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Insight Into Argentina with Luigi Bosca

It’s not often you get to sit down for lunch on a gorgeous Fall Tuesday with a fourth generation Argentinian wine producer to get a glimpse of one of the most spiritual terroirs in the world. The wines of Mendoza are tied to their Andean origin, from some of the highest elevations on the planet. These vines seem to touch the sky, existing in a different reality from the rest of the world.

As we settled in for lunch and the white 2021 Luigi Bosca De Sangre was poured, Alberto Arizu, Jr., CEO of Luigi Bosca, proclaimed, “This is my wine.” Each generation of the family is encouraged to showcase their own vision of the company when it’s time to take the helm, and he wanted to produce a white that was at once classic and accessible. I took a whiff and said, “Well, it’s not Torrontes…” referring to Argentina’s signature white variety, incredibly aromatic and immediately identifiable. Alberto laughed and said, “I bet you can’t guess what it is!” Alberto, you’re on. My nose went back in the glass.

Definitely Chardonnay in there, clean and firm, some barrel fermentation and creamy character, but there was also a zingy lift, and a weight that came from something else, but what? I guessed some Sauvignon Blanc (correct) but the third player eluded me. Alberto told me it was about 40% Chard, 30% Sauvignon… and the rest old-vine Semillon. Concentrated, elegant, but eminently sippable. ~$30

You might scratch your head at the mention of Semillon in Argentina, instead associating it more with Bordeaux, France and Hunter Valley, Australia — but there is a long history of this grape in the region, and in fact, fifty years ago, it was widely planted, almost eclipsing the reds. True, at the time, it was destined more for fruity, simple quaffers, and dropped out of favor as the world fell in love with the country’s Malbec. But some old vine material remains, and a handful of producers are championing the grape.

I thought it added a lovely bit of character in the white blend, and when I found out Bosca has a limited-edition Semillon Fumé (aged in oak) I was elated… only to be crushed that it’s not available in the U.S. Drat. Thinking of buying a plane ticket to Argentina so I can chase that unicorn.

Alberto and I had a lively conversation over the wine, discussing climate change, sustainability efforts, and related adjustments in the vineyard and winery. Water is always an issue in Mendoza, so they are working hard to fine-tune irrigation by small vineyard parcels, in an effort to reduce water use 40% by 2025. They are also mitigating emissions of carbon dioxide, and even reducing the weight of their glass bottles by 40% in some cases. I picked up one of the reds on the table, and said, “Really?” as my bicep popped. Alberto grinned, “It’s still a little heavy, just not as heavy!”

We moved on to the 2021 Luigi Bosca De Sangre Malbec, one of the first wines certified with the region of origin when that was founded in the 1980s… by Alberto’s father, Alberto Sr. Alberto proudly proclaimed, “This is vintage number 30 in the history of the DOC!”

It was very aromatic, teeming with purple floral perfume, alongside complex notes of chocolate, blackberry, Asian spices, and lush dark raspberry and mulberry fruit. Velvety, concentrated, with quite a long length, it was well-balanced with a mid-weight feel in spite of the warm 14.5% alcohol – which was beautifully integrated. I thought the quality was outrageously good, especially for a fairly affordable ~$30 wine.

It is impossible to talk about Argentina without talking about Malbec. The grape came from the South of France to South America with settlers and missionaries hundreds of years ago. But it now dominates Argentina, and many who love Malbec have even forgotten its French origins. Alberto explains the winning correlation as, “Malbec chose Argentina because of altitude.” The high mountainous elevation of the vineyards extends the grape’s growing period, so there is a longer, slower ripening. These unique conditions help contribute complexity, balance, and a keen individuality to the wine, begging the question, why would you even try to grow it anywhere else? (I'm sure many producers from Cahors to California would have an answer, but that's another conversation.)

