South America’s wines come of age
SOUTH AMERICA HAS
become a very important New World wine
area. Costco sells a great deal of wine from
Argentina and Chile—an amount that is growing 35 percent each year—so it seemed fitting
for a group of Costco wine buyers to take a
journey through this fascinating region to gain
a better understanding of its wines and the
people who produce them.
Arriving in Argentina
In May, we gathered in Argentina, one of
the world’s largest wine-producing regions.
Our three-day visit was concentrated in its
wine capital, Mendoza, in the eastern foothills
of the majestic Andes range. The climate varies
from continental to arid semi-desert, with very
little rainfall. The soils are mostly sand, with
some alluvial sediment and clay.
For decades the region focused on producing large quantities of simple, inexpensive table
wines that were consumed mostly within the
country. In recent years, the emphasis has
shifted from quantity to quality, with considerable investments in modern winemaking
equipment and in taking steps such as using
the latest vineyard management techniques,
controlling the temperature of fermentations,
using stainless steel fermentation tanks and
aging wines in French oak barrels.
King of the varieties: Malbec
Malbec is the king among grape varieties in
Mendoza. Malbec, one of the five red grape
varieties used in Bordeaux, exhibits deep rich
color and flavors with bold characteristics.
Many single-variety Malbecs are produced in
54 The Costco Connection NOVEMBER 2008
Mendoza, but blends with other Bordeaux varieties are more common. Cabernet Sauvignon,
Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are
Notable local grape varieties include
Torrontes, a fragrant, aromatic white grape
that’s high in acidity, and Bonarda, a red grape
that was brought to the country by Italian
immigrants. Bonarda wines display dark-berry fruit flavors with soft tannins.
Grape harvesting ended a few weeks
before our arrival. In Mendoza, we first visited
Some vines are pla“nted at elevations as
high as 5,000 feet—
and barrel tastings
revealed some incredible
Achaval Ferrer, a small winery producing
fewer than 8,000 cases. The vineyards were
brilliant with the colors of fall, and the weather
was mild and sunny. We met with Manuel
Ferrer, who gave us a brief history of his
10-hectare (about 25 acres) vineyard.
Ferrer explained that the dreaded phylloxera (a vine louse that kills grapevines by
attacking their root systems and has destroyed
vineyards throughout the world) is present in
Argentine vineyards but, thus far, has not
caused any serious problems. He attributes
this to the predominantly sandy soils that
restrict phylloxera movement.
Achaval Ferrer produces big, ripe, fruit-driven reds blended from Malbec, Cabernet
Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. We
tasted barrel samples of single-vineyard
The vineyards of Argentina’s
Kaiken winery show autumn’s
textures and golden colors.
Malbecs from the 2007 vintage; all showed
deep, vibrant color with elegant aromas and
flavors. Each individual lot expressed the different personality of its vineyards.
We later visited Catena, one of Argentina’s
largest and most celebrated wineries. Dr. Laura
Catena and her winemaking, viticulture and
hospitality teams greeted us. Catena’s facilities
are very modern, with a strong emphasis on
quality and innovation. Catena winemakers
experiment with grapes grown at a wide range
of altitudes—some vines are planted at elevations as high as 5,000 feet—and barrel tastings
revealed some incredible fruit flavors.
The entire portfolio of Catena wines and
their Alamos label was superb across the
board. The Chardonnays were fruity and balanced; the Cabernets were dark, juicy and
robust; and the Malbecs were concentrated,
with deep color and silky blackberry fruit.
Catena’s hard work shows in every bottle.
At Pascual Toso, we paid a brief visit to
their sparkling-wine facility, followed by a tasting of their clean, pleasant-tasting portfolio of
white and red wines in a panoramic and
delightful park-like setting.
No visit to Argentina’s wine country
would be complete without a traditional
asado barbecue. The country is world-renowned for its meats. A few wineries hosted
us for fantastic asado barbecue paired with
their red wines, which are perfect complements to the meat. Bodega Norton featured
gaucho, folk and tango dancers after their
tasting and tour, with a farewell fireworks
show to top off the evening.
I found that Argentines are beautiful people
who really enjoy sharing their world-class food
and wines. They have much to be proud of.