2003 Adagio “Premium” Malbec, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

Every time Spring rolls around, I find myself thinking wistfully of Argentina. I spent a wonderful three weeks there a few years ago just after the harvest eating, drinking, and generally appreciating everything about the country. Now, especially as our family budget gets tighter, I reminisce about amazing dinners for $25 and great bottles of wine for $15.

So I dug through my notes a little just for nostalgia’s sake and found a really nice wine that I discovered while I was there, but didn’t end up writing about for some reason. I had asked the sommelier at Cabaña Las Lilas to recommend a Malbec that I likely couldn’t find easily in the United States, and ended up with this gem from Adagio.

Sure enough, when I got home, I searched far and wide to find it, and couldn’t, at least not on the Internet. Which may be why it took me so long to review this wine. I hope you’ll forgive me for waxing enthusiastic about it in the absence of my ability to provide you with an easy way to get a bottle.

A joint project between four entreprenurial friends, Adagio is located in Mendoza’s Lujan de Cuyo appellation or “department” as it is locally known. Of the 17 different departments in the province of Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo has the distinction of being the only DOC designated growing area (and one of only three in the entire country). Located in a region known as the Northern Oasis, an odd name considering the region is technically a desert, this appellation sits in the foothills of the Andes where it receives very little rainfall and extremely large differences between day and night temperatures, two key characteristics that make for excellent growing conditions. Most vineyards lie in a relatively wide band between 1500 and 4000 feet in altitude.

There seem to be two primary stylistic directions for higher-end Malbecs made in Mendoza: those which lean towards the earth, and those which lean towards the fruit. The former have a leatheriness to them, and more tannic structure, while the latter are rounder and more polished, with more characteristics of California Cabernet, including sweet oak tannins. Adagio’s wines are in the former camp.

This wine sits at the top of Adagio’s portfolio of wines, and represents their best efforts every year. The grapes for the wine are hand picked into small boxes, which are then sorted carefully when they reach the winery. With the boxes containing lower quality grapes relegated to other wines, the clusters are then destemmed and the grapes sorted individually to remove anything but the most perfect fruit.

About half of the grapes are crushed, and the rest are poured into the fermentation tank whole, where they all soak together for several days at low temperature before fermentation is allowed to begin. After fermentation, the wine ages in new French oak for about 14 months before bottling, and then for another 12 months in bottle before release.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is a dark garnet in the glass with a slight cloudy opacity that hints at the lack of filtering or fining. The nose has subtle, restrained aromas of dark wet earth, dust, and a graphite-like minerality. As it sits for an hour or so, the nose begins to show more cassis aromas, which, along with earthy black cherry flavors make up the fruit flavors on the palate. The more air the wine gets, the more the cassis begins to show. In the mouth, the wine is smooth and round with very well integrated tannins. A hint of leather enters the finish, which is long and with singleminded intensity similar to the wine’s flavors. This focus is both to the benefit and detriment of the wine, which has a very distinct personality, but is missing a certain depth of complexity that would take it from being an excellent wine and push it into the realm of stellar. Having said as much, this is one of the best Malbecs I have tried. Based on the wine’s performance over the course of a day or so, I’d suggest this wine will improve with 5 or so years in the bottle.

Food Pairing:
I’ll save you the trouble of ever asking an Argentine what to eat with your bottle of Malbec. There is only one answer, with many variations. I chose a rib-eye, grilled to perfection, accompanied by fried potatoes.

Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5

How Much?: $30

This wine is sadly not available for purchase on the Internet.