91 Point Benmarco: Malbec With Muscle From Susana Balbo

Shannon Sprentall and Susana Balbo
Shannon Sprentall and Susana Balbo
2009 Benmarco Malbec
2009 Benmarco Malbec

Here’s something special from the brilliant Susana Balbo. That’s a hard call since everything we have from her (Crios, Signature, etc.) is well worth buying and drinking, however the Benmarco wines are pure old-school Argentine.

The 2009 malbec is traditional stuff, big and concentrated, gets better if you let it sit in the glass and let it breathe a bit. Plenty of dark cherry and blueberries immediately; savory flavors come later, coffee, tobacco, licorice, bitter chocolate and heady spices. Wine for adults. What I like is that she blends in a good splash of bonarda which makes the texture extra lush. Been a fan of Balbo for a long time since Shannon and I met her in Mendoza a few years ago. She visited us here last year on a swing through the states. She’s very committed to sustainable farming and to Argentine terroir and character. This wine will make you head to the meat locker even if you’re not a gaucho or a tango dancer. Maybe a full mixed grill, steak, chops and sausage. You can get enough for the whole barbecue season!

Susana Balbo Takes Malbec To 92 points!

Susana BalboSusana Balbo is a passionate and forceful advocate for malbec. I’ve seen her operation in Mendoza and I’m very impressed. You are too if you met her in Tarpon Springs last year or if you tasted the malbec in her best-selling Crios line. But this bottling is truly the signature wine of Argentina and also of Balbo’s ambitious wine making. This malbec is smoking, full bore yet elegant. Not a little black number but a big one, dark purple, blackberry and black cherry, dark chocolate and espresso, fire and spice. This the kind of malbec that earned the name “black wine” and wears it with style. If you know and love Balbo for her Crios wines, you’ll be thrilled with the sophistication of the 2009 Signature. You’ll want plenty for your cellar, and at this price you can sure have them. Run-n-tell that.

2009 Susana Balbo Signature Malbec2009 Susana Balbo Signature Malbec

“…Attractive aromas of pain grille, smoke, mocha, spice box, and black cherry set the stage for a plush, full-bodied, succulent wine with intense flavors and a seamless finish….”  92 Points, Wine Advocate





Catena climbs even higher: WA ranks ’07s at 95 and 98!

Laura Catena and ShannonHow high can Catena take Argentine cab and malbec? At the top of their game and near the top of the Andes, Catena has elevated the wines of Argentina to world class heights. Don’t think it’s just New World with an odd grape for a signature. Not Catena’s top level Zapata Malbecs. These are excellent and they make three, each an exquisite and powerful display of the varietal. The single vineyard Nicasia is full of dark berries and softened by aging in two rounds of new French oak, making for a heady mix of dark chocolate and coffee. The Adrianna is pure high altitude, big purple and berry flavors wrapped in exotic spices. The Argentino is a magnificent blend of the two, and somehow richer and silkier. Tanzer calls it a knockout. Yet the best of the lot is probably the cabernet/malbec blend with punch of cab franc and petit verdot, all the espresso cocoa and toast as well as ripe fruit. Amazing. All are remarkably seamless with very long finishes; they are still evolving for the next five years and will age happily in your cellar for another ten or 20. In short, these are $100 wines. Not here, not for my friends who believe in the greatness of Argentine wines. Every Argentine connoisseur will want them all. Run-n-tell that.

2007 Nicasia Malbec

Offers good density to the blueberry, raspberry and blackberry coulis flavors that are backed by vibrant acidity. Floral and mineral notes play out on the long, tangy finish. Drink now through 2014. 8,000 cases imported.  95 Points, Robert Parker’s WA

2007 Zapata Cabernet

Offers good density to the blueberry, raspberry and blackberry coulis flavors that are backed by vibrant acidity. Floral and mineral notes play out on the long, tangy finish. Drink now through 2014. 8,000 cases imported.  98 Points, Robert Parker’s WA

Best Buy In Argentina: 2009 Colome Malbec, 92 WA!

Don HessWish I could say we discovered Colome. The winery was founded way high up in Salta in 1831. Makes it older than any winery in California or our part of the Americas. Don’t know how good the wine was then, but Colome’s malbec has been knocking the critics back for the last few years. It has made Wine Spectator’s Top 100 for the 2007 and 2008 vintages and now the 2009 gets a 92 from Senor Parker. That’s high attitude to match the altitude. Colome has the kind of fruit I like in a wine, lots of berries that are very fresh, jammy but with very little sugar, lots of tang and tingle. It’s layered with licorice, fig and chocolate, some of which may come from the splash of cab and syrah in it. Only way I can make it better is my price, and I’m offering it to you as low as it can be.  Colome’s price has never been so low. Run-n-tell-that.

