A couple of weeks back I sat down with Santiago Achaval, the founder and winemaker for Achaval–Ferrer. We tasted through his current single-vineyard malbecs as well as older vintages of Finca Altamira, his signature malbec. Separate from that, I also recently sampled a couple of his more widely available wines. Santiago is doing some terrific things with malbec specifically and also other varieties as well. Here’s a look at some of my favorites from the Achaval–Ferrer portfolio.
Achaval–Ferrer 2013 Malbec — Suggested Retail Price $25
The fruit for this wine was sourced from three vineyards in different sub-appellations of Mendoza. It’s composed entirely of malbec. Fermentation took place in cement tanks with native yeast. Barrel aging took place in French oak with two years on it. 17,000 cases were produced. Leather, plum spice, and violets jump from the boisterous nose of this malbec. Red and black plum favors dominate the juicy and layered palate. Black tea and lingering spices mark the lengthy finish. This malbec is loaded with bold fruit flavors that wow your senses while still maintaining proportion. It’s a widely available wine that is several steps above many others in the category.
Achaval–Ferrer 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon — Suggested Retail Price $25
The fruit was sourced in two sub-appellations of Mendoza. It’s 100-percent cabernet sauvignon. Fermentation and aging was identical to the malbec. 2,500 cases were produced. Red and black raspberry aromas dot the nose of this cabernet. The palate is loaded with a trove of both red and black fruits as well as hints of tobacco leaf. Sour raspberry and red cherry flavors, dark chocolate, leather, minerals, and spice all emerge on the finish. This terrific example of cabernet sauvignon has medium tannins and firm, racy acidity. It provides pleasurable drinking and tons of genuine varietal character. It’ll drink well over the next five years.
Achaval–Ferrer 2012 Finca Bella Vista Malbec — Suggested Retail Price $140
All of the fruit comes from a single vineyard which was planted in 1908 and sits at an elevation of 3,200 feet. It’s 100-percent malbec. Fermentation with native yeast took place in cement tanks. Barrel aging occurred over 15 months in new French oak. Just fewer than 1,900 cases were produced. Savory herb and purple fruit aromas are strong. Dark fruit flavors such as blueberry, blackberry and plum are in evidence on the palate along with additional reminders of thyme and sage. Clove, earth, and wisps of black tea all appear on the long, elegant finish. This malbec is delicious now but will benefit from additional time in the bottle. It’s better than most malbecs in any price category.
Achaval–Ferrer 2012 Finca Altamira Malbec — Suggested Retail Price $140
The single vineyard the fruit for this wine comes from sits at an altitude of 3,444 feet. It was planted in 1925. This wine is entirely malbec. Fermentation took place in cement tanks with native yeasts followed by 15 months of barrel aging in entirely new French oak. 619 cases were produced. Cigar box, leather, and black fruit aromas appear on the nose which is a touch more reticent than that of the Bella Vista. The palate belies the nose as the flavors are fuller, bolder, and a touch juicier than those of the Bella Vista. Blackberry, raspberry, and spices galore are all present. The finish is impressively long, lush, and deep with fruit and spice note reverberating memorably. Soft, velvety tannins and firm acidity lend to the excellent structure of this wine. It’s quite drinkable now but it will continue to improve for a decade and drink well for at least five years after that. This is as fine an example of malbec as you’re going to taste.
In addition to the current vintage of Finca Altamira, I sampled three older vintages, going as far back as the 2000. Taken as a piece the older wines were a fascinating look at the age-worthiness of malbecs made from that property. There is a connective tissue running through them, which of course comes from the fact that these are site-driven wines. The vintage variation, as well as age of each, also played a role. The bottom line is that the wines of Achaval–Ferrer, especially the vineyard-specific examples, are well made, age-worthy offerings, some of the very best that Argentina has to offer. If you’re looking for top-shelf malbec, the single vineyard wines are beyond reproach. However, if you’re looking for something more suited for everyday consumption, the cuvée-style malbec and cabernet sauvignon are a great place to jump in and acquaint yourself with Santiago’s wonderful offerings.