“There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night, and if you go, no one may follow, that path is for your steps alone.”
– Jerry Garcia
Buenos Aires – As I mentioned in the last post, I was invited to a wine tasting last evening. The location was a new wine shop that has opened in my neighborhood, La Cava de Vittorio, at Arenales 2321, and I’ve become fairly well acquainted with the manager of the store, José Eduardo. He called and asked if I’d like to come to an in-store tasting with one of the owners of Tempus Alba winery, of Mendoza. He has a nice tasting room set up on the lower level of the store, and a dozen of us gathered to hear the presentation and taste through the line being presented.
The winery has been around for four generations, but has always, until recently, been a bulk, blended wine producer, which still makes up the majority of their production. But starting in 2003 they introduced a varietal and reserve line, and that’s what we were there to taste:
- 2004 Tempranillo – On the nose an immediate blast of fresh raspberries and a bit of spice. On the palate a bit more subdued, mostly by a little too much new oak and alchohol. The flavor leans more towards a mix of raspberries and griottine cherries (those dark, little, brandied cherries that are popular in desserts). Decent, but probably needs some time to tame the oak.
- 2003 Syrah – For me, this was the impressive one of the tasting. It was immediately reminiscent of a Rhône Valley style Syrah, with bold aromas and flavors of red plums, smoke, and bacon fat. The oak is also present in this one, but the fruit has enough weight and concentration to carry it. Really long, complex finish as well.
- 2004 Merlot – While I’m not a “I don’t drink f***cking Merlot” sort, I also rarely find one that I really like. Mostly that’s been the effect of too much consumer marketing to push poor quality Merlot just on the basis of being Merlot. This one shows some bright cherry fruit on both the nose and palate – it’s quite drinkable, and unoaked, which was a real plus (and probably should have been done with the Tempranillo, above). On the other hand, it was simple, completely lacking in complexity. Given the price tag of 34 pesos on all the single varietal wines, I’d be real disappointed to receive this at that price.
- 2004 Malbec – Clearly Malbec on both the nose and palate, with dark plum aromas, a touch of candied violet, and a bit of nutmeg-ish spice. The oak, again, is overpowering for the fruit, a real shame, because with both this and the Tempranillo you can tell that there’s good quality fruit underlying it all. The question for both is whether or not with some time the wine will come into balance.
- 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon – Bright, cherry-berry fruit on both the nose and palate. A touch of pencil lead and underbrush on the finish. Classic Cabernet, and the fruit stands up to the oak in this one, as it did in the Syrah. However, the wine is a bit one-dimensional and lacking in complexity.
- 2003 Pleno – If I caught the blend correctly, this wine is 60% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot. On the other hand, it’s pretty much 100% new oak – personally I thought it tasted like a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar, with virtually no fruit. The collectors in the dozen of us were oohing and ahhing over it, talking about the amazing structure and personality. Sorry, but I want to drink wine, not wood. I didn’t sense enough depth in this wine to end up balancing out in the future. And at 59 pesos, it’s got way too much competition of better quality.
So, overall, I highly recommend the Syrah. I’d give the Tempranillo and Malbec some time to see if they come together, maybe retasting them in about six months. The other three just didn’t pass muster, though I think the Merlot and Cabernet would be fine at lower prices. On the other hand, as the winery rep/owner pointed out, they’ve just started out, and for the first two vintages used all new oak barrels. Starting with the 2005 and more so in the 2006 vintages, they will be using one and two year old barrels for several of the wines, only sticking to strictly new oak with their reserve blend, the Pleno. It will be interesting to watch this winery and see what develops. Having one solidly excellent and two potentially quite good wines out of your first six introductions isn’t really a bad batting average.
The wines, by the way, are marketed in the U.S. by Epic Wines under the Tempus Alba name, but under a line labelled “Preludio” – the Tempranillo and Syrah go for about $12, the Malbec and Cabernet for about $14, I don’t see the Merlot listed, and the Pleno is marketed under the name Acorde Reserve for $28.