Susana Balbo, a winemaker since 1981, is often considered the diva, even the Evita, of Argentine wine producers. Her brands include the eponymous Susana Balbo and BenMarco, priced less expensively, and the labels Crios and Bodini, made by her son Jose Lovaglio, often listed among bargains and great values. I tasted the range of these wines recently at a trade event in Memphis, though I have written about and reviewed the wines for several years. As usual, these Friday Wine Sips — whatever day they’re posted! — do not include the technical, historical or geographical data that I and other like-minded readers dote upon; no, the purpose here is quick and insightful (if not soulful) reviews designed to grab the essence of the wine and hand it to you in a few pithy words and images. These wines are imported by Vine Connection, Sausalito, Ca.
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Crios Rose of Malbec 2011, Mendoza. % alc. Lovely melon-mulberry color; strawberries, raspberries and red currants; snappy acidity and limestone minerality; undertones of dried herbs and briery earthiness. Tasty and charming. Drink into 2013. Very Good+. About $13.
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Crios Torrontes 2011, Salta. % alc. Very pale straw-gold color; very fresh, clean, crisp, jasmine and camellia floral elements; savory with roasted lemon and pear flavors, bracing with crisp acidity and a saline quality; texture neatly balanced between suppleness and leanness. Very attractive. Now into 2013. Very Good+. About $15.
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Bodini Chardonnay 2011, Mendoza. % alc. Pale gold color; quite clean and fresh, bright and spicy; pineapple and grapefruit, back-notes of ginger and quince, very dry but juicy and tasty, vibrant acidity and a scintillating limestone element. Appealing with its pinpoint balance and exhilaration. Now into Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $13, marking Great Value.
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Crios Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza. % alc. More subtle than the Bodini Chardonnay 2011, sleeker and more modulated; more intensity and concentration; moderately spicy pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors, slightly macerated; very dry, spare, lots of gravel and limestone in the depths, taut acidity. Now into Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $15.
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Bodini Malbec 2011, Mendoza. Dark ruby color; quite fruity and spicy, almost exotic; black and red currants, cherries and mulberries (with that mulberry tartness); touch of blueberry turnover; briers and brambles, moderately dense and dusty tannins. Tasty, drinkable and appealing personality. Now into Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $13, another Great Value.
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Crios Malbec 2010, Mendoza. % alc. Dark ruby color; pleasant, no great depth, pretty generic “red wine.” Good+. About $15.
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BenMarco Malbec 2010, Mendoza. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple color; big, gritty gutsy style, dense, smoky, velvety, intense and concentrated; black and red currants, blueberries; grainy tannins and burnished oak; ripe and slightly roasted and briery effects over graphite minerality. Bring on the rib-eye steak or the rack of lamb. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $19.
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Susana Balbo Malbec 2010, Mendoza. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-purple color; immediately strikes a serious stance; very intense and concentrated, with real depth and dimension; plenty of dusty, gritty tannin grip but plush and velvety with deep-dyed black and blue fruit and feeling evenly-milled even to the bottom of its dusty granitic minerality; actually a beautiful structure with a long finish and fine focus. Demands grilled red meat. Now to 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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Crios Syrah Bonarda 2008, Mendoza. 13.5% alc. A 50/50 blend. Medium ruby-purple color; first note: “wow, that’s good.” Red and black currants, black cherry and blackberry, very spicy, wild, exotic; smoky and tarry, bittersweet chocolate and graphite; dark and vibrant, quite dry. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $15.
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Crios Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza. 13.5% alc. A well-made and unpretentious wine, dark, robust, rustic, pretty intense and concentrated, but manageable tannins, macerated and fleshy black and blue fruit flavors. Now through 2014. Very Good. About $15.
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BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza. 14% alc. Big, dense, dusty, chewy; robust, concentrated, focused; very spicy and with wood all round the circumference; black and red berries, smoke, potpourri, graphite. Well-made but more correct than compelling. Now to 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $20.
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Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza. 14.5% alc. More about structure at this point, you feel the oak and tannin all the way through the finish; needs to age a few years into more delineation; but pulls up intriguing exotic touches of caramelized fennel, sandalwood, cedar and thyme, traces of bittersweet chocolate and lavender; try from 2013/14 to 2016/17. Maybe Excellent for potential. About $24.
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BenMarco Expresivo 2009, Mendoza. 14.5% alc. Malbec 50%, cabernet sauvignon 20%, syrah 15%, tannat 10%, petit verdot 5%. Built for size and power, not speed and grace; big, gritty and grainy tannins; lots of dusty graphite-like minerality, all mouth-coating and tongue wrapping; vibrant, velvety, very dry with a spicy but austere finish. Needs more of the advertised expressiveness. Try through 2015 to ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
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Susana Balbo Brioso 2007, Mendoza. 14% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 60%, malbec 15%, merlot 10%, cabernet franc 10%, petit verdot 5%. Has all the trappings of an ambitious flagship wine except the lively, dashing aspects implied by the name; very large in scope and depth, those dimensions packed with oak and tannin, though the wine does not feel woody or over-oaked, just fairly daunting at five years old. Give it five more years. Very Good+ for now. About $43.
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Susana Balbo Late Harvest Torrontes 2010, Mendoza. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; very pretty, delicate; jasmine and honeysuckle, peach and pear; light, ephemeral, quite delicious peach and apricot flavors, slightly honeyed, cloves and ginger in the background; soft, graceful texture, a little flinty with acidity; dry from mid-palate through the finish. Delightful. Through 2013 or ’14. Very Good+. About $25. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Susana Balbo Late Harvest Malbec 2008, Mendoza. 13.5% alcohol. Dark ruby with purple/violet rim; chocolate-covered raisins, spiced and macerated black currants and raspberries, hint of fruitcake; really off-dry and then the acidity and mineral qualities tame the sweetness. They’re very different wines, of course, but given my druthers I would take the Late Harvest Torrontes. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $25.
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