Sat 28 Nov 2009
The numbers bruited on the website for Andeluna Cellars do not inspire confidence. Almost every page tells us that the winery in Argentina’s Mendoza Valley encompasses 48,000 square feet and that it harbors a 1 million-liter tank capacity, 720,000-bottle storage capacity and room for 1,200 aging barrels. This sort of statistical braggadocio seems so transparently American, as if the numbers and size so frequently mentioned would alone guarantee quality: “My factory is bigger than your factory, so I make better thingamabobs than you do.”
Fortunately, Andeluna, owned by H. Ward Lay, son of Frito-Lay founder Herman W. Lay, turns out well-made wines that are not only attractive in several ways but represent good value. In fact, the basic level wines, selling for about $10, are phenomenal bargains. Winemaker for Andeluna is Silvio Alberto.
Consultant for Andeluna is the ubiquitous traveling enologist Michel Rolland, owner of Le Bon Pasteur and other estates in Bordeaux and an advocate of new oak and ripe, fruit-forward red wines. Surprisingly, the Bordeaux-styled red wines of Andeluna, based primarily on cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec, are more restrained than the products of many of the estates for whom Rolland consults. The basic level of wines ages seven months in a combination of French and American oak barrels; the Reserve wines age 12 months in 80 percent French and 20 percent American oak. The flagship red-grape blend, Pasionado, aged 18 months in new French oak.
I suppose that everyone has noticed that author Salman Rushdie looks like Michel Rolland in disguise. I mean, take away some of Rolland’s hair, add eye-glasses with black frames and a scruffy beard, et voila! Separated At Birth.
Made in stainless steel, the Andeluna Torrontes 2008, Mendoza, presents a medium straw-gold color, a little more emphatic than most pale versions of the grape. Scents of waxy white flowers and lanolin are woven with pear and peach and a hint of spice. The texture is lovely, sensuous and almost lush but cut by startling acidity. Elements of chalk and limestone lend austerity that increases through the finish to end on a note of astringency that approaches harshness. This torrontes offers its pleasures but feels ultimately unbalanced. Good+ About $10
No such quibbles attend the rest of these wines, however much they may vary in particularity.
The Andeluna Merlot 2007, Tupungato, Mendoza, displays a radiant deep purple color and an intense pungency of black cherry, plums, smoke, dusty minerals, cassis and black pepper. Layers of shale and granite underlie spicy oak, grainy chewy tannins and the vivid thread of a vibrant acid backbone; the wine is deep and full-bodied, and while the emphasis is on structure, black fruit flavors with a tinge of red circulate in the depths. There’s 15 percent malbec in the blend. The alcohol level is 14.8 percent. Definitely try with lamb or veal chops. Very Good+. About $10, marking Good Value.
The Andeluna Malbec 2007, Tupungato, Mendoza, includes 11 percent cabernet sauvignon and 4 percent merlot. There’s a “lift” of sweet black fruit that smells slightly macerated, roasted and smoky. The wine is smooth, sleek and appealing, a little softer than its merlot cousin, though it certainly displays plenty of oak and tannic authority. After a few minutes in the glass, it feels freighted with plums and fraught with spice, while a sense of dusty minerality dominates the finish. The alcohol content is 13.9 percent. Very Good+. About $10, Good Value.
Spiced cherry, with classic hints of cedar, tobacco, bell pepper and black olives characterize the nose of the Andeluna Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Tupungato, Mendoza, factors that take on touches of briers and brambles and underbrush. Intense and concentrated flavors of black cherry and black raspberry are borne by a dry, earthy, gravelly nature supplemented by polished, spicy oak and dense, chewy tannins. The wine contains 8 percent merlot and 7 percent malbec; the alcohol level is 14.2 percent. Terrific personality for the price and a natural with steak and pork chops. Excellent. About $10, Great Value.
Now for the reserve red wines.
The Andeluna Reserve Merlot 2005, Tupungato, Mendoza, is warm and spicy, fleshy and meaty, with a tinge of tobacco leaf over shale-like minerals. This is a sturdy wine, yet supple and shapely and with impressive presence. Cassis and black raspberry flavors are permeated by lavender, licorice and potpourri, though the dominant influence is spicy, almost peppery wood. The alcohol content is 14.3 percent. Very attractive and good for grilled meat and roasts. Very Good+. About $20.
The Andeluna Reserve Malbec 2005, Mendoza, with 5 percent cabernet sauvignon, is similar to the merlot but a little spicier and a little more exotic, with wild berry, blueberry and mulberry scents and flavors and a hint of Asian spices, as well as the typical cassis and black cherry flavors. There are also touches of fruitcake and bitter chocolate in the depths, which circulate around grainy, chewy tannins and granite-like minerals touched with a piercing sense of iodine purity. Drink through 2014 to ’16, especially with barbecue or smoked duck. The alcohol level is 13.7 percent. Excellent. About $20, Great Value.
The most reticent of this trio of reserve wines is the Andeluna Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Tupungato, Mendoza. This is solid, almost block-like, as well as dusty, earthy and minerally, large-framed, very spicy, mouth-filling, packed with briers and brambles and filled with oak and tannin, of which one feels more here than with the Reserve Merlot ’05 and the Reserve Malbec ’05. Best from 2011 to 2015 or ’16. Until then, Very Good+. About $20.
Composed of cabernet sauvignon (35%), merlot (35%), malbec (20%) and cabernet franc (10%), the Andeluna Grand Reserve Pasionado 2004, Mendoza, is as good a rendition of the Medoc style as any wine coming out of Argentina. This exhibits classic traits of cedar and tobacco, bell pepper and black olive, with a hint of celery seed, all these nuances blended with cassis, black cherry, dried spice and flowers. This is a wine of immense gravity and dimension, yet despite its size, it conveys a sense of delicacy and decorum, of fine detail that does not suffer from the larger sense of structure. In fact, the balance among fruit, acid, wood and tannin in the Pasionada ’04 is exquisite. Don’t think, however, that I’m described anything winsome or wimpy; this is, actually, a tremendously dark, resonant, monumental red wine. The alcohol level is 14.1 percent. Drink through 2015 to ’17 with roasted meat and game or hearty stews. Excellent. About $50.
The Andeluna wines are imported by San Francisco Wine Exchange, San Francisco, Cal.
These wines were submitted to me as samples for review. No additional seductions or blandishments accompanied them.