Should you be lucky enough to visit the spectacular Mendoza region of Argentina, it won’t take you long to encounter a Frenchman from Bordeaux. Legendary consultant Michel Rolland has made this place his second home, attracting many of his contemporaries to join him in the Clos de los Siete project, while other big-name Bordelais have taken their talents and investment capital to the foothills of the Andes—including Château Cheval-Blanc (Cheval des Andes) and Domaines Baron de Rothschild-Lafite (Bodegas Caro). And yet, for all the impressive, Bordeaux-inspired wine to be had from Mendoza, this humbly priced Cabernet Sauvignon from Sicilian-born Carmelo Patti displays more Old World Bordeaux character than perhaps anything I’ve tasted from the region.
Although Patti is widely respected in Mendoza and a cult favorite of Argentine wine aficionados, he keeps a relatively low profile: He has just one employee and has kept his operation small and resolutely traditional, crafting soulful, soil-driven reds. The elegance and aromatic intrigue of this Cabernet had us all swooning (and has hardly gone unnoticed by the critics, especially Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate), prompting comparisons to classic wines from Left Bank Bordeaux regions like Saint-Julien—not to mention some of the great Napa Cabernets (Heitz; Stag’s Leap) of a generation ago. It’s a New World wine with an Old World soul, and as with all of his wines, Patti held it back in his cellar until he deemed it ready to release. If you weren’t familiar with this iconic artisan before, don’t miss the opportunity to experience his work now. It’s a game-changer.
The Luján de Cuyo subzone, south of the town of Mendoza, is where Patti’s small-scale operation is headquartered, alongside a who’s-who of destination wine properties. His vineyards and small, rustic winery are in Perdriel, one of the most desirable villages within the Luján de Cuyo appellation. Vineyards sit at elevations averaging 1,000 meters and up, at the edge of the Andes Mountains, which provide a “rain shadow” effect, not unlike the one the Vosges Mountains create in Alsace—but the similarities pretty much end there. Luján de Cuyo is effectively a dry, high-desert climate, with dramatic day-night temperature swings and soils of sand, gravel, and smatterings of limestone (not unlike those of Bordeaux). Cooling nighttime breezes from the Andes help slow ripening and extend the growing season, and while powerful, ink-dark Malbec is the signature product of the region, you mustn’t sleep on Cabernet Sauvignon from here—especially not this one. It’s a truly revelatory Argentine wine, although it is hardly new to the scene.
Carmelo Patti was an important, if humble, fixture of the Mendoza wine scene long before the Rollands of the world arrived. He was just a year old when his family emigrated from Sicily to Argentina, and it could be argued that the Italians have had as much of an influence on Mendoza wine culture as the French. Nevertheless, Patti’s production centers on the “Bordeaux” varieties—Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec—crafted in a resolutely traditional, non-interventionist style: no chemicals, no added yeasts, and mostly used oak for aging. Today’s 2012 is effectively a ‘current-release’ wine for Patti, who is known for holding wines back in the cellar until he feels they are ready. This wine was fermented and aged in concrete vats for about a year, then transferred to mostly used oak for another year before bottling. Having now enjoyed additional, undisturbed bottle age, the wine has glided right into its prime drinking window, and it is absolutely singing.
Even the most seasoned tasters might mistake today’s 2012 for a classic Left Bank Bordeaux, or perhaps something from one of Napa’s more “old school” producers. The wine is wonderfully elegant, aromatic, and full of dusty, dark soil character—at once pretty and muscular. In the glass, it displays a medium garnet-red core moving to pink and brick orange at the rim, with a beautifully perfumed nose of black and red currant, cassis, red plum, bay leaf, cedar, a pleasing hint of green tobacco, and graphite. Medium-plus in body, with exquisitely fine-grained tannins and enlivening freshness, this will continue to evolve nicely over the next 5-10 years but is an absolute joy to drink now: Decant it 30 minutes before serving in Bordeaux stems at 60-65 degrees, to be paired with some Argentine-style beef slathered with a little chimichurri sauce. I’m compelled to say one last time what an absolute steal this wine is—once you’ve experienced this cult Argentine gem, I assure you you’ll be back for more. Cheers!
Luján de Cuyo
Mostly Used French
Sand, Gravel, Limestone