Just as “location, location, location” defines the most important attribute in real estate, “altitude, altitude, altitude” describes the key ingredient for world-class Argentine wines. That’s why growing grapes at some of the highest elevations in the world gives Bodegas Salentein a critical edge, explained the winery’s chief winemaker Jose “Pepe” Galante at a recent D.C. press lunch.
Salentein’s grapes grow in what some might describe as a near-perfect climate for viticulture. Located within the Uco Valley of Mendoza, Argentina, the grapes get all the sunlight they need, while cool temperatures preserve acidity and facilitate gradual ripening and long hang time—factors that promote superb balance and complexity in the wine. Nearby the snow-capped Andes mountain range provides water for controlled drip irrigation in this otherwise arid region, allowing Salentein to maintain concentration. The region is not without challenges, such as occasional hail in the spring, but overall, the climate is exceptional.
Salentein operates three vineyards that run east and west within a span of 22 kilometers between the winery’s lowest and highest vineyards. Grapes grown at the various altitudes express their unique locations enabling the winery to showcase the many “terroirs” from whence they come.
As a result, the winery produces many different styles for each of its grape varieties—Malbec, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Torrontes—dependent on vineyard site. Flavor profiles for each change as the vines move upward from warmer climates into cooler ones. It’s during vinification that the winemaker must decide how to mix grapes from various mesoclimates or whether to produce single-vineyard wines
Galante explained that grapes from the highest altitudes make Salentien’s best wines and in 2010, he began making single-vineyard wines from these grapes. His other wines are composed of blends of several altitudes to add different complexities.
Interestingly, Salentein has emerged as a leader in Argentina, even though the winery is relatively new having produced its first vintage in 1999. It benefits from Galante’s long history in the industry—with 30 years under his belt as winemaker at one of the older, more established wineries, Bodega Catena Zapata. He joined Salentein in 2009, bringing greater refinement and elegance to the already high-quality wines produced at Salentein.
The winery currently makes more than a million cases of wine a year, of which it exports half. At the recent lunch event, Galante featured several wines that are all available or are soon-to-be available in the D.C. market. Look for them at Arrowine (Arlington, VA) Bacchus Wine Cellar (DC); Manhattan Market (DC); Van Ness Wines and Liquors (DC); Lions Fine Wine & Spirits (DC); Wine & Liquor Depot (Brandywine MD); and Classic Wines (Great Falls, VA). Check the importer’s website for additional locations.
Here’s the lineup:
Killka Torrontes, 2011. Named after the winery’s famed art gallery, Killka translates into “portal, entry, or gate,” but this wine is more than entry-level. Easy to enjoy for anyone, the wine offers more complexity than many Torrontes wines on the market. Fermented and aged in stainless steel to keep all of its flavor and aromatic components, it produces a lovely floral nose that is both delicate and very aromatically intense. On the palate it offers fresh acidity along with floral and citrus notes. Salentein introduced this label into the U.S. market first, but it is now also enjoyed in Argentina and other world markets. It retails for about $15 a bottle.
Salentein Reserve Chardonnay, 2011. With aromas of citrus, butter, cream, peach, mineral, and biscuit, this wine pleases the palate with balanced acidity, medium body, and fresh citrus rounded off with creamy notes. The grapes are grown at exceptionally high elevations, handpicked, pressed full cluster and aged in French oak. Sixty percent of the wine under goes malolactic fermentation. This wine is an excellent choice to enjoy with a wide range of dishes, particularly seafood. We enjoyed it with oysters and lobster salad. It retails for about $20 a bottle.
Killka Malbec, 2010. Beautifully deep purple color, with a thick viscosity and long legs, the Killka Malbec delivers juicy aromas of dried black cherry candy and plum along with perfume, spice, and vanilla. On the palate it was rich and chewy with black fruit, coffee, a long finish, and excellent concentration. It also possesses an elegant and soft texture with medium tannins. This one is aged four to five months in oak, and is a bargain at about $15 a bottle.
Salentein Reserve Malbec, 2010. This deep-purple wine offered a “big nose” of oak and developed aromas that included leather and tobacco. Aged in French oak for 12 months, this wine offers up a complex mix of rich, deep black fruit, coffee, and spice. It’s more powerful than Killka and is best enjoyed with food, particularly robust fare that meet its intensity. It pairs beautifully with complex dishes, such as the veal breast with chestnuts and huckleberry jam that we enjoyed at the tasting. It retails for about $20 a bottle.
Salentein Numina, 2002. With aromas of deep black fruit and leather this blend of Malbec (61%), Cabernet Sauvignon (21%), Merlot (3%), and Cabernet Franc (3%) is as good as any world-class Bordeaux wine. With the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown on 50 year-old vines, this concentrated drink offers, black fruit, vanilla, and coffee flavors all balanced with good acidity. Like the reserve, this wine should be enjoyed with a hearty meal. It retails for about $41 a bottle.
Salentein Primum Malbec, 2010. Still relatively young, this wine delivers a big “wow” factor with a complex, soft silky texture and acidity that helps showcase intense flavors of plum, black fruit, and spice. Aged 18 months in French oak and produced from vineyards at several different elevations, this wine is superbly elegant. Salentein is bringing it to the U.S. market soon. It retails for about $61 a bottle.
For additional perspective check out the post at the International Wine Review.