My typical wine selection experience doesn’t usually go well. I walk into a store. Stand in front of hundreds of bottles of wine. Then I try to decipher some hidden wine code that allows me to walk out with a quality bottle. I’m pretty sure a child could pick the same value of wine as me. Or I could just walk in, blindfold myself and choose one.
Sometimes I pretend to know what details to use to aid my decision. However, I tend to lean toward the bottle that has the “cooler” label. Other times I choose a wine because the bottle has a deeper groove in the bottom. That has to count for something, right? In more bizarre moments I have determined one bottle weighs more than the other and that either made me choose it or despise it.
It’s safe to say a lot of people, like me, don’t know what to look for when trying to decide which wine to buy. My wife, Heidi and I went through a mini training session with The Vines of Mendoza’s sommelier, Mariana Onofri to get some tips and to help us make better wine selections in the future.
Here they are:
1. Understand different types of wine. The two most popular red wines from Argentina are Malbec and Bonarda, but Argentina also produces great Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and blends that have a Malbec base. For white wines, Torrontes is the most popular varietal, but Argentina also has Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Any of these can be great.
2. Choose a specific wine. Deciding what type of wine you want BEFORE going into a store can help cut down on the overwhelming feeling from all of the options. Maybe you want a Torrontes for its fruity flavor on a hot summer day or a deep Malbec to go with some juicy delicious steak.
3. White wines are generally best young. White wines are pretty simple. You want to drink all of them within 1-3 years of production, except for Chardonnay. White wines other than Chardonnay should be pale yellow in color or have a silver undertone. Argentine whites are generally very high quality, yet inexpensive — between $8-$15.
4. Know the four tiers for Argentine reds:
a. The lowest priced Malbecs taste more fruity, light, and have a strong berry flavor. They haven’t been aged in oak, which makes them good to drink within 1-3 years. This type of wine usually costs around $15 or less.
b. The middle tier of Malbecs have the word Reserve or Reserva on the label. If they have been aged in oak it should say it on the front or back label. Their drinking prime is 2-6 years. These middle-tier wines have a bigger body and complexity, so they will be more powerful in taste. They typically cost between $20-30.
c. The higher end Malbecs are Gran Reserves, Gran Reservas or Gran fill-in name! They have been aged in oak, are very rich in flavor and much more complex overall. This range of Argentine wines can pleasantly surprise you if you are looking to impress your friends with a high-end wine. Their prime drinking period is 3-10 years. These wines are typically over $30.
d. Another tier of popular reds from Argentina are the blends. The best blends use Malbec as a base with Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or others. Most blends will have the word Corte on the label. Blends can range in price, but some of the highest end wines are blends and will be in a similar price range to the best Malbecs.
5. Don’t be deterred by screw caps or alcohol content. Some people can be turned off by the sight of a screw cap, but there’s no reason to be afraid, particularly when it’s a white wine. Screw caps are effective in keeping the wine air-tight. They are more effective than a synthetic cork and are often used for wines that are best consumed when they are young (whites and more inexpensive reds.)
Some people look at the alcohol content of a wine and think the higher percentage leads to a bad taste. In Argentina wines have higher alcohol content due to its warmer and drier conditions. However, winemakers counter the high alcohol content by balancing the wines with other elements to make them delicious.
6. What doesn’t matter. The label, the name, the shape, size, color and bottom of the bottle don’t have any direct impact on choosing a quality wine. Some creative marketing is always appreciated, and can help with sales, but the other factors mentioned above are much more important in selecting a quality Argentine wine.