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The Merlot grape is a dark blue coloured grape identified by the loose bunches or large berries. It is not  quite as dark in colour as the Cabernet Sauvignon (a much more tannic varietal).

The Merlot is used as both a blending grape and as a varietal. The Merlot is a reasonably flexible grape; used with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

The origin of the name is thought to come from the Occitan language (Roman language spoken in the South of France) using ‘merlot’ meaning ‘young blackbird’ – perhaps referring to the colour. Also a connection with the French word ‘merle’ meaning thrushes, including blackbirds.

Blackbird

The Merlot wine has a medium body with hints of berry, plum and currant. It is a softer wine that for some may be a good starter red wine, or something for those who aren’t too keen on the tannins. In Argentina, for example, the Merlot is slightly more acidic and tannic than in many other regions.

merlot color

As of 2004, Merlot was estimated to be the third most grown variety at 640,000 acres globally. This puts Merlot just behind Cabernet Sauvignon with 650,000 acres. Compared to the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Merlot grapes tend to have less of a black/blue hue and usually thinner skin, thus fewer tannins unit per volume.

 

The most prominent region would be France, home to nearly two thirds of the world’s plantings of Merlot (sort of like Argentina and the Malbec!). Then Italy, California, Australia, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and parts of the United States.

Argentina is a new world wine region with production increasing in the Mendoza region. Argentine Merlots have shown tannic structure and acidity. Below is a breakdown of the number of acres of Merlot in Argentina;

Mendoza

12190.9

San Juan

1182.3

Río Negro

683.2

Neuquén

584.1

La Rioja

405

Catamarca

135.4

Salta

130.2

La Pampa

99.3

Córdoba

59.3

Chubut

19.7

Buenos Aires

15.3

Tucumán

12.3

Some names include: Santa Alicia Merlot, Mendoza Station Merlot Blend Merlot-Malbec, Cuvelier Los Andes Merlot, Luigi Bosca Merlot Reserva, Vina Cobos Merlot Felino, Bodegas Salentein Merlot and Navarro Correas Red Blend Structure Ultra.

Luigi Bosca Merlot Reserva

 

To pair with food, the flexibility and diversity of Merlot can be a great help. Try pairing these with a grilled and charred meat.


And enjoy!

 

 

So you’ve just got back from that great trip to Argentina or you’re hearing all the stories from your friends holiday in South America. Hopefully somewhere amongst those anecdotes will be the story of a wine tasting! If so, what made you enjoy it so much? If not, never fear as hosting your own wine tasting is much simpler than it may sound and can be great fun!

 

Step 1 – Chose the wines!

For your home wine tasting you don’t want to select too many wines. This may result in confusion of flavours and tastes. Between four and six wines should be more than enough to get a wide range.

With so much choice, ask if you can try before you buy. Many places offer this and is a great option.

Then determine which kind of wines you want to offer. Everyone will have their preferences, but get hold of a good sparkling or white wine and you may have your red wine lover converting! Then head down to a good supplier or check on the internet for some trustworthy suppliers than can get that great quality wine to you!

 

I would recommend offering a line-up of wines, each one to go with a course of your dinner. A great choice could be a Chardonnay or Torrontes with a starter, a Bonarda or Pinot Noir if you are offering cheese, meants and breads for an apetizer.

 

If yummy meats are not your thing, try a ceviche or a maybe a vegetarian option with nuts and pulses.

Then work to a second and third course, adding in a Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec depending on the heaviness of the food.Finally with chocolate you can pair a red wine, or a dessert wine with a lighter course.

Dark chocolates go great with many red wines.

2, Pair the wine with the dinner food and make notes

This part is more up to your preferences,  your friends preferences and the wine you have chosen. Chose what will constitute each course and write up a small sheet of notes for each wine.

 

OR

 

You could keep it a blind test! This is a really fun option. Be aware though that this may only work to expectations if your friends are concentrating on each wine. Here you could serve each wine, talk about them. Then at the end, serve one again (with the bottle covered or hidden) and ask them to guess which wine they are drinking.

