ARGENTINA’S wine-producing areas are quite different from those on the other side of the Andes.
Over there, Chile’s vineyards run almost down to sea level, but those in Mendoza are at 2,000 feet or higher. However, the resulting low overnight temperatures have beneficial effects for the wine. Whites tend to be more aromatic and reds display greater flavour complexity, while warm daytime sunshine encourages the ripening process in both of them.
Another positive is the low humidity and dry winds which serve to minimise disease, but drought is becoming an issue. Several years of below-average snowfalls in the mountains are depriving vines of their main water source – normal rainfall drains away too quickly to help much.
It was all the plus points, though, that persuaded Chile’s hugely successful Montes wine family to create an Argentinian branch – the Kaiken Estate, just outside Mendoza city. For its whites, the company buys some grapes from Salta further north – where vineyards can be as high as 7,000 feet above sea level.
Tough conditions often produce some of the tastiest wine and there is no doubting the class of their 2013 Kaiken Ultra Chardonnay (around £14). This is a beautifully integrated wine delivering gentle vanilla touches beneath its orange and peach fruit, yet with vibrant, citrus-based acidity which skilfully avoids impairing the smoothness of the texture.
Nevertheless, my top Kaiken pick has to be 2012 Kaiken Ultra Malbec (£12.99 at Aitken Wines, Dundee, but L’Art du Vin have a few of the 2011 vintage left at £10.20). Luxuriate in the warm, ripe and full raspberry flavours on display here, embellished as they are by hints of mint, liquorice and chocolate.
Despite enlivening freshness, the fruit has real intensity – undimmed by either its mineral edge or the nicely softened tannins that merge agreeably into it.
2012 Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet California
Another impressive New World red and at a good price for American wine. Zinfandel led, but with elements of merlot and petite sirah, the result is unashamedly fruit forward with smooth red cherry and blaeberry flavours topped off with mocha, cinnamon and almond. The soft tannins lead into a sweetish edge on the finish. £10 at M&S
2013 Extra Special Palacio de Vivero Rueda Spain
This area, northwest of Madrid, handles verdejo well and nighttime harvesting there helps to show it at its best. In this example, crisp, tongue-tingling, green apple acidity provides appetising freshness that typifies how much Spanish whites have progressed. All that is nicely combined with rounded, orange influences, textured pear flavours and some contrasting savoury touches. Currently £5 at Asda