This edition of sipping while we SiP (shelter-in-place) due to the Covid pandemic has us enjoying highly-regarded and highly-priced selections from Bolgheri’s Argentiera. While named after the silver mines that once dotted their home turf in Maremma, this Tuscan producer is pretty much all gold-standard, with 95+ point scores from the conventional critics is being kind of the norm for their reds.
During said virtual tasting, we were joined by three of Argentiera’s staff: Sales & Marketing Director Massimo Basile, Winemaker Nicolò Carrara