 

 

So you’ve just got back from that great trip to Argentina, or you’re hearing all the stories from your friends holiday in South America. Hopefully somewhere amongst those anecdotes will be the story of a wine tasting! If so, what made you enjoy it so much? If not, never fear as hosting your own wine tasting is much simpler than it may sound and can be great fun!

 

Step 1 – Chose the wines!

For your home wine tasting you don’t want to select too many wines. This may result in confusion of flavours and tastes. Between four and six wines should be more than enough to get a wide range.

With so much choice, ask if you can try before you buy. Many places offer this and is a great option.

Then determine which kind of wines you want to offer. Everyone will have their preferences, but get hold of a good sparkling or white wine and you may have your red wine lover converting! Then head down to a good supplier or check on the internet for some trustworthy suppliers than can get that great quality wine to you!

 

I would recommend offering a line-up of wines, each one to go with a course of your dinner.

 

A great choice could be a Chardonnay or Torrontes with a starter, a Bonarda or Pinot Noir if you are offering cheese, meats and breads for an apetizer.

If yummy meats are not your thing, try a ceviche or a maybe a vegetarian option with nuts and pulses.

Then work to a second and third course, adding in a Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec depending on the heaviness of the food.

 

Finally with chocolate you can pair a red wine, or a dessert wine with a lighter course.

Dark chocolates go great with many red wines.

2, Pair the wine with the dinner food and make notes

This part is more up to your preferences,  your friends preferences and the wine you have chosen. Chose what will constitute each course and write up a small sheet of notes for each wine.

 

OR

 

You could keep it a blind test! This is a really fun option. Be aware though that this may only work to expectations if your friends are concentrating on each wine. Here you could serve each wine, talk about them. Then at the end, serve one again (with the bottle covered or hidden) and ask them to guess which wine they are drinking.

Of course, if you’re not feeling up to cooking take away the food pairing and offer a post-dinner wine tasting!

3. Make your guest list!

This, unfortunately, I am unable to help you with. Invite your favorite group of friends, family (or maybe neighbors you were looking to get to know) .

 

4. Have a great time

Enjoy your wines and have a laugh! Don’t worry if at first you don’t smell the oak or understand the tannins. Keep trying different wines and reading up on blogs and articles and in time you’ll know your Gewurztraminer from your Gruner Veltliner!

 

And remember – you can make your wine tasting so it’s not snobby at all! Tasting wine is about appreciating the smells  and tastes and sharing your personal preferences, whether they agree with others or not. Check out wine tastings being offered in other regions such as france, Italy, Chile,  Mendoza, Salta and Buenos Aires.

 

, take away the food pairings and just hold an all wine tasting!

3. Make your guest list!

This, unfortunately, I am unable to help you with. Invite your favorite group of friends, family (or maybe neighbours you were looking to get to know) .

4. Have a great time

Enjoy your wines and have a laugh! Don’t worry if at first you don’t smell the oak or understand the tannins. Keep trying different wines and reading up on blogs and articles and in time you’ll know your Gewurztraminer from your Gruner Veltliner!

 

And remember – you can make your wine tasting so it’s not snobby at all! Tasting wine is about appreciating the smells  and tastes and sharing your personal preferences, whether they agree with others or not. Check out wine tastings being offered in other regions such as France, Italy, Chile,  Mendoza, Salta and Buenos Aires.

 

I’m sure each and every winery and bodega in Mendoza, Argentina, will have something special and different about it. Some may be more economic than others, and some may be more cosy while others will have fluent English speakers working there. It really depends on many things and unfortunately I still haven’t been to all of them (this would take a LOT of time but would be great fun!).

wine tour

A great picture here of a group doing a wine tour. I love the focus on the grape bunch and the man in the background taking a picture in the sunshine!

So in the meantime, here’s a few gems I’ve picked out so you can start to get to know a few wineries. If you don’t like the look of these, maybe it will give you some starter tips to look out for others:

Cuvelier de los Andes

 

The bodega Cuvelier de los Andes is a winery that holds family values high. Started when Henri Cuvelier, from the north of France, started sharing his love of wine in the 19th century. With his son the successful family continued on to purchase Chataus’ around France. Paul Cuvelier had come to Argentina and thought the wines ‘pleasant to drink’ but not up to the standards of the French. So he decided to keep a watchful eye on them. And how right was to do so!

