Thomas Girgensohn's Australian Wine Reviews - and Beyond
I am a very interested amateur wine taster and drinker. I have collected wine since 1983 and hold a 1500 bottle wine collection of mainly red Australian wine, but also some wine from France, Italy and other countries. A blog of new and mature wine reviews for the discerning wine consumer.
Bodega Garzon is by far the largest Uruguayan winery with 200ha of vineyards, and with the most serious international ambitions. It is owned by a billionaire, and it shows. The vineyards are beautifully manicured and the buildings, opened in 2016, spectacular. In many ways, it reminds me of Craggy Range in New Zealand. Somebody comes in with a bold plan and the means to execute it. It is also an interesting example of what can be achieved with vines much less than 20 years old. Mr. Antonini of Italy has been a consultant for this project and is often involved in the selection and blending process.
Export manager Cecilia Curi and winemaker German Bruzzone take me through the tasting.
White wine is focussed on Albarino. The 2018 Reserve is clean, fresh, floral and fruity (88 points).The 2018 Albarino Single Vineyard is a step up. This wine is matured in tulips (eggs). 10,000 bottles are made. It has more intensity, more body and an oily texture. The mouthfeel is round and pleasing and there is vibrant energy through to the back palate (92 points).
The 2017 Pinot Noir Single Vineyard is of a soft style, with strawberry flavours dominant. It is a bit fruity for my taste (89 points). Can the combination of young fruit, 5000 plants/ha and 6-7t/ha yield really create a world class Pinot Noir? The 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserva has an attractive bouquet. This is a delicate wine, tasting of blue fruit, with silky tannins (92 points). The 2017 Marselan Reserva, a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, is an unknown to me. It has a deep purple colour, and is quite intense, but I find the flavour profile a bit simple. Minerality and acidity dominate the back palate (88 points).
After this, we come to the top bracket. The 2017 Tannat Reserva was picked quite late, due to the cooler conditions. The soil profile of porous granite worked well in this not so dry year. Flavours of plum and redcurrant deliver a good mouthfeel. The alcohol of 14.5% is well integrated. This is an elegant wine, with firm tannins which do not overwhelm (93 points).
My favorite Uruguayan Tannat turns out to be the 2017 Tannat Single Vineyard. It comes from a cool block in the vineyard. It has more depth and elegance than the Reserva, with black fruits dominating. This is a full-bodied wine at 14.5% alcohol, but it is neither fat nor hot on the palate. The mouthfeel is attractive, as the wine leads to firm tannins and minerality on the finish. This is a well balanced wine with a good future (94 points).
The top wine in the portfolio is the 2016 Balasto, referring to the porous granite soil in the vineyard. This wine is a blend of 45% Tannat, 25% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot, and 12% Marselan. This wine has been matured in large barrels of untoasted French oak for 20 months. The Cabernet Franc provides welcome freshness to this very elegant wine. The flavours are of black fruits and the Tannat component delivers firm tannins. The grape varieties are well integrated; a wine of substance (95 points).
Bodega Garzon shows fantastic promise, given the young vines of this winery. It is interesting to note that this winery has chosen a Tannat blend as its signature wine. While I enjoyed the 100% single vineyard Tannat, it points to the fact that a blend can add some more interest and complexity to this difficult variety.
Bodega Bouza is another 10,000 cases winery, only 30 minutes from Montevideo. As such, it has quite a strong tourist orientation, with a big tasting room and vintage cars.
Albarino is the other main white variety next to Sauvignon Blanc. The 2018 Bouza Albarino is fresh and straight forward with citrus flavours and some earthy characters. This aromatic wine was not so exciting on its own, but went down well with Ceviche (86 points).
The 2017 Merlot is a soft and fruity wine with red plum and cherry flavours. This quaffer falls off on the finish a bit (87 points). One of their most popular wines is the strangely named Monte Vide Eu. The 2017 is a blend of 50% Tannat, 30% Merlot and 20% Tempranillo. It is a barrell selection. The nose of this wine is intense, yet the wine is actually quite light. This is also quite a simple, easy drinking wine, with fine tannins and a short finish (88 points).
