentation temperatures around 13-14 Celcius, and clarifying the juice with a cold rest; in the vineyard, the acidity is preserved by avoiding effeuillage and harvesting at night. A creaminess is present due to battonage.

2010 Argento Torrontes

This typical Argentine varietal is always a winner. Loads of white flower and stone fruit aromas (and something I call ginger ale) are followed by great acidity and lemon on the palate. Simple enough to pair up with white meat or shellfish, but with a slight complexity to add some curiosity, this is an easy wine to like.

More informative notes: Argentine Torrontes is not Spanish Torrontes (aka Albillo Mayor), nor the Torrontes that grows on Madeira, but in greatly reduced numbers post-phylloxera (Terrantez). It is actually Criolla (aka Mission) crossed with Muscat de Alexandria. Its thick skin from the Criolla parentage allows it to handle extreme temperature swings and harsh soil conditions (salinity, high pH, low moisture), and gives it some rusticity, while its floral nature comes from the Muscat line. There are three types of Torrontes: Mendocino, San Juanino, and Riojano (decidedly the best; the other two are used for table grapes). To keep the delicate nature of the Muscat contribution and some good acidity, parral trellising is used to protect the grapes from too much sunlight. Careful fermentation must be done: Torrontes’ thick skin can lead to bitterness, so a cool fermentation around 12 degrees Celcius is best.

2009 Argento Bonarda

A very floral, fruity, jammy wine full of plums, blackberry, and raspberry. VERY easy to drink. Even after sitting in the glass for an hour this wine’s floral notes were still present. The soft, silky tannins and nice medium-long finish made it a pleasure.

Some notes: Bonarda is sometimes said to be an Italian varietal, but ampelography has determined that much of the Bonarda found in Argentina is actually a grape from the south of France called Counoise. This Rhone grape is used in Chateauneuf-du-Pape blends and provides acidity, spice, and not much color in France. In Argentina it makes a darker wine than its counterpart in France.

2009 Argento Malbec

Black fruit and violets dominate, with a very mellow tannin backbone. A light oak influence is imparted by a small quantity of high quality oak staves selected with the same process as barrel selection. The staves (and sometimes chips) come from Carneros company, known for its excellent products. This easygoing version of a Malbec would be a great accompaniment to a hearty tomato-based pasta.

Some winemaking notes: This gets a little technical. Sebastian San Martin prefers to use a long immersion of a small quantity of staves rather than shorter times and larger quantities. This increases the microoxygenation that occurs in the fermented wine. Oxygen bonding with alcohol combines to make acetaldehyde, which acts as a bridging mechanism between tannin molecules and aids in the creation of large tannins. These larger molecules give a softer mouthfeel, and some become so large that they precipitate out. Thus a softer wine can be made.

2009 Argento Malbec Reserva

Less floral notes and more spice than the Malbec. This wine is aged in American and French oak barrels. Its black jammy fruit and heavy body mingles nicely with the vanilla and cinnamon provided by the oak aging. This one is for steak.

2009 Argento Chardonnay Reserva

Though we did not taste the Chardonnay I know and love, we did try the next step up: the Reserva. The Reserva’s slight oak spice, some butter from malolactic fermentation, and delicious stone fruit with crisp acidity almost made me forget the soft peachiness of my familiar Chardonnay. Almost. I now have love for both styles. For those who prefer the California-style Chardonnays, this wine would be perfect.

To contact Argento for more information or to plan a visit, visit their website or email Paula.

1 comment:

  1. Sarah! It was a pleasure for me to host you and share lunch with you. Thanks for the write-up, we throroughly enjoyed your article. -Paula