 

In 1998 Bertrand Cuvelier and Michel Rolland embarked on the adventure to Argentina. The website of Cuvelier de los Andes boasts its modern technology in the wine making process.

 

Their wines have exceeded their original hopes with a great harvest from 2003 and one can find a great selection of their ratings including a Robert Parker rating 92 for their 2009 CLA collections.

 

Their selection offers a range of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Blend amongst others.

http://www.cuvelierlosandes.com/newsite/index.php?lang=en

http://www.fincamevi.com.ar/?s=bodega&lang=en

Finca Mevi

 

Rolando Meninato and Oscar Vignart are both partners and the owners at the Mevi Bodega. They built their first winery in 2003 and went on from there! Their curriculums shine out impressively as both have been president of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States in Argentina and the Chemical and Petrochemical Chamber, members of the Union Industrial Argentina (UIA) and Asociación Empresaria Argentina (AEA). This is all great to write about as I really feel this is one factor that shows how hard working these men are. Rolando is an Agricultural Engineer and Oscar a Chemical Engineer.

The Mevi Bodega has re modernized itself, with the new winery being inaugurated in April of 2011. Mevi use stainless steel tanks with “a total capacity of 120 m3”. These tanks also have cooling and heating external coils.

 

However, it’s not just a line of certificates that can show off a life of hard work. I personally love the Mevi San Gimignano Cabernet Sauvignon. I love to have it with some cheese and red meats. They also offer a large range of wines from Malbec Rose, Bonarda to a great Torrontes.

 

In case the name of the line is seeming a little more Italian than Argentine…. you’re spot on! San Gimignano is a location in Tuscany, Italy, and the labels on the bottles show the town and it’s buildings.

Bodega La Azul

 

The bodega Azul is another small Mendoza winery. This bodega lies at the feet of the Andes mountain range (separating Chile from Argentina).

A beautiful photo of the Andes Mountain range.

 

Currently the bodega is run by Alejandro Fadel and Gustavo Larghi. The wines they offer are: Malbec, Cabernet, Azul Reserva and Azul Gran Reserva.

Carinae

The Carinae winery is definitely a gem worth discovering if going down to Mendoza. Run by Brigitte and Philippe Subra (two very lovely people) this winery has such a friendly feel to it!

The name Carinae is after a star constellation that can be seen from the south!

The Carinae star constellation – how beautiful!

 

The boutique winery has a vat capacity of 260,000 litres and concentrates all its efforts on producing high quality wines. When trying the great wines that Carinae have to offer, you can often pick up hints of the French oak casks they keep!

 

Carinae offer: The Carinae Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon blend, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Gran Reserva Malbec, Finca Denza Guarda, Gran Reserva Syrah and Passito de los Andes (just to name a few).

 

A great thing about many Carinae wines is that they are meant to be drunk young. This means there is no need to store away hoping for it to improve, not really knowing if this special occasion really is the right special occasion. Just go on and cork it open! We know you’ll love it.

I’ve only mentioned here a couple of wineries that I thought worth putting down, but in reality there are many great wineries to be visited.

Have you been? If so, where did you go? If not, which do you think you’ll be choosing, as seeing all would be virtually impossible!

 

Argentina is an exciting country filled with equally exciting wines. And I bet that as soon as I mentioned ‘Argentina’ and ‘wine’ you started thinking of Malbec! And I hope so, as Argentine Malbecs are worth trying.

flag

You may have to go through your fair few of restaurant table wines, but surely you’ll hit that one Malbec that you’ll want to bring home to share with friends and family (or just sitting back on the sofa watching your favorite series).

But I’m not here to talk about Argentina’s ‘teacher’s pet’ or ‘class favorite’’. I’m actually more interested in the quieter kid in the class.

The Malbec would be the ‘class favourite’ in the Argentine wine world.

