Have you ever eaten something many times that was really good only to have the same thing prepared by a highly skilled chef and it took the meal to another level? Say for example you grill your own filets regularly at home and they always taste good. Then you go to one of the nation’s top steak restaurants and order a filet and its succulence blows your mind. Or say you love pie but you don’t feel confident making a crust from scratch so you either buy a frozen pie crust or buy grocery store premade pies. They are good and you enjoy them till one day your friend invites you over for dinner and for dessert shares a homemade pie. It is outstanding! I recently had this same experience with Malbec.
What? You ask, Malbec? Yes, Malbec. I have had many Malbecs over the years and they are always good. Malbec is a solid choice for me when I am faced with a failing wine list at a restaurant filled with very poor selections. Even if I am not familiar with the Malbec producer it is almost always a solid choice. I have been blessed to have received many Malbec samples and they too are always solid wines. However, I was recently invited to a wonderful wine dinner in Dallas hosted by Gregory White PR at Ocean Prime featuring Achaval-Ferrer Malbecs. My friends these were not your everyday, twenty-ish dollar, solid choice Malbecs; these were PREMIUM Malbecs operating on a higher plane in the world of Malbec.
Malbec is native to southwest France, Cahors, and one of only six grape varieties allowed in the red wine blend of Bordeaux. However, Malbec hit a setback in the mid twentieth century when a frost killed many of its vines in Bordeaux and winemakers chose to replace them with other varietals such a Merlot. However, Malbec found a new home where the frost susceptible vine could thrive, Mendoza, Argentina where today over 76,000 acres are planted. The diversity in climate and terroir of Argentina has allowed the grape to styles to suit a multitude of palates. Traditionally, Argentinian Malbec is a blackish-purple skinned grape that pours inky purple into the glass and offers bold black and dark red fruit flavors along with chocolate, smoke, leather and tobacco. It tends to be full in body with a shorter finish and bold tannins so it pairs great with all types of meat from the exotic to the typical. If you enjoy Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Cabernet Franc you will like Malbec.
Our evening featured six Achaval-Ferrer wines paired with outstanding food. Gastón Williams, Sales and Marketing Director of Achaval-Ferrer, took us through the wines as we enjoyed a relaxed and pleasant dinner. I will share with you some of the technical information provided and my overall experience and perspective; but first a bit about the award winning winery Achaval-Ferrer.
Achaval-Ferrer has one single passion: to craft world class terroir-driven red wines from Argentina. Achaval-Ferrer produces the most critically acclaimed Malbecs from Mendoza, sourced from a single vineyard with low-yielding, old ungrafted vines. Founded in 1988 by a group of Italian and Argentinian friends with the aim to “produce exceptional wines that remained faithful to the wines’ origins.” Using this idea as their core philosophy, Achaval-Ferrer’s believes minimal human intervention from the vineyards to the bottles is the key to “unlocking the secrets of terroir and typicity.” This commitment to extreme quality has resulted in Achaval-Ferrer being recognized as Argentinia’s “most iconic and critically acclaimed winery.” They have been honored with Argentina’s first ever Decanter 5-Star Award, Wine Enthusiast’s Winey of the Year for three consecutive years, and multiple wines listed on Wine Spectator’s Top 100.
“At Achaval-Ferrer, everything we do respects the vineyards and our wine-making philosophy. They say, ‘great terroir can make great wines,’ so our duty is to respect it. The pillars of our philosophy stem from a fundamental belief in the richness of our providers – the vines.”
- Old ungrafted vines: Ungrafted vines provide darker colored wine with greater intensity, low pH and significantly better aging potential. Their vines are 70+ years old with a root system now 4X larger than the canopy allowing the vines to reach nutrients deep within the soil.
- Low-yield: Old vines tend to yield less fruit, Achaval-Ferrer increasing even lower yield by planting the vines close together resulting in grapes that are powerful and intense, concentrated and complex, vibrant and fresh, using far less than the Mendoza average of vines per bottle.
- Low intervention wine making: As stewards of the grapes they do NOT cold soak, use enzymes, use fining, filtering or sulfites, add sugar or correct acidity, racking of the lees or extended maceration or malolactic inoculation. Furthermore they ferment at higher temps to extract maximum color, concentration of flavors and complexity.
- New Old World Wine: The unmistakable signature of Achaval-Ferrer is the balance of New World fruit (fresh, ripe, expressive, big) with Old World Winemaking (elegant, structured, acid driven, balanced on palate).
Cabernet Sauvignon 2013: After telling you all about Achaval-Ferrer’s Malbecs we began our evening with their Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the newest member of their portfolio and one of their two “Mendoza Line” wines. It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, deep ruby, juicy black and red fruit, black pepper, tobacco, dusty tannins, round acidity, persistent finish. Grapes are sourced from their Bella Vista and Diamante wineries and aged for 9 months in 2 year old French oak. SRP $24.99
Mendoza Malbec 2013: Textbook definition Malbec, deep violet, intense juicy black fruit, violets, leather and smoke, nice minerality, easy drinking, silky tannins, medium finish, young and compelling. Grape sourced from their Bella Vista and Diamante vineyards and aged for 9 months in 2 year old French oak. SRP $24.99.
These two wines were paired with Beef Carpaccio: beet chips, baby arugula, roated Cipollini Vinaigrette and 20-Hour Short Ribs: Malbec Juis Lie, Brussels Sprout leaves, roasted celeriac
Quimera 2011: This wine was crafted of 38% Malbec, 26% Cabernet Franc, 23% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Petit Verdot. The Quimera is the winemakers search for blending perfection and I think they may have found it because this wine was outstanding! It was a harmonious blend of black berries, floral notes, cassis, dark chocolate and tobacco with a rich mineral driven dry dirt that danced across the palate with round acidity, fine tannins in a full body lingering finish. After primary fermentation all varietals are blended together to undergo malolactic fermentation in 60% 12 month old French barrels and 40% new French barrels. SRP $34.99 yet tasting much more expensive. Wine Spectator 92 pts.
Finca Mirador 2011: This is the first of the three Finca terroir series wines. All three of these beautiful 100% Malbecs are crafted exactly the same, the difference is reflected from their unique terroirs. These wines mark the cornerstone of the Achaval-Ferrer philosophy. Medium ruby, dark black fruits, spice, espresso, dark chocolate, herbal notes and leather, round mouth-feel, balanced acidity, chewy tannins. From Mirador vineyards, Medrano, altitude 2297 ft, heavy soil, clay, medium drainage, yield 0.8 tons/acre. Premium quality dazzling Malbec! SRP $140. Wine Spectator 96 points.
These two wines were paired with Crisp Pork Jowl: pickled red onion, watercress, chipotle-pear mostarda and Cassoulet: confit duck leg, white beans, and hatch chiles.
Finca Bella Vista 2011: Crafted with fruit from a 100 year old finca, deep ruby, dark black and red berries, floral notes, tobacco, spice with graphite, silky mouth feel with well integrated tannins and round acidity for a full body, medium finish. From Bella Vista vineyards, Lujan de Cuyo, altitude 3200 ft, thin sand-loam topsoil with gravel underneath, well-drained, yield 0.8 tons/acre. Another premium quality, amazing Malbec! SRP $140. Wine Spectator 95 points.
This wine was paired with Lamb Duo: Chop and Epigram, salsa verde, glazed baby carrots, cauliflower puree.
Finca Altamira 2011: The pure Malbec aficionado and my favorite. Deep inky ruby, dark black berries, soft floral notes, espresso, leather, cassis, pure silk on the palate, exemplifying iron fist in a velvet glove, rich round acidity and well integrated tannins create a full body with a lush lingering finish begging for another sip. Beautifully expressive. From Altamira vineyards, Uco Valley, altitude 3444 ft, some volcanic ash underneath thin sandy top soil, eroded rocks, well drained, yield 0.8 tons/acre. Because I love high elevation wines grown in volcanic soil for me this was the BEST Malbec I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. SRP $140. Wine Spectator 96 points.
This wine was paired with Dry-Aged Steak, chimichurri, roasted vegetable demi-glace.
All six of Achaval-Ferrer’s wines were outstanding. The three Finca Terroir series wines represent the highest quality Malbec I have ever had. Depending on the characteristics you enjoy in wine will determine your favorite; however, each of them were truly fantastic. It was an honor and a blessing to be invited by Gregory White PR to such a delicious wine dinner. It was also a delight to meet Gastón Williams and have him share Achaval-Ferrer with us as well as take us through each wine. All in attendance were highly impressed with Achaval-Ferrer and their wines. For many of you $140 may seem like a lot for an Argentinian Malbec, especially when you can get a good Malbec for $20. However, you may not baulk at all at a $140 high quality Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or a Bordeaux, Amarone, Brunello, Barolo, etc. Just because you can get a nice inexpensive Malbec does not mean you should not pay for premium Malbec when the occasion calls for it and your bank account can handle it. If you are willing to take a chance and step out into the world of PREMIUM Malbec then Achaval-Ferrer is the wine you must buy! You won’t be sorry. Furthermore, these wines have great aging potential! The wineries first vintage was 1999 and those wines are still drinking great today. So if you looking to step out of the typical wine box and splurge on a wonderful wine run, don’t walk, to purchase Achaval-Ferrer’s Finca Terroir series wines. And on the many days you are looking for a more typical expression of Argentinian wines Achaval-Ferrer’s Mendoza Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon are the wines for you. Please visit the Achaval-Ferrer web site to learn more about them and their numerous awards and view their entire portfolio of wines.
My Song Selection: These wines had spirit and soul. They were complex, layered and delivered on every count; wines to please all palates. Therefore, I am pairing them with a very special performance of an Elton John classic because that has rock, soul, funk and a full choir, it is layered, complex and makes you want to get up and dance just like Achaval-Ferrer wines.
Get your own bottles of Achaval-Ferrer Malbec and let me know what song you pair with them. Cheers!