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stirring the lees with james molesworth

My Annual Sit Down With Santiago Achával

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Sep 26, 2008 12:33pm ET

Last week was time for my annual sit down with Santiago Achával, co-owner of Argentina’s Achával-Ferrer winery. (For more on the winery, see my previous sit downs with Santiago in 2007 and 2006.)

Achával left me with barrel samples of his 2008 portfolio, a vintage that I saw the winery sorting during my visit there in March of this year. At the time, growers were dealing with some uncharacteristically gray, rainy weather. The tail end of the vintage brightened up however, and most growers are now reporting that the late-ripening varieties (primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec) performed well.

Those who have been following along with my coverage of Argentina over the year are familiar with Achával-Ferrer, the boutique-size producer whose single-vineyard bottlings of Malbec have become some of the benchmark wines for the country as a whole. Following are my notes on the 2008 barrel samples, which were not tasted blind, and therefore, as usual, have no scores.

The winery’s Quimera Mendoza 2008 bottling shows a touch of reduction on the nose, but the core of black and purple fruit is pure and fresh, with a long spice- and graphite-filled finish. The wine is made from a blend of 38 percent Malbec, 23 percent Merlot, 18 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Cabernet Franc and (for the first time) 6 percent Petit Verdot, and is potentially outstanding.

Sourced from the Perdriel area of Mendoza, the Malbec Mendoza Finca Bella Vista 2008 bottling is back from the dead. (The site was ravaged by hailstorms in recent years, so no ’05 or ’06 was produced.) The ’08, however, shows the vineyard’s telltale floral note, with lots of violet and bluebell aromas and a long, silky palate of raspberry and blueberry fruit before tightening up on the finish. It’s easily outstanding.

From the Medrano area in eastern Mendoza (for more info on the region's geography, check out the ABCs of Mendoza) comes the Malbec Mendoza Finca Mirador 2008. Always the most distinctive of the three single-vineyard bottlings, it‘s still very primal, but already shows its piercing iron and sanguine notes. The palate is still rather monolithic though, with a wall of black fruit that has yet to sort itself out. It’s a step up from the Bella Visa in range and complexity and shows potentially classic quality once again.

The top cuvée is the Malbec Mendoza Finca Altamira 2008, a wine that has consistently earned classic ratings in recent vintages while establishing itself as one of the top wines in all of Argentina. It’s sourced from old vines in the cool La Consulta area of the Uco valley, located in southern Mendoza, an area that is proving to be a special spot for richly detailed Malbecs (Bodega Mendel, Altocedro, Luca, Catena Zapata and Bodegas y Viñedos O. Fournier are among those who are beginning to exploit this area). Though still very grapey, sappy and youthful, the 2008 shows the vineyard’s typically silky, racy profile, with incredible length and terrific purity of fruit. It’s another classic in the making.

The 2008s are some ways away from being released, so you’ll have to make yourselves content with tracking down bottles of the 2006 Achával-Ferrer wines. And for more on Argentina in general, keep an eye out for my annual report in an upcoming issue.

Johnny Espinoza Esquivel
September 26, 2008 5:51pm ET
Hi James! I'm about to get one or two a bottles of Achaval-Ferrer Quimera 2006. I would like to know your opinion on that year's vintage for Achaval-Ferrer specially for Quimera. From you annual "Sit Down" it seems the wines you tasted have great potential. That's good news.

I will look for your annual on next issue. Thanks
Jeff Johnson
Costa Mesa Ca, —  September 27, 2008 12:46am ET
James,How was the regular bottling?
James Molesworth
September 27, 2008 8:24am ET
Johnny: I can't comment on the '06 Quimera until the review appears (it is due out shortly)...

Jeff: We did not try a barrel sample of the regular Malbec '08. The '07 is out now though, and has been rated 91 points. At around $25, it's a superb value...
Kevin J Luber
Atlanta, GA —  September 28, 2008 4:22am ET
James,Just got back from Mendoza and had a tremendous night at Francis Mallmann's 1884 Restaurante -- sat in the cellar with the staff until 3am. Any stories from your dinners there?
James Molesworth
September 28, 2008 11:28am ET
Kevin: I've eaten there and enjoyed it - but when traveling (working) I unfortunately don't have time for late night revelry! Perhaps one day I'll take a vacation there though...
Michael Appolo
Derry, NH —  September 29, 2008 9:47pm ET
James: We visited Mendoza in January. You really should stop by Carinae (http://www.carinaevinos.com/) while in town. A frenchman (working under the guidance of Michele Rolland) making wine in Argentina? :-)
James Molesworth
September 30, 2008 8:59am ET
Michael: Yes, Carinae is making some good wine. There are some reviews slated for the Nov. 30 issue...

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