 

I want to brag a bit about the Bonarda. If you go to any wine tasting in Buenos Aires, Mendoza or Salta I can assure you they will mention the Bonarda to you. The Bonarda is known as the ‘secret grape’ of Argentina. I actually find this rather strange as it is one of my favorites and constitutes 18% of wine produced in Argentina.

The Bonarda was given the title of ‘patito feo’ or the ugly duckling. As I mentioned before, when coming to Argentina you have your wine tastings, your great wines and then you have the high production bulk wines that unfortunately continue from an old habit that Argentina fell into over twenty years ago for making high production, tannic wine to be blended. The Bonarda was a great blending grape. This created a sort of ‘Damajuana’ mixed with soda water.

So the Bonarda has suffered an uphill struggle. But it’s doing amazingly well and you can you find it all over Argentina and even under other names such as ‘Dulce Nero’ in Italy and ‘Charbono’ in California.

When drinking a Bonarda you may pick up on notes of spice and pepper. This is great with a traditional argentine style picada with Salami and cheese. Or maybe a piece of steak would go just fine. Just make sure it’s not too heavy that it overpowers the wine!

picada

One of the low production, higher quality Bonardas’ you will find in Agentina – Las Perdices

Are there any other wine varietals from Argentina, or even South America, that you’ve heard of or tried that aren’t too famous?

I had my first taste of Verum Chardonnay while working at a Argentine Wine dinner, held by the Powder Horn in Sheridan, Wyoming.  It was love at first sip.  In fact, I would have to say that this particular wine is what flickered my interest in South American Wines.

Verum

  This 100% Chardonnay Vino comes from the Bodega Del Rio Elorza, and is produced by winemakers Alberto Antonini and Mariano Vignoni.  The family boutique is located in the Alto Valle de Rio Negro of Patagonia, which gives the Verum Chardonnay unique flavors of the Patagonian Terrior.  If you notice on the front of the label of Verum there are six birds present.  These birds are black swans and each one represents a Elorza family member, showing that this family are all involved in their winery.

patagonia

Patagonia

  Verum Chardonnay, to me, is a quite unique Chardonnay, giving off hints of hazelnut and some lemon zest on the nose, continuing with a long finish of creamed pears and lime on the palate.

 Although, this wine is not very complex it still scored 89 points with Robert Parkers, Wine Advocate.  When I sip on this Patagonian Chardonnay I simply imagine myself on a beach smelling and feeling the sea breeze against my face.

  Another reason I enjoy this Chardonnay is for the wonderful fact that it pairs excellently with one of my favorite dishes.  Quatro quesos ravioli con crema salsa pera, a four cheese ravioli served with a creamy elegant pear sauce.  Although the dish is not a typical Patagonian recipe, nor is it Argentine, when paired with the Verum Chardonnay it tends to bring out the soft pear flavor in the wine as well as some hints of nutmeg, leaving you with a refreshing feeling in your stomach as well as your palate.

vinodelsol.com

Malbec, the flagship red wine of Argentina, achieves excellent wines and it is appreciated and recognized by consumers nationally and internationally. It has a tremendous fruit expression and very soft tannins. However, it is a very demanding grape in terms of region and crop management in order for it to reach its full potential.

I love malbec

Its origin is debated to this day but it has been proved genetically that it came from southwest France.  Though the exact region is still unknown, it is to believed to have started somewhere in Cahors, Bordeaux, Quercy or La Touraine. In this areas, it is most commonly known as “Cot” but it has over 400 hundred names, including Auxerrois, Cot de Bordeaux, Cahors, Pressac, Cot Noir and many others.

 

This varietal shows peculiarities which are due to the differences in climate and soil, plant genetic characteristics, vineyard management as well as the processing methods. The French Malbec grape is a thin-skinned grape and needs more sun and heat than either Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah, as it ripens mid season and can bring very deep color, soft tannins, and a particular plum-like flavor. Sometimes, especially in traditional growing regions like France, it is not trellised and cultivated as bush vines. Here it is sometimes kept to a relatively low yield of about 6 tons per hectare.



