Bodega Argento: A brand new wine
The Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi
Every once in a while the normally staid wine business can surprise you when it changes direction. Screwcaps, wine on tap, the art of growing vines under biodynamic rules or even the idea of the United States becoming the number one wine market despite its conservative winemaking base that has done its best to avoid most of the aforementioned trends – all unforeseen advances.
Recent announcements touting the ginormous amounts of money paid for American wine brands Meiomi and The Prisoner, where the buyer had zero interest in the land or anything to do with the wine other than its label or brand, has me doubting my own journey and whether caring about wine, and where it comes from is anything more than a pipe dream.
It’s deflating to see so many people I assumed were in it for the long run – you know, generations of winemaking, stewards of the land – cashing in on the growing interest in wine but I’m sure they have their reasons. It is clear not everyone is suited to farming and the massive amount of hard work required to grow meaningful wine that can add something to our culture.
All of which brings us to a story about a South American brand headed in a very different direction. It’s rare to see a commercial wine brand turn itself into a full-fledged winery with a solid lineup of wines (in fact they often go in the other direction) but that is what’s happening in Argentina at Bodega Argento. Argento, under the leadership of Carlos Pulenta, has literally rediscovered its roots in the vineyards of Mendoza, in effect transforming itself from an ordinary brand to a story of people and place all seeking a higher level of excellence.
Argento the brand was born in 1998, and was malbec focused. It’s easy to see by the nomenclature of the time that Argento was all brand – “Intrinsically entwined with its country of origin. When you drink our wines, you experience the real Argentina.” Compare those dreamy words first tagged to the brand back in the early 2000s under the new Bodega Argento, where “There is a strong belief that blending fruit sourced from a variety of altitudes, soil profiles and microclimates creates more interesting wines with greater complexity and balance.”
A lot of the credit for Argento’s transformation lies with winemaker Silvia Corti. Corti heads up the winemaking team since 2004, and she has implemented a philosophy of “achieving fruit purity, vibrancy and elegance” at all levels of the winemaking process. Mentoring Corti is renowned Italian winemaker/consultant Alberto Antonini.
Antonini has been instrumental in convincing Pulenta, Corti and the team that when you are seeking purity and truth in wine less is more. To paraphrase the quixotic Italian “it’s the high quality minimal ingredients that make the Margherita pizza, it doesn’t need a dozen toppings to be great.”
After moving to a larger facility at Cruz de Piedra, Maipú, Mendoza, Corti has the space and the equipment to really dial in the Argento philosophy. It’s an old property built in the 1970s that will get a facelift for visitors, but inside and underground, it’s the large concrete vats that have Pulenta, Antonini and Corti smiling.
Argento is unlikely to get the attention of a Bordeaux first growth or a Napa Valley icon label, but it may be the best quality wine coming out of Argentina at the lowest possible price. Careful fruit selection and paying attention to its source has proven to be the key to the Argento team getting its amazing texture and concentration of flavour into the bottle. The use of concrete and old methods simply serves to enhance those characteristics and protect them throughout the ageing process.
Silvia Corti’s love of wine is rooted in its social aspects. As she puts it, “It has always intrigued me to watch people engage their senses. When you make a wine people like, it’s so satisfying because it means that you have accurately interpreted what they want. To have this result the wine must have significant fruit purity, with good weight in the mouth, great persistence on the palate and enough softness to be easy to drink.”
Corti goes on to say “The style of Argento wines is based on finesse and aroma concentration, freshness, a clear expression of the terroir and varietal typicity. There is widespread use of selection tables at reception to maintain a high quality of grapes. The fruit goes into stainless steel tanks with cooling jackets, concrete tanks with epoxy covering, and barrels of different dimensions (including big casks) that allow us to elaborate diverse wine styles conferring a complexity and identity to each line of our wines.”
Today, Bodega Argento has the authorization to make organic wine with grapes coming from its organically certified vineyard in Altamira. It is the first step towards sustainability as the company moves to attain organic certification in all its vineyards. Argento has what seems like an ever-changing mix of labels in markets across the country. The good news is this is a brand you can rely on no matter which wine is in your market.
Here are a few of the labels that caught my attention during a recent visit to the property.
The Argento Classic 2015 Pinot Grigio is a great example of the style change. After sitting on its lees in stainless steel tanks, with intermittent stirring, the fresh, textured white is a step above the crowd when it comes to an easy-sipping white for summer.
The Argento Classic 2015 Malbec is simply pure fun, and pure fruit. So fresh and savoury with juicy black and red fruits that is all Mendoza from Rivadavia, Junín, Luján de Cuyo, Maipú, Tunuyán and Tupungato. Crazy value.
Bonarda remains underappreciated by the gatekeepers in North America who seem to have given up on listing or selling it but the Argento 2015 Bonarda offers a juicy, peppery red with aromas and flavours of raspberries and other red fruits, ending with a dusting of pepper. Simple, fun and very drinkable.
Esquinas de Argento 2015 Pinot Grigio Cool Climate Selection turned my head first for its clever label that celebrates life of Buenos Aires street corners often cut back on a 45-degree angle to accommodate restaurants and retail stores that harbour the energy of the neighbourhood. This high altitude pinot grigio boasts bright fresh fruit from the Tunuyán region of the Uco Valley. Delicate and crisp, it is a perfect summer sipper for chicken or seafood salads.
Wow is how I describe the Argento 2014 Reserva Malbec, reflective of all the hard work going on at Argento. Floral (violet) notes mix with beautiful pure plum and blackberry fruit that is super juicy and slippery on the palate. Back up the truck and serve around the barbecue all summer.
The Argento Reserva 2014 Cabernet Franc is equally beguiling full of aromatics on this wine. An expressive rich, soft red with texture and length.
The jewel in the lineup is the Argento Single Vineyard Paraje Altamira 2014 Malbec. The new focus is all about making wines of purity, vibrancy, elegance, balance – or the highest expression of the terroir. Easy to say but not so easy to accomplish yet winemaker Silvia Corti and consulting winemaker Alberto Antonini are getting there thanks to an amazing selection of fruit from Argento’s Paraje Altamira estate in the Uco Valley, a vineyard that sits some 1090 metres above sea level. Style with structure and length at a very fair price.
It’s inspiring to see the transformation at Argento. Antonini has a lot to do with the change, but as he likes to say he does it “By doing nothing.” It takes a lot of confidence to do less in pursuit of more but Corti and Antonini, along with the team and the blessing of Pulenta, are heading in a brand new direction few could have guessed Argento would, just a few years ago.
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