The well-known Argentinean wine producer Pascual Toso has been a favorite of U.S. consumers for many years. For me, they have meant a line of good value varietal wines at a price (mostly under $10) that made them a ready everyday choice — not to mention the fact that their gaudy orange labels made them easy to find on the shelf.
Recently, I came to see a whole new dimension of Pascual Toso when its global export director, Julián Orti, gave me a tasting of the whole product line. My main takeaway was that the orange-label wines are just the beguiling entrance into a range that stretches up to single-vineyard offerings with breed and aging potential.
Pascual Toso founded his eponymous winery in 1890 in the Mendoza region of Argentina. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he expanded it with the purchase of 988 acres in Maipú, a subregion of Mendoza. He named that estate Las Barrancas, and to this day it remains a source of single-vineyard wines for the Pascual Toso portfolio. More plantings and more estate-grown wines followed later in the century. Costly-to-produce premium wines have been rewarded with sales in export (particularly the U.S. and UK) markets. The winery goes forward now with a full line of wines and a new American importer.
Nowadays, the winery shows its awareness of modern trends in at least two important respects. First, the noted California winemaker Paul Hobbs (who has his own Viña Cobos winery in Mendoza) was appointed as a consultant. This brings an outside perspective to the blending. Second, the winery has moved beyond pure malbec, a grape with which Argentina rules supreme, to blends that incorporate other Bordeaux varieties with the malbec. Cabernet sauvignon is the obvious viticultural and commercial choice, and it features prominently in the Pascual Toso lineup. I think that the complexity and wealth of expression of this blend will be the harbinger of the next stage of international recognition for Argentina.
We tasted through the range, starting with the inexpensive estate bottles and going upward. Here are some highlights.
2015 Estate Malbec ($10). A category-leading expression of Argentina’s flagship grape, this wine is appealingly aromatic with dark blackberry fruit; intensely fruity in the mouth; and smooth with its velvety-soft tannins. Wines of this quality at this price make it easy to understand why a generation of wine-drinkers recognize Argentinean malbec, rather than its traditional French form from Cahors, as the ultimate expression of the grape.
2014 Barrancas ($20). A single-vineyard blend of 60 percent malbec and 40 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged in American oak for eight months. This wine exhibits not just the forward fruit typical of its two grapes when grown in Argentina but also notes of wood.
2014 Malbec Reserva ($25). This 100-percent malbec, with fruit sourced from the Las Barrancas vineyard, is representative of the best wines made from the grape in Argentina. A long, cold maceration takes place over 15 to 20 days in stainless steel to extract as much color, fruit, and tannin as possible. The wine is then aged in new oak (20 percent French, 80 percent American) for 12 months, then for a further six months in bottle. The result is a powerful, extracted wine that can be drunk now (preferably with some tannin-busting red meat) but would be better cellared for 10 or more years.
2013 Alta Cabernet Sauvignon ($50). Pascual Toso's Alta line represents premium, estate-grown wines selected from the oldest plots of vines. Currently, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, and syrah are produced. For the cabernet, the juice is given a 15- to 20-day cold soak for maximum extraction prior to fermentation. The wine is aged for 14 months in new French oak barrels followed by eight months in bottle. A gentle filtering is performed prior to bottling. The result is a wine with a complex nose, a persistent mouthfeel, and long aging potential. This is the kind of wine you could put into any horizontal tasting of top New World cabernet and expect to make a good showing.
2014 Alta Syrah ($50). Similar sourcing and treatment as with the cabernet sauvignon above. It has a deep red color, earthy and meaty notes, and is huge in the mouth with firm tannins that imply long aging potential. This wine is further evidence that syrah, worldwide, is getting better and better even as consumers shun it for cabernet and pinot noir. Shame. They are missing a quiet revolution.
2014 Finca Pedregal ($74). Nothing seems to have been spared to make this 62-percent cabernet sauvignon/38-percent malbec blend as intense and complex as possible. French and American oak is used for 18 months of barrel-aging, followed by a year in bottle. This would be best aged for another decade or more before drinking.
2013 Magdalena ($130). This is sort of the opposite of the Pedregal, made from 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 80 percent malbec, the latter drawn from Paul Hobbs' selection of the winery's 23 best malbec barrels. The fruit is ripe and powerful ,and the mouth-feel exhibits firm but not dry tannins. The finish is long and harmonious. Like the Pedregal, this one would be best aged for a decade or more.
All in all, the Pascual Toso range offers something for every pocketbook to lovers of full-bodied red wines the world over. Little wonder I envy Orti his job, selling such an eminently saleable product.