If a wine enthusiast is playing a word association game and “Argentina” were to come up as a clue, he or she will likely say “Malbec”. On a recent trip to South America we discovered many other quality wines that Argentina produces, however, our visit to Achaval Ferrer certainly made us appreciate why Malbec is such a source of national pride.
As an MBA student at Stanford University in the late 1980s, Santiago Achaval regularly visited Napa Valley.
It was there he caught the wine bug and after returning to Argentina upon graduation, he was intent on starting his own winery. He teamed up with Manuel Ferrer, Tiziano Siviero and the winery’s first winemaker, Roberto Cipresso, and launched Achaval Ferrer in 1998.
Though founded just 22 years ago, Achaval Ferrer made a very strong impression from its very early vintages, earning top scores from the likes of Robert Parker and The Wine Spectator. Achaval Ferrer quickly established itself among Argentina’s best producers and became a bona fide cult winery. It also caught the eye of SPI Group, one of the world’s largest wine and spirit companies, who acquired a majority interest in the winery in 2011. In 2010, Santiago Achaval co-founded Matervini Winery, also in Mendoza, and more recently co-founded The Farm winery in Paso Robles, California.
Achaval Ferrer is situated on a beautiful property at over 1,000 meters above sea level near the Tunuyán River in La Consulta, a region within the Uco Valley in Mendoza. There are 54ha planted, including 12ha of Malbec that date back to 1925. The tasting room and winery were constructed in 2006 and feature a standard brick exterior design. While simple in design, the surrounding beauty of the vineyards and the mountains it’s nestled against likely isn’t worth trying to compete with!
The winery produces three different labels. Achaval’s “Trilogy” is made up of three “Fincas” or estates: Altamira, Bella Vista and Mirador. These are their high-end single vineyard handcrafted wines. The Quimera is the winery’s estate wine made up of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and their “Mendoza” line is their lower tier affordable range wine consisting of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. They also produce a sweet wine, appropriately named “Dolce” which is made from Malbec grapes that are dried in the sun in the traditional Italian way, no doubt an influence of their first winemaker Roberto Cipresso.
The philosophy of minimal intervention in the winery and low yields in the vineyards is definitely inspired by Old World traditions.
As our guide takes us through the tasting lineup, she tells us that Achaval takes an approach to its vineyards that is borderline obsessive. “The land is everything, so we have a lot of respect for the vineyards as our ultimate goal is to have our wines represent the place they are grown. We want the land as pure as possible.” They practice sustainable farming guided by international standards, and the focus on sustainability extends to all aspects of the winery.
The fruit is hand-harvested then brought into the winery where it’s also sorted by hand. They fully de-stem the bunches, pressing after approximately 10 days after harvest. Why wait so long? According Achaval, “Because we farm for low yields, it results in early tannin ripeness which means an early harvest of low-sugar, high-natural acidity, highly concentrated and balanced grapes. This allows us to do what we call ‘lazy’ winemaking: we don’t sulfite the incoming grapes, we don’t acidify, we don’t bleed the tanks, we don’t ameliorate, we don’t do cold soaks, we don’t use enzymes, we don’t cool down the fermenting musts…we just pump over to keep the cap wet.”
And they don’t do extended macerations. According to Achaval great fruit doesn’t require it so after 7-10 days they press lightly and add the press back to the free run wine. They use gravity when putting the wine into barrels by simply connecting a hose and letting the wine fall slowly down allowing it to carry the lees. They don’t do much stirring of the lees, instead just letting the wine “work on the lees” for a full year in barrel.
The final product are impressive wines that are fruit-forward and bold, yet elegant and balanced certainly justifying the many accolades bestowed upon the winery since its beginning.
And, of course, it certainly helps make the case that Argentina and Malbec should always be associated when wines of this caliber are produced.
2016 Achaval Ferrer Quimera
A blend of 45% Malbec, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc and 18% Merlot. Intense flavours of blackberry and black cherry. Plenty of structure still indicating a long life in the cellar. Complexity comes from the mineral and herb components. Rich and full, this will get even better as it softens over time.
2014 Achaval Ferrer Mirador
This is 100% Malbec grown from miniscule yields at high altitude vineyards in Mendoza. In fact, it takes 3 whole vines to make a single bottle of Mirador. Flavours of plum and black cherry gain complexity from the spice notes and hints of tomato leaf. Youthful and tannic, but brimming with fruit so as to create a balanced but big wine. We get secondary notes of earth, mineral and bitter chocolate on the long finish. Wonderfully complex!
2014 Achaval Ferrer Bella Vista
Take the power and intensity of Mirador but infuse it with elegance and you have Bella Vista. Also 100% Malbec, the Bella Vista vineyard benefits from the cooling influence of the Mendoza River. The nose is pretty and floral and reaches your nose far above the glass. Dark Cherry flavours are cloaked in a rich, velvety robe that gives a bit of decadence to this wine. Very complex and changes each time you come back to the glass.
2013 Achaval Ferrer Dolce
This is a sweet wine made from Malbec where the grapes have been dried on mats to desiccate them making a more concentrated juice. The result is a deliciously rich, fairly sweet, honeyed, thick elixir that is a joy to drink. Excellent
Calle Cobos 2601
Perdriel Luján de Cuyo
Phone: +54 261 481 9205