Although we’ve grown accustomed to Argentina forming part of our daily wine diet, Argentine wines are a relatively new addition to the U.S. market. It’s amazing to realize that Bodegas Chandon Argentina, the winery that morphed into Terrazas de los Andes, was founded in 1959. That was the year Moët & Chandon sent Renaud Poirier, its Oenology Director, to Latin America to scout locations for world-class vineyards.
Poirier ended up outside Mendoza, in the high-altitude vineyards of Lujan de Cuyo. The vines today are planted at heights ranging from 2900 to 3900 feet on the slopes of the Andes, and the altitude provides the combination of hot days and cool nights perfect for preserving freshness and acidity. The estate is in the capable hands of Hervé Birnie-Scott, a Frenchman who worked in Napa before settling in Argentina in 1991. Scott found the level of winemaking freedom in the New World to be exhilarating, and decided to stay.
While the entry-level wines of Terrazas de los Andes do very well on the supermarket shelf, the real standouts are their Reserva labels. Made from 100% estate-grown grapes, these wines represent exactly what most consumers are seeking: the intersection of quality and value.
The two whites are very different. Torrontes Reserva 2010 ($16), from a vineyard in the Salta region of Cafayate, has a crisp, floral nose; on the palate, the wine is filled with bright acidity, along with flavors of tart green apple and fresh-cut citrus. Chardonnay Reserva 2010 ($18) is clean and well-balanced, with a judicious use of oak and a firm mineral backbone.
Malbec is the grape that made Argentina famous, and the 2009 Reserva Malbec from Terrazas ($18) is medium-bodied and juicy, with soft tannins and tart flavors of red berries and plums. The 2009 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) is even better. Whiffs of cedar mingle with blackberry on the nose; the wine is full-bodied yet graceful, with powdery tannins and a fine herbal note, and outclasses much of what California has to offer at that price.
If you feel like splurging, try the 2007 Afincado ($45) from the designated vineyard of Las Compuertas. This is a powerful wine, remarkably balanced for its size, displaying good acidity, a mineral-infused mouth feel, and an abundance of meaty black fruits. Drink one glass, and you’ll be firing up the barbecue.