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stirring the lees with james molesworth

Another Sit Down with Santiago Achával

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: May 3, 2007 1:16pm ET

It’s always fun sitting down with Santiago Achával, of Achával-Ferrer in Mendoza, Argentina's largest wine-growing region. He’s enthusiastic about his wines, and he should be: His single vineyard Malbec bottlings are among Argentina’s best wines.

All winemakers are enthusiastic about their wines of course, but Achával is more inwardly enthusiastic than outwardly so. He doesn’t just give you hype; rather he spends a lot of time trying to figure out his vineyards and understand the different vintage characteristics each one displays. That introspective exuberance is why I respect him so much.

This week he brought in some of his ‘07s (some of their malolactic fermentations were not quite done yet), as well as samples of his ‘06s, which should be bottled in just a few more months.

2007 looks to be a tricky vintage in Mendoza (hail early, cooler than usual temperatures through the season and then rain late), but Achával and his team, along with winemaker Roberto Cipresso, seem to have done an outstanding job nonetheless.

“They’re already starting to behave like themselves,” says Achával, referring to the individual character his vineyards give to the wines.

The Finca Mirador is pungently floral up front, with weightier plum and graphite notes on the palate and a sappy intensity to the iron-filled finish.

The ’07 Finca Bella Vista is “back from the dead” as Achával puts it; hail wiped out production of this gem in ’05 and ’06. It shows lots of kirsch fruit—sappy and direct, with lots of racy structure and a tightly knit finish.

The Finca Altamira, usually my favorite of the three, produced less than 1 ton per acre of fruit in ’07, and it shows pure and incredibly long purple fruit flavors, along with licorice and graphite notes. It’s always the class act of the winery's portfolio, and seems surprisingly well integrated even at such an early stage.

As for the ‘06s, they’re an even stronger set of wines: The Finca Mirador shows great cut and definition, while the Finca Altamira offers stunning layers of fruit, and silky but vibrant structure. It’s a terrific combination of density and freshness.

Achával-Ferrer’s single-vineyard wines are hard to find, and interestingly, they don’t show up at auction. I assume that’s because the people who buy them truly love them and drink them, rather than flipping them for a profit (which they could easily do). To me, that’s a hidden sign of a great wine...

Brad Coelho
New York City —  May 3, 2007 3:19pm ET
James,I had a few beers w/ Santiago the night before he met up w/ you. Great guy, no pretension and has a passionate connection to his vineyards. The character and elegant purity from his old vine malbec shines through clearly vintage after vintage. Meeting him allowed me to see that the respect he has for his land, epitomized in his modest 'lazy winemaking,' is what allows his wine's singular character to speak so clearly.Salud!
Zarmair Keshishian
May 4, 2007 12:14am ET
I had the chance to briefly meet Santiago Achaval last year when my wife and I visited his winery. What a nice person, communicative a straightforward, I recall Santiago's engaging personality..I was blown away after having tried the single vineyard '02 and '03 Altamira, decanted these wines for several hours and found the purity and overall complexity to be truly memorable, not to mention the long finish which was very much enjoyed. The terroir really shines through in these wines.James, you are so right; the Achaval Ferrer single vineyard wines could easily do well at auctions, but once you have tried them, they are simply too hard to part with..Currently, we have a number of their wines at home and as we are cellaring the single vineyard ones as well as a few of the '02 and 03' Quimeras (blends) Can't wait to appreciate them once again sometime down the road.
Kevin Ronneseth
Canada —  May 8, 2007 11:52am ET
I was wondering if you have had...and could comment on, Bressia Profundo from the Mendoza region, and if there are other similar wines produced in the Mendoza region? I had the chance to drink a bottle and I was pleasantly impressed. I liked the blend, which I thought added to the complexity and enhanced the Malbec component.
James Molesworth
May 8, 2007 12:33pm ET
Kevin: No, have not had that wine. What is the blend?

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