As a varietal, Malbec creates a rather inky red (or violet), intense wine, so it is also commonly used in France to bulk up for other mixes, such as with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create the red French Bordeaux claret blend. It has been long used as one of the five blending grapes in the red wines of Bordeaux, Malbec is difficult to ripen in cold years there, and is susceptible to damage by mildew and other “pressures” that may infect damp, densely planted vineyards.

In the Cahors region of southwest France, Malbec produces a more robust vine and is often vinified on its own. Known as the “black wine of Cahors” because of its very dark color, this Malbec can be offered as a varietal wine or used to add body and color, as mentioned before, in other blends.

The invasion of Phylloxera in French vineyards in the 19th Century greatly diminished the amount of Malbec planted there. The vine seems particularly sensitive to pests and disease. The “great freeze” that struck France in 1940 was another blow to Malbec. Since the frost killed 75 percent of the Malbec in the Medoc region, and growers replaced those vines with varieties which had more value in the marketplace.

 

From Europe to the New World…

Malbec came to Argentina in mid-nineteenth century (somewhere between the years 1852-1868) where it spread rapidly, it was introduced by french agronomist, Mr Michel Aime Pouget before the Phylloxera epidemic punished European vineyards. In Argentina, which was never subject to the epidemic, most of these vines grow on their own roots. But if escaping the blight of Phylloxera provided a start, the key reasons for the recent emergence of the grape are improvements both to viticulture and vinification. Producers have dramatically cut yields and replaced large old wood casks with oak barriques. They’ve taken more care in selecting appropriate planting sites, developing cooler, high altitude vineyards that benefit from warm days and cool nights. International consultants have arrived, too, imparting up-to-date knowledge about vinification techniques as well as a sense of what style of wines compete successfully in the international wine market.

 

Map of Europe

 

As soon as it came to Mendoza it was known as”The French Grape” although this name included other vines such as Tannat and Petite Verdot, and they were the most widespread grapes in Argentina.

 

The first growers planted the Malbec using the European tradition: six plants of malbec and one white variety of Semillon. Since a cut was produced, according to the ancient winemakers, this balanced the high concentration of color and took away the marked roughness provided by the tannins

 

During the ’80s, Argentina experienced a strong process of eradicating the vines of Malbec (especially the oldest, with more than half a century) which endangered the very existence of the strain, it was believed that the future was secured on the basis of a market scheme preventing high-yielding vines. But then, with the restructuring of the wine industry in the early 90s Malbec resurfaced implantation. Currently, the area planted with this variety is the world’s largest followed by France and the USA.

 

The origin of the Malbec name has also been in debate  for quite sometime. A theory suggests that the name was provide by the french term of “bad kiss” (Mal=bad, bec=kiss), but the most probable of the theories implies that Malbec was the name of the Hungarian vintner who spread the vine all around the South west of France, Monsieur Malbeck.

 

About the grape…

 

In the Patagonian south it is grown beside apple orchards and poplar trees which protect the vines from the wind. In Mendoza the conditions are much warmer and drier. Though the province’s low-lying vineyards are twice as high as Rio Negro’s, the style of Malbec produced is fairly soft and simple. Malbec is grown all through Salta to Patagonia, being the most widely produced grape of Argentina.

 

The Malbec color is a thick, lustrous, dark inky-black purple that almost stains the glass . Gooare often surprisingly floral and aromatic with a scents of plums and violets. This translates into sweet, well-rounded flavors on the tongue and sometimes a spicy edge softened by smooth, velvety tannins. The balance of fruit and tannin is what makes a top Malbec so perfect.

This wine is typically a medium to full-bodied, dry red wine with plenty of acidity and higher tannin and alcohol levels, topically but not necessarily.  It pairs very good with many types of food, but it is undeniable that it matches beautifully with juice steaks, Morrocan tajines and all sort of gamey meats being definitely a red meat wine but adaptable enough to stand up to spicy Indian, Mexican, Cajun or Italian fare, with preference given to barbecue, spices and hard to pair meat-driven dishes, Malbec is extremely food-friendly and ultra accommodating.