2009 Colome Malbec2009 Colome Malbec

Offers good density to the blueberry, raspberry and blackberry coulis flavors that are backed by vibrant acidity. Floral and mineral notes play out on the long, tangy finish. Drink now through 2014. 8,000 cases imported.  92 Points, Robert Parker’s WA





Top 100 Again: Catena’s Magnificent Malbec, 91 WS!

2009 Catena MalbecIn the majestic cellars of Bodega Catena Zapata, Nicolas Catena and daughter Laura set new standards for Argentina winemaking. Making Wine Spectator’s Top 100 routinely, Familia Catena (Laura has also made it there with her Luca wines) has done it again this year with the 2009 Catena Malbec. Full-bodied, spicy, sweet and silky, this is a textbook example of what Malbec can be. I wonder if the folks in Bordeaux drink these wines and wonder why they don’t use more Malbec. It may be the mountain air in their high altitude sites, or the experience and know how of the Catenas. Whatever it is, the family has provided another priced to buy and drink with impunity or pleasure if you prefer. You’re gonna want that.

2009 Catena Malbec

“A rich red, with ripe layers of linzer torte, plum pudding and fig paste flavors backed by layers of mesquite, olive paste and grilled herbs. Grippy tannins add weight to the long, vibrant finish. Drink now through 2013…”  91 Points, Wine Spectator & Top 100 Wines of 2011, #58

Magnificent ’07s: Tignanello, Mondavi Reserve, Zapata, 95 points and up

The 2007 vintage was one of the those rare years that produced great wines around the world. Couldn’t have been the same weather in Napa, Tuscany and Mendoza yet somehow in each region their legendary reds reached extraordinary heights. The wine gods were in three places at once and you should be too. In Argentina, Nicolas Catena’s Zapata, the top Cab cuvee masterminded by Laura Catena, is so sumptuous, full and elegant, Parker scored it 98 points. The Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napawas outstanding, the best since 2002, and one of the great vintages for the wine; Parker says it’s 95+ and when we poured it at our
tastings, you agreed. Of course Antinori’s Tignanello is always lush, but the 2007 is especially luxurious, rich and silky and truly super. Every one of these is a great wine at the top of its form. At these prices, one of each should be in your cellar. You’re gonna want that.

2007 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

“…revealing notes of spring flowers, toasty oak, creme de cassis, licorice, and graphite.”  95 Points, Robert Parker, WA

2007 Nicolas Catena Zapata2007 Nicolas Catena Zapata, Mendoza

“It delivers an enthralling aromatic array of pain grille, pencil lead, mineral, espresso, mocha, incense, lavender, black currant, black cherry, and blackberry.”  98 Points, Robert Parker, WA

2007 Antinori Tignanello, Tuscany2007 Antinori Tignanello, Tuscany

“Displays sweet plum and berry aromas and flavors, with hints of toasty oak and cappuccino. Full-bodied, yet reserved and fine.”  95 Points, Robert Parker, WA

Malbec, Cab From Scratch: Mendoza’s High-Altitude Decero

DeceroSome of the smartest folks in the Argentina wine business built this winery and vineyard in the 1990’s from the ground up from scratch. Decero as they say in Spanish, “from zero”. And the ground was already up high, 3500 feet, on the slopes of the Andes , hot, dry, and windy, perfect for deep roots and long ripening reds, it’s all they grow. Btw, they don’t call the wind Mariah the name’s “remolinos,” little whirlwinds that breeze through the vineyard and keep the grapes clean and dry. I like the fact that Decero is so focused, all pure varietals and every step done by hand. Doesn’t mean the wines are rustic, the Malbec has big black fruit and dark chocolate, yet it’s quite approachable and suave in its polish. The muscular Cabernet also has smooth fruit that dips into licorice, soy and bacon fat and wears a hint of mint and smoke. These wines demand that you fire up the grill. You’re gonna want that.

2009 Decero Malbec, Remolinos Vineyard

“Medium ruby-red. Complex and inviting aromas of boysenberry, blackberry, bitter chocolate and violet. Sweet, pliant and aromatic, with black fruit flavors enlivened by an inner-mouth floral character…”  89 Points, Stephen Tanzer’s IWC

2008 Finca Decero Cabernet Sauvignon, Remolinos Vineyard

“Varietally accurate aromas of cherry, cassis, tobacco and licorice are lifted by a floral topnote. Supple, vinous and suave, with good lift to the red fruit and spicy oak flavors…”  88 Points, Stephen Tanzer’s IWC

2007 Decero Amano Remolinos Vineyard, Agrelo

“Dark cherry, currant, mocha, leather, violet and smoky, spicy oak on the nose, plus a whiff of caraway seed. Suave on entry, then tight and minerally in the middle, with lovely lift and perfume to the black raspberry, dark chocolate and graphite flavors…”  90 Points, Stephen Tanzer’s IWC

Catena Climbs High Again. Save $24 a Case on Great Argentines.

