El Porvenir de Cafayate is a 40-year-old estate located high in the Andean foothills of the Cafayate Valley in the province of Salta, about 520 miles north of the city of Mendoza, in northwest Argentina. Owned by the Romero family, El Porvenir is run by Lucia Romero-Marcuzzi (seen in this image), with winemaker Mariano Quiroga Adamo and consultant Paul Hobbs from California, concentrating on torrontés and tannat grapes but making wine from many other varieties as well. How high? These are some of the highest elevation vineyards in the world, ranging from 5,413 to 5,577 feet above sea-level. The semi-desert climate is very dry, with warm days and cold nights, and the poor soil demands of grapes that they send roots far down in search of water and nutrients. The vineyards at El Porvenir de Cafayate are farmed using sustainable methods, including no pesticides and spare deployment of herbicides. I thought that generally these were well-made and stylish wines that exhibited gratifying character — with one exception, the oak-fermented Laborum Single Vineyard Torrontés 2013. I’ll speak more about this wine when its turn comes.
Paul Hobbs Imports, Sebastopol, Calif. Samples for review.
The color of El Porvenir de Cafayate Amauta Absoluto Torrontés 2012, Cafayate, Salta, is a tranquil very pale gold; enticing aromas of jasmine and camellia, lime and grapefruit are tinged with notes of lemon balm and bees-wax. The wine is made in stainless steel tanks and undergoes malolactic fermentation, the chemical transformation of sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid into smooth lactic (“milk-like”) acid. The result is not lush or creamy but a lovely silken texture that feels spun from gossamer clouds. Stone-fruit flavors are energized by hints of grapefruit rind and limestone minerality, while the finish brings in touches of melon and almond skin bitterness. 13.1 percent alcohol. Production was 850 cases. With its gentle floral nature, winsome balance between citrus and stone-fruit and its slight tension between sprightly acidity, on the one hand, and moderate richness, on the other, I think that this is as good as the torrontés grape gets and deserves to be. Excellent. About $16, a Rare Value.
I believe that wine from some grapes cannot be improved by putting it through an oak regimen; I started to write “by throwing oak at it,” but I’ll be more circumspect. Anyway, that process merely lays a burden of wood on the wine that interferes with its inherent nature. One such grape is torrontés, a grape and a wine whose essential delicacy and lovely simplicity can be marred by the oak experience. El Porvenir Laborum Single Vineyard Torrontés 2013, Cafayate, Salta, fermented in new French oak barrels and aged in barrels for six months. The color is pale straw-gold; the nose offers touches of green apple, lime peel, melon and jasmine and a background of woody/woodsy/spicy notes; a distracting hint of vanilla seems like nothing that should ever happen to torrontés (or any wine). The oak lends the wine a seductive supple texture that permeates slightly roasted and honeyed lemon and peach flavors. Overall, you feel the oak as a superfluous drag on the wine, a dimension that detracts from its typical delightful character. Is this example a “better” torrontés than one made without oak? I don’t think so. 13.2 percent alcohol. Production was 540 cases. Very Good. About $22.
Now we turn to the reds.
First, El Porvenir Amauta Corte 1 — Inspiration 2013, Cafayate, Salta, a blend of 60 percent malbec grapes, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent syrah. The grapes fermented in stainless steel, and the wine aged eight months in second-use French and American oak barrels, meaning that the wine was not exposed to new wood. The color is intense ruby-purple; intense, also, are the aromas of ripe and spicy black currants, black cherries and plums permeated by notes of tar, espresso, bitter chocolate and graphite. Intense, again, are the succulent black and red fruit flavors that reveal hints of black tea, fruitcake and violets over a tide of moderately plush, dusty tannins. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,250 cases. Man up to grilled pork chops with a coffee rub or braised veal shanks with this bottle, now through 2017 to ’19. Very Good+. About $23.
El Porvenir Amauta Absoluto Tannat 2014, Cafayate, Salta, is the estate’s entry-level tannat offering, and it’s worth the price for pairing with burgers and chorizo quesadillas, hearty pasta dishes and sausage pizza or goat empanadas. The color is dark ruby with a purple rim; aromas of black and blue fruit meld with notes of fruitcake and tapenade, mint and coffee and leather and a whiff of potpourri. The wine is dense and chewy, enlivened by bright acidity and given some bearing by dusty tannins, all deftly melded into a sleek package. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,667 cases. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
A wine like El Porvenir Laborum Tannat 2013, Cafayate, Salta, could convince me that tannat is the red grape that Argentine growers should be cultivating, rather than malbec. The color is dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; boy, it’s one ripe, fleshy, meaty wine, packed with notes of rich black currant, blueberry and black cherry fruit loaded with tar, leather, violets and roasted coffee beans. The wine spent 12 months in new French oak barrels and absorbed that wood pretty handily, in the form of a firm and lithe structure, but there’s also real tannic grip on the palate, freighted with dusty graphite and an iodine and iron finish. The intense. minty and deeply spicy black fruit flavors shine through, but this could still use a year or two to unfurl a bit. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 540 cases. Excellent. About $34.