A wine you must try especially while visiting Argentina either in a wine tasting, or traditional “asado”, is a wine you must seat and enjoy no matter what…

There is no better way to carry on exploring these time old question than with…

“The older the wine the better”


This is a concept that has been inherited from the old world. By old world I basically mean every European country that develops wine, excluding the UK. The UK has too young an industry, commerically speaking, to be classified as ‘old world’ so, along with every other wine producing region of the the world, it is known as  new world, new world wines to be precise …yes, the UK DOES produce wine by the way!). 
A fundamental difference between the two wine worlds is the climate. For example, in France it rains far more than the vines actually need. For that reason they are generally required to harvest the grapes before they are fully ripe, which then forces the winemakers to the keep the wine in bottle for several years so it can evolves into a balanced and drinkable wine.
300 years of excellent French wine marketing turned a potentially serious problem into an opportunity for distinction of class wine. Throughout the world today the concept of aging wine before releasing it to the market is strongly established in the minds of the wine drinker.

On the other side of the spectrum, in the new world wines it tends to rain a lot less than the plant needs, so it is imperative that the winemaker waits until the fruits have reached optimum levels of ripeness before harvest.  The resulting wine is one which can be drunk in it’s youthful stages of life without any problems. Of course, some of these wines also have the potential to be aged in oak, which will add greater complexity and evolve the wine further.


Apart from old world versus new world, there is of course, always a question of quality (which you can see excellent examples of in Argentine wine). If the winemaker has a good quality grape to begin with, then it will have the substance and ability to stand up to the powerful flavour of oak and can therefore start it’s liquid life aging in oak barrels, while also having balanced alcohol, good acidity and robust tannins; all factors which give a wine storage capacity. But not all wines are made to save. Some grapes which have experienced a undesirable growing season or have not been grown in the best conditions will of course not be top quality. These grapes do not have the power to compete with oak flavours and maturation in oak barrels, therefore will taste nothing short of vinegar on the outcome. In this case wines should be drunk and enjoyed in their youthful state.

Wines will always evolve for the better or for the worse but, ultimately, it is up to the drinker to decide what is superior, depending on their tastes, which are of course, all individually different, whether that be preference for the first the fruity flushes of flavour in the wines youth or a desire to uncover the complex, diverse aromas of evolution (leather, mushrooms, chocolate, etc.) of aged wine….it really is up to you!

So it is…..a Myth!

Unless…wine improves with age: the older I get, the better I like it!

[Guest post by Spencer Omuemu who is learning about wine]

sommelier

What exactly is a Sommelier? At any Buenos Aires wine tasting you will undoubtedly hear the word. At first, I assumed it was a grape variation along the lines of Malbec, Torrontes, and Bonarda, but when I saw someone refer to another person as a “Sommelier” I knew my definition of the word was probably wrong. To keep it simple a sommelier is a well-trained wine professional. A sommelier is knowledgeable in all aspect s of wine tasting, ranging from wine service to wine and food pairings. He/she is the kind of person who you can ask just about any question pertaining to a specific bottle of wine.

Other than being responsible for an Argentine wine tasting, or any wine tasting for that matter, a sommelier can assume an important role at any restaurant, import company or distributorship. He would be responsible for collaborating with the chef and the culinary team to create a list of the proper wines to pair with certain dishes and meals. A sommelier must not only understand wine but have an outstanding palet, outstanding personality, and a deep understanding of many types of food and beverages.

How do you become a sommelier? You can’t just become a sommelier by loving wine. To become a certified sommelier you need to enroll in about six months of classes and pass a certification exam. After going through classes and passing a certification exam you can walk away with certifications ranging from an Advance Sommelier Certificate, a Certified Sommelier Certificate, and Introductory Sommelier Certificate, and a Master Sommelier Diploma. Equipped with your certification and sommelier knife your are ready to spread your knowledge and passion for wine and argentine wine tastings to anyone who wants to listen. Just because you’re not a sommelier doesn’t mean your knowledge of wine isn’t reliable. Passion for wine and tangible commitment to the study of wine can take you as far and possible even further than any sommelier certification.

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