Bodega Catena

Catena has been one of our favorite Argentine wines. They’ve been growing in Mendoza for more than 100 years so they know the high altitude vineyards well. Now in their second century, the wines keep better. I love the high-end Catena Alta and Zapata cuvees but I’m just as impressed at the high quality of their main line varietals (and so are the critics) under $20. The 2008 Malbec, the national signature, is a deep purple with intense floral aromas, concentrated flavors of plum, blackberry, and chocolate with black pepper surprisingly soft; the 2009 Cabernet is intriguing and sophisticated, black fruits seasoned with Oriental spices and cigarbox. The 2008 Chardonnay is a luscious blend of peaches, apricots pears and figs with a touch of honey and crisp acidity too. They are all fine examples of the best Argentine terroir and winemaking, and always a great value. You’re gonna want that.

2008 Catena Chardonnay

“It is light gold-colored with an alluring nose of mineral, baking spices, apple, pear, and tropical scents. This leads to a creamy textured, vibrant, complex, medium-bodied Chardonnay with outstanding balance and length. The regular bottling of Chardonnay is an annual candidate for Chardonnay value of the year….”  91 points, Robert Parker’s WA

2009 Catena Cabernet Sauvignon

“Bodegas Catena-Zapata remains the reference point for Argentina wines. These three value-priced wines exemplify the focus on quality…” Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

2008 Catena Malbec

“Dark ruby red in color, it delivers an alluring bouquet of Asian spices, incense, lavender, and black cherry. Smooth textured, spicy, and easy-to understand, this pleasure-bent Malbec is an outstanding value for drinking over the next 4-6 years….”  91 Points, Robert Parker’s WA (91WS, 90ST)


Wine Advocate raves for 2007 Catena Zapata, 98, 97, 96, 95 points!!

Nicolas and Laura Catena
Nicolas and Laura Catena

 These are the finest reds that Catena has made, three Malbecs and one Cabernet. Look at those numbers from Parker for four separate wines, grown in their highest vineyards some almost 5,000 feet up. The flavors are earthy, long on violets, rich with licorice, chocolate and espresso, and suave with fine tannins and long finish. It’s a true family triumph. For generations they tried to match the Bordelaise and for awhile they gave up hope on Malbec, but Nicolas persisted. By the mid 90s he had an acceptable Malbec and then later the higher grade Catena Alta line. In the last decade, his daughter Laura pushed upward to created the Catena Zapata. They come from hand selected plants in the best high-altitude plots, picked, and fermented with extreme care. The Cabernet Sauvignon is exquisite. These are Bordeaux that Bordeaux can not make. Only Argentina, the Andes and the Catenas can. Take your pick. I’ve managed to get a shipment of each and I’ve marked them down each $10, just for you buyers who appreciate the greatest wines of South America, Better move fast to secure yours; they’re rare bottlings hard to come by, near impossible B-21 prices for the ultimate Argentine bragging rights. You’re gonna want that.

2007 Nicolas Catena Zapata Malbec Nicasia Vineyard

“This shows how powerful Argentine Malbec can be, with a torrent of blackberry, boysenberry and bittersweet ganache notes. But there’s exceptional drive and focus here as well, with a great graphite spine driving through the spice- and floral-infused finish…” 96 Points Wine Spectator, 95 Points Robert Parker’s WA

2007 Nicolas Catena Zapata Malbec Adrianna Vineyard

“An expressive bouquet of sandalwood, Asian spices, incense, mineral, black cherry, and black raspberry. Opulent on the palate with serious extraction, great depth of flavor, complexity, and impeccable balance, this loaded, potent effort will evolve for at least 5-7 years…” 96 Points Robert Parker’s WA, 95 Points Wine Spectator

2007 Nicolas Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino Vineyard

“Since I have been tasting the Catena wines, this has generally been my preference because it seems to have an extra dimension of complexity. So it is with the 2007 vintage. The Argentino offers a similar aromatic and flavor profile, but with just a bit of extra nuance…”  97 Points Robert Parker’s WA, 95 Points Steven Tanzer’s IWC, 94 Points Wine Spectator

2007 Nicolas Catena Zapata

“It delivers an enthralling aromatic array of pain grille, pencil lead, mineral, espresso, mocha, incense, lavender, black currant, black cherry, and blackberry. This leads to a full-bodied, powerful yet elegant effort with great depth and volume, precision balance, and a voluptuous personality (a D-cup of a wine)…”  98 Points Robert Parker’s WA

2009 Amancaya is World Class Malbec You Love: 1000+ Sold

2009 Amancaya (Mendoza)
2009 Amancaya (Mendoza)

Malbec got its native French accent back when the Domaines Barons Rothschild joined up with the Catenas of Argentina a few years ago. The 2009 Amancaya cuvee puts Malbec forward with a little Cabernet in a Bordelaise style. The flavors are red currants and cherries with vanilla and herbs in the background. It’s a beautiful wine that speaks to every level of wine appreciation and sophistication. The 2009 Amancaya has an amazingly high level of concentration, freshness, and distinct Lafite poise. Shows me that Argentine Malbec can be truly elegant, with the right blending and careful use of oak. You’re gonna want that.

