Monday, August 27, 2018

Argentina Wine Elegance Delivered By Nieto Senetiner and Ruca Malen

Has Argentine Malbec lost its luster? After sipping bottles from these two producers, we say “no way!”

Dance Of The Grapes

Malbec and Argentina are linked like two dancers in a tango. Each step of the dance and each Malbec grape carries the culture of the Argentine people.

Tango started with the lower classes in Buenos Aires and travelled across the ocean to become a huge hit across the world. Malbec became the “it” wine in the 2000s, propelling Argentina’s wines to new recognition. Has Malbec, and Argentina’s star faded in recent years? We opened bottles from two wineries – founded more than 100 years apart – to get some answers.

Nieto Senetiner Winery Has Tradition Of Quality

Our first bottle to sample was from Nieto Senetiner, a winery founded in 1888 by the first wave of Italian immigrants to Vistalba in the growing area of Luján de Cuyo near Mendoza. Perfectly situated at the best latitude for wine production, Mendoza accounts for more than 70% of Argentina’s vineyard acreage. Don Nicanor Nieto joined forces with his son-in-law Adriano Senetiner in the 1960s to purchase the historic Villa Blanca winery in Vistalba, renaming the venture Nieto Senetiner. Today, the winery encompasses 700 acres of estate vineyards in the DOC region of Luján de Cuyo.

The Don Nicanor 2016 Malbec is a welcome surprise, with added complexity coming from 12 months of aging in French oak and vines with an average age of 30 years. These grapes are grown at 3,100 to 3,400 feet. The wine is round and rich with red fruit and a dash of spice. It is a great value at $18.

The Nieto Senetiner Malbec, at $13 SRP, is no slouch either. On a recent evening we served it along with a pricey Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. One guest couldn’t stop talking about how good the Malbec was! Vanilla and jam flavor notes are wrapped in smooth-drinking tannins.

Argentina excels in red wine. Malbec is certainly the most well known, but it isn’t alone. Nieto Senetiner 2015 Red Blend Collection is a mix of 55% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Franc and 15% Petit Verdot. 

We enjoyed this with a dinner of Italian eggplant and chicken parmesan. We found it to be a spot-on pairing. It will also go well with grilled beef or stews. There are luscious blackberry and violet flavors with silken textures. Retail is $15.

Boutique Flavors Flow From Ruca Malen

Ruca Malen was founded in 1998 by Jean Pierre Thibaud and Jacques Louis de Montalembert, who have association with France’s foremost winemaking houses. They worked together at Chandon Argentina and wanted to create wines that acknowledged their French heritage while capturing Mendoza's incredible terroir. Ruca Malen translated is “the house of the young girl,” taking its name from a Mapuche Indian legend.  A young tribal woman looked up to the heavens and fell in love with a handsome god. The god gave her a beautiful house, overlooking the world’s splendors.

We enjoyed the “splendors” of Ruca Malen during a wine dinner we hosted. The five course meal featured light and summery dishes and no red wines until the last two courses. For the meat course I fired up the grill to make my signature Mici – a skinless, spicy sausage popular in Romania. It is made with beef, lamb and pork and generous quantities of garlic. We served it on a pretzel roll with locally made German-style mustard and zucchini crisps.

For the pairing we selected the Ruca Malen 2015 Terroir Series Petit Verdot. A 100% Petit Verdot is hard to find, with the grape usually playing a minor role in blends. This bottle shone with bright red fruit flavors, threads of cocoa and hints of oak. At $18, this is an outstanding buy. A great example of other wine that Argentina produces very well.

Our epic wine dinner closed with a berry and chocolate ganache dessert that took decadence to a new level! Clearly this special dessert deserved a unique wine. After polling the guests and determining they didn’t want a sweet white dessert wine, I uncorked the Ruca Malen 2015 Terroir Series Malbec. This is an unconventional pairing. When a wine is this enjoyable, you can shrug off the unwritten rules.

The Terroir Series Malbec uses grapes from the high elevation Uco Valley. It has notes of plum and cherry with a vibrant acidity. The tannins are soft and enjoyable. It’s a young and fresh tasting wine. Retail is $18.

Ruca Malen was recently named “Most Popular Argentinean Wines in America” in a Wine & Spirits restaurant poll. We can understand why. The elegant flavors far surpass what you expect from a sub-$20 bottle.

Argentina and Malbec are alive and well. If you haven’t tried a Malbec or Argentine red for a while, here are two great producers to check out. Do so and your tango dancing will soon improve!

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