I asked Alberto to address the range of Argentine Malbecs on the shelf – how do you explain the inexpensive, plush sippers and the concentrated, elegantly bold, complex, and intense versions in the same breath? He said, almost reverently, “Malbec is a wine of a thousand faces. It’s a perfect wine for an overwhelmed market.” It delivers personality and character at every level; a less-experienced consumer appreciates its deep color, crowd-pleasing, fruit-driven nature, and a more educated consumer can enjoy the structure, complexity, agability, and nuances from the different appellations of origin.

Speaking of that (as study is never far from my thoughts,) I asked Alberto to describe the differences of two main locales, in case I needed to argue origin during an exam. He described Malbecs from Lujan de Cuyo as exotic, showcasing spice notes. He feels those from Uco Valley present more blue flowers and blue fruit. Noted, thank you!

As the meal progressed, Alberto poured the 2020 Paraiso, named for the family estate (shown above,) a blend of two-thirds Uco Valley Malbec with one-third Cabernet Sauvignon from his coolest parcels. “Cabernet Sauvignon… is a challenge,” Alberto said, referencing its late budding and ripening window. This wine had a very pronounced aroma (my notes say, “OOF nose!”) of intense mocha, lavender pastille, and plush dense dark red cherries and blueberries (there's that Uco blue fruit!) Incredibly gorgeous and hedonistic, yet still somehow approachable. ~$150. This vintage of Paraiso is not just a great wine, it is a particular example of how wine can be a combination of art, science, and factors beyond human control...

In the Southern Hemisphere, harvest is usually around March and April. And we all know what was happening in March of 2020. Concerns about the pandemic pushed Luigi Bosca to their earliest harvest ever, and as the 5 weeks after harvest are the most critical in winemaking, they had their team isolate during lockdown inside the winery. They created a hotel there, with 35 volunteers, three winemakers, and a psychologist on demand by phone. The team was able to work around the clock, stay healthy, and salvage the vintage. Not only was the wine delicious, but Alberto finds it “A very emotional wine. It is purely the result of commitment and love for Luigi Bosca.”

Winemaker Pablo Cuneo, Alberto Arizu Sr., Alberto Arizu Jr.

We returned to the topic of Cabernet – if Malbec is the key to Mendoza, why bother with Cab? I tried to ask diplomatically if growing Cab was a marketing thing, as Cabernet is globally popular and commands a hefty share of sales. Alberto gave a more nuanced response, using the Paraiso as one example, saying Cabernet’s structure fully supports Malbec’s fruit in a blend. And he said, when you do find the perfect spot to plant Cabernet in Argentina, you get the perfect ripeness. He continues to search for and develop Cab vineyards at the precise elevation and aspect so they can flourish.

This is evidenced by the Luigi Bosca Sangre, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon first made in collaboration with “Mr. Cabernet,” Robert Mann, a consulting winemaker who has worked with Newton in CA and Cape Mentelle in Australia, among others. Alberto told me that very vintage has been a learning experience, and they are growing their expertise exponentially. With the new 2022 vintage of Sangre, Alberto says their ambition is to compete with the best Cabernets of Napa. (As we continued along this thread, he shook his head with regret that he hadn’t thought to bring along a Sangre to prove his point! Another reason for me to book that flight.)

As lunch wound down (and we chatted with the winemaker at the next table, the fabulous Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughters on Long Island,) my admiration for the wines of Luigi Bosca continued to grow. They make some outstanding very high-end bottlings, of course, but the value at the lower price points is incredible. And it was fascinating to chat with such a passionate and committed producer as Alberto, who is not looking only towards the future of Luigi Bosca, but to the future of Argentina as a whole.

I feel like there’s a sweet spot with Argentine Malbecs right now – they’re recognizable, not too esoteric, and consumers understand that there are delicious wines at every price point. But the category also feels primed to leap forward and attract even more attention, which may cause prices to rise. Yet, the diversity of Argentina is coming into view, with so many varieties and styles poised to break out onto the global stage. If you have any doubt, grab some Luigi Bosca wines, and see for yourself.


Top photo: Annie Edgerton. Other photos: Luigi Bosca

Originally published 10/23/23 on old website.

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