Bouza regards itself as a Tannat specialist. It vinifies quite a few blocks separately, and releases one block each year (more or less) as a single vineyard wine. The 2016 Tannat is called B26. I was looking forward to tasting this. Would this give me a good idea about what Tannat can do? The wine is matured for 15 months in new French oak. The colour is deep purple and the nose is intense, quite dense. The plum and blackcurrant flavours dominate the oak, and the structure is fine, but the tannins are a bit coarse. While the alcohol of 15.5% was not as obvious, as the figure might suggest, it certainly felt slightly hot on the finish (91 points). The search for a great Tannat continues.
To learn more about the Tannat variety, I visit three wineries in Uruguay, the country which has made Tannat its national grape variety. It is a tricky grape, very small and big seeds. It needs time to ripen, and then the alcohol levels shoot up.
The first winery I visit is Bodega Narbona. It is a beautiful property, dating back to 1909. A lot of the old equipment, including vintage cars, is still there. However, the winery was abandoned at some point. It then got restored, with vineyards quite young right now. At present, the winery produces 10,000 cases per annum. The tasting took place in the beautiful cave.
Sauvignon Blanc is the major white variety in Uruguay. The 2018 wine here has aromas of cut flowers and quite tropical flavours. The wine is not as acidic as some (88 points).
The big surprise, and actual best wine of the tasting was the 2018 Rose, based on Tannat. Only young vines are used for this wine. There is less than one hour skin contact of the juice, to avoid strong tannins, and then the wine is matured for four months in 600L used French oak barrels. The result is a fresh, flavoursome wine, tasting of red berries and strawberries. It is quite well structured, dry and with some length (92 points).
The 2015 Pinot Noir is less successful. It is grown on different soil profiles, limestone, clay/silt, and sand. The dark cherry taste of this quite acidic wine includes some unusual citrus notes and a salty flavour (88 points).
The first Tannat is from 2016, a high yielding wine (13t/ha) from young fruit; fresh, fruit forward and easy drinking (85 points). A more serious wine is a 2014 blend of Tannat (45%), Shiraz (45%), and Petit Verdot (10%). The flavours are of black and blue fruits. It starts smooth on the front palate, but gets a bit unbalanced on the long finish (89 points).
The most serious wine of the tasting is a 2014 Tannat. Here the yield drops to 8t/ha ( more on Tannat yields in a later post). The wine is matured for 12 months in a mix of French and American new and second use oak. The wine has a deep purple colour, with blackberry, black cherry, and plum flavours. The alcohol is at an acceptable level of 14%. The tannins are firm, and do not detract from an overall smooth impression (91 points).
For those who are getting a bit bored with my South American reviews, I thought I might interrupt this series with a review of the 2006 Henschke Hill Of Grace, a wine which is now out of reach price-wise for most consumers.
My bottle is screw capped, and the aromas from the bottle are fresh and quite full-on. The colour is still deep purple. In fact, the wine got better and more nuanced after a couple of hours. This is a Hill of Grace on the rich side.
The blackberry, cherry, and meat flavours are opulent and deliver a full mouthfeel. The five spice, often prominent in Hill of Grace, is there, but takes a backseat in this wine. The tannins are firm, yet velvety, and the wine has a long finish and silky aftertaste which goes on and on.
I would have given this wine an even higher score if the fruit flavours were a bit more layered. Score: 96/++
The wineries of Salta are actually almost all in Cafayate, a day trip away. I could only visit one winery, and Domingo Molina was recommended to me. The vineyards are amongst those at the highest elevation in the world. The other intriguing aspect are the cacti near by.
The winery is young, established in 2009, but vines go back to 2000. Production is about 40,000 cases per annum. The first wine I tasted was the 2016 Malbec. This black cherry focussed wine is a bit fruity and forward. The 14.5% alcohol is too high for this wine (86 points). The M2, from two vineyards, has slightly finer tannins, but lacks structure (88 points). The 2015 Mortero is a blend of 5 varieties, with Malbec dominating at 82%. There is a bit more complexity and age here, but it is still quite a fruity wine (89 points). The 2014 Tannat has more intensity, but also more alcohol (88 points). The 2015 Tannat Yeta was more elegant, but again too alcoholic (90 points).
Overall, winemaking needs to change to make these wines better. The young fruit looks good, but the yields are too high (10t/ha), and the picking is too late leading to alcoholic and burnt flavours. There is also not enough rigour on the sorting table, in my view.
Andeluna has fantastic views of the Andes. It is another ambitious winery. It has one large 80ha vineyard in the prime location of Gualtallary. The mid-range is the Altitud range (the vineyard sits at 1300m elevation. The Chardonnay delivers some ripe notes of banana and pineapple. The Malbec shows some fruit complexity, but is a bit harsh in the mouth (both 88 points).
The top range is the Pasionado range. The 2015 Malbec is quite intense and needs more time for the tannins to soften (90 points). The 2016 Cabernet Franc, matured in used oak, has good complexity, with red berries, some eucalypt and bell peppers on the palate (92 points). The top wine is a 2015 Pasionado Blend, 50% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is matured in 100% new oak. It is a full bodied wine. The fruit can carry the oak, and the wine is well structured (92 points).
This winery does not quite reach the heights of Zuccardi, but the Pasionado range is well worth while seeking out.
Familia Zuccardi is a fast growing, and increasingly important winery in the Uco Valley. The production is now about 100,000 cases per annum. They emphasize terroir and claim it is the next stage in the Uco Valley, after the exploration of high altitude. Interestingly, and in total contrast to Matervini, they are keen on alluvial soils. They do not focus on oak. Maturation takes place in concrete vats, 500 litre old barrells, and 1000 litre foudres (see below).
I start the tasting with the mid-range Q wines, which are available in many countries. The 2017 Chardonnay is fresh and has flavours of citrus and stone fruit. Old oak is used; it is a balanced wine (92 points). It actually beats the 2016 Malbec (90 points) and the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, which has some lean and green characters (88 points).
The Poligonos range is there to show the influence of terroir. These are three Malbecs from 2017, which do not see any oak. The San Pablo, from a 1500m vineyard , is from the coolest subregion. It is dark and intensive, but not a huge wine with great energy (93 points). The Altamira is similar but more rounded, from lower altitude (92 points). The Tupungato from Gualtallary (the real hotspot at the moment) ranked between the two, as far as fruit weight is concerned. The wine was a bit sweet on the mid-palate (91 points). So interestingly, altitude was responsible for the different expressions of the wines, much more so than terroir, in my opinion. (Therefore, I will leave out the story on calciumcarbonite, and different rock sizes.)
The 2014 Jose Zuccardi is the most traditional of the wines. It is aged in foudres. It is a very pure and elegant wine, well rounded with complex black fruit flavours and a soft tannin finish (94 points). I preferred it to the Concreto, obviously aged in concrete vats, which is a bit leaner (92 points). Again, both wines are available in many markets.
The stars are the high priced Aluvional wines from Altamira and Gualtallary. They are a selection of grapes from these two vineyards. The 2014 Aluvional Altamira is very smooth and elegant, with added chocolate flavours and great length (95 points). The 2014 Aluvional Gualtallary is very dark, with a steely determination and drive (95 points).
Then there is the 2014 Finca Piedra Infinita, which comprises the fruit from the best barrell(s). You would normally expect this to be the biggest wine in the range, but it is actually a lighter wine, very layered and elegant, but to me it lacked the mouthfeel of the previous two wines (93 points).
Overall, this is an impressive winery with a great range of Malbecs. The terroir story is not yet proven, in my view, but it will be interesting to watch.
The other major new ‘small’ development next to El Enemigo is the new winery by Santiago Achaval, supported by Roberto Cipresso; the old Achaval Ferrer team. But while Alejandro Vigil focusses on Cabernet Franc, Matervini’s motto is ‘what comes after Malbec? More Malbec!
However, Santiago is also looking for something new. He wants to explore Malbec in different soils, in particular less alluvial soils. He was fortunate, he had access to three different vineyards from the start, and from the 2016 vintage, I can taste five Malbecs.
The Vina Canota comes from an isolated vineyard 30km north of Mendoza. It is hot there, and the grapes ripen early. The flavours are intense, but the overall mouthfeel is a bit austere (92 points). The two Salta wines come from Cafayate. The body is not so big, the wines are elegant.
A step up is the Finca from the traditional Lujan de Cuyo area. This is a complex wine, a little fat perhaps, but quite layered with a sweet core. This is a ripe Malbec as you would expect it from a top producer (94 points).
The star of the tasting is the Pidras Viejas from a vineyard at 1600 meters elevation. The vineyard sits on volcanic soil and is densely planted. The yields are low. The colour of this wine is inky black, and the fruit flavours are very concentrated; black cherry, blackberry and cassis. At the same time, the texture is silky, and the wine is a pleasure to drink. The future of Malbec? (96 points)
Santiago Achaval is still producing great Malbec, and my sense is (supported by tasting some 18s from barrel), a lot more great wines are in the pipeline.
Norton is owned by the Austrian Swarovski family of crystals fame. A family member is involved in the mnagement of this very large 24 million bottle winery. I like this winery, because it also produces very small volume high end wines. I was taken through the range by winemaker David Bonomi.
New modern concrete tanks
The first taste was a real surprise: a 2014 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Champagne. It showed very fine bubbles.This fresh Champagne was very delicate, with an undertone of smooth yeast (93 points).
The white wines, Gruner Veltliner (of course), Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay were less impressive, but they now make of 35-40% of production.
The 2017 Malbec Reserve, the standard bearer, has the typical black fruit character of the Uco Valley, and the sweetness of Lujan de Cuyo. This medium bodied wine offers great value for money (90 points).
New are the Altura Cabernet Franc and Malbec wines from the Uco Valley. 4000 cases are made of these. I found them very attractive for their freshness, attractive medium body fruit profiles, and balance, in particular the Malbec (92 points).
The 2016 Privada is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, and then there was a Malbec blend from 5 vineyards - both wines quite well rounded with some sweetness (91 points).
The top wines were the 2017 Lote Negro, a 60/40 Malbec Cabernet Franc blend, matured in concrete vats and old wood. It showed fruit intensity, but was gentle and smooth (94 points). And the 2015 Gernot Langes (named after a Swarovski family member). This again is a Malbec dominated blend (94 points). These are traditional best of barrel wines, but made with drinkability in mind.
I was then given the opporunity to taste the first ever Argentinian Malbec which had Malbec on the label, 1974. What a treat this was! The wine had matured perfectly. The colour was orange on the rim. It translated into some orange peel on the palate, next to the black cherry fruit. The wine was very elegant with a beauiful texture , still balanced and a silky finish (96 points).
This put to rest any discussion if Malbec can age.
Achaval Ferrer was my favorite winery when I visited Mendoza region in 2014. It had been sold to SPI, the maker of famous Stolychnaya vodka at the time, but the wines I tasted were still made by the original team of Santiago Achaval and Roberto Cipresso. The Malbecs were characterized by intensity and elegance.
This time turned out to be different. It was obvious from entering the winery. There were a number of customers, but staff was very disinterested. The brands and typical very low yields in the vineyards have remained unchanged, but the taste of the wines was certainly different.
The 2014 Quimera is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The wine had good fruit intensity, but was very alcoholic with a hot finish (85 points). The 2014 Malbec Bellavista was somewhat brutish, with the 100% new oak not well integrated - a concentrated wine with firm tannins and a sweet finish. This wine might appeal to some, but did not to me (90 points). The Mirador was fresher, with significant acidity and some complex flavours of chocolate and tobacco, but again lacking balance (91 points).
The star of the tasting, as five years ago, was the 2014 Altamira. This wine comes from the Uco Valley, from a vineyard at 1300m altitude and volcanic soil. It showed dark fruits, an elegant expression, and a long finish (94 points).
The new winemaker is a young Argentinian. It seems the focus is on power, high alcohol, and new oak, clearly aimed at a certain American palate. Unfortunately, the subtleties in the wines I enjoyed many years ago, have been lost.