How Mountains Make Wine: Finca Decero

deceroOnce upon a time there was a remote patch of soil in the shadow of some mighty snow-capped mountains. The soil grew only scrub and rocks, and was teased all day long by the “remolinos,” little whirlwinds that kicked up the dusty soil.

A young man with Switzerland and Napa in his ancestry came over the snow-capped mountains and found the patch of soil. He must have been visited by a strong vision, because he decided to dig down into the soil and plant vines that he hoped would someday grow wonderful, rich, ripe red grapes…

So that’s enough of the fable format. Rather than wearing it way too thin, I’ll just jump right to 2011 and the Finca Decero estates in the once-remote Agrelo region of Mendoza, Argentina. It really was created “from scratch” (the meaning of Decero) and includes the Remolinos Vineyard, which is planted to several red grape varieties. This being Mendoza, Malbec is king, but Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot also get some space.

We know the soil can produce some wonderful reds: Finca Decero’s wines have received huge ratings ever since their inaugural vintages (the Malbec earned 92 points from the Wine Advocate, the highest score ever given a Malbec). So what’s so special about this land?

1 – The pink elephant in the room is the Andes Mountains, which loom huge and snow-covered to the west of the vineyards. They create a “rain shadow” on their leeward side, producing the arid conditions that grow good wine grapes.

2 – The vineyard also sits at 3500 feet elevation, so temperatures are moderate during the day and drop precipitously at night (which grape vines also love).

3 – Finally, the radiant heat from almost non-stop sunshine allows the fruit to ripen optimally and the phenolics to develop fully.

That’s the science behind the “terroir” that creates Decero wines. How about the art?

Meticulous, hands-on winemaking shows in the wines I tasted. The French oak adds a dimension but doesn’t dominate. The acid is in balance, and the structure guarantees good age-worthiness. But what about the smelling, sipping, and savoring?

We compared two Decero wines: the 2008 Remolinos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Remolinos Vineyard Malbec. The wines were blinded, so no one in our group knew which was which (I love tasting this way!) Here’s what we found:

A – The first red immediately got a “Yummy!” from the crowd. Another taster shouted, “Chocolate!” These are good words in our group. Further sipping and swirling revealed bright, juicy fruit, with warm spices and velvety tannins.

B – The second red showed tighter and sharper right off the bat. A lot more swirling showed violets and black cherry on the nose, and a palate with flavors of tart berries, smoke, and bracing acidity. This was clearly a wine that needs time to develop what I think will be luscious flavors.

The punch line to our blind tasting is that the Cabernet Sauvignon, which was after all one vintage older, was actually softer and more giving than the Malbec. The effects of age aside, it shows that this patch of dirt produces anything but tooty-fruity, easy-drinking Malbec. If you’re man (or woman) enough to try it, you’ll enjoy the experience.

Let me know what you think! Cheers…

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