2009 Amancaya (Mendoza)

When we opened the first  bottle of 2009 Amancaya, the staff went wild. Why not? This Malbec/Cabernet  blend comes from the partnership of Barons (Lafite) de Rothschild’s French expertise and the long Argentine heritage of the Catena family. This joint venture, called CaRo, makes the Amancaya cuvee with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, and uses just the right amount of oak (very little) to show its elegance early. With Argentina’s excellent fruit in 2009, and 30 year-old vines in the best vineyard sites this is more than a fine red, it’s a beautiful wine that speaks to every level of wine appreciation and sophistication. The 2009 Amancaya has an amazingly high  level of concentration, freshness and distinct Lafite poise. You certainly won’t believe the price!

Penfolds Miracle: Lusty 94-Point Shiraz!

2006 Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz
2006 Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz

To understand the bin system at Penfolds, start with Bin 28. That was the first bin Max Schubert blended after Grange 50 years ago and it is still the richest. Best of the bins for Shiraz lovers, I’d say, and the 2006 is a classic that matches the orginal’s very high standards. Very generous stuff. It fills the air with blackberries and cherries and exotic, gamey scents. Unbelievably creamy and jammy, berries and plums as thick as soy sauce, as if Australia made Vegemite with red and black fruits. Wonderful long finish and long in the cellar too. Something we need to learn from Oz: James Halliday, the Down Under Parker, says it’ll keep another 15 years. For those of you Aussie fans who know Penfolds quality, I’ve lowered the price three bucks, below anyone. Get a case to savor year after year. You’re gonna want that.

2006 Penfolds Shiraz Kalimna Bin 28

“In the heartland of Penfolds’ red wine style; blackberry fruit, ripe tannins and vanilla oak; needs time, but everything is in balance…”  94 Points, James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion

Monteviejo Madness: Mendoza Malbec, Pomerol Style, 91 pts

monteviejo-lThis is what Malbec oughta be. Not just deep and black, but rich and soft almost an extra-strength Merlot. Actually the secret is a little Syrah in the blend and a lot of Michel Rolland in the winery. You can taste fine Argentine Malbec from highland terroir and a big splash of pure Bordeaux from Ch. Le Gay in Pomerol. Owner Catherine Pere Verge has brought a great French palate and the smarts of Rolland to Mendoza to create this terrific line under the Monteviejo name. Plus 2006 was Argentina’s best vintage in a decade; ripe now and a keeper for another five or ten. Altogether, it’s full of lavender, black cherry and blueberry with a whiff of coffee and spice. Sniffing’s great, drinks better. This is one beautiful Malbec, and at $10 off, even prettier. You’re gonna want that.

Michel Rolland + Malbec = 93 Pts. Two Vintages

Monteviejo Lindaflor Malbec, MendozYou rarely get to compare two great Argentine vintages – 2004 and 2006 – and never at prices like this for what I think is the Pomerol of Mendoza. Argentina got its Malbec from France a century ago and now has very smart French winemakers to go with it. Doing a terrific job of it too, which shouldn’t surprise me since the French savvy comes from our friends at Ch. Le Gay, one of my Right Bank favorites. Owner Catherine Pere-Verge and consultant Michel Rolland have created an equally stunning operation with Monteviejo in Argentina.They make terrific wines, especially the Lindaflor Malbec, nailing 92, 93, and 94 points year after year. Here are two vintages worth tasting together – deep, intense, full of blackberries, and I’ve cut the price. You’re gonna want that.


Susana Balbo Visits B-21

Susana Balbo Crios TastingSusana Balbo is more than the pioneering female winemaker in the macho world of Argentine wine, she’s one of the best period. My daughter Shannon met Balbo on a trip to Argentina and Susana paid us the courtesy of a visit to Tarpon Springs this past Thursday. We love her slick, signature Malbec (and so does WA: 91) and are big fans of her “Crios” line. That means “offspring” and they are definitely hers, young, carefully crafted, and very Argentine, not just Malbec and Torrontes, but a full-flavored rose and smoky Syrah/Bonarda and a Cab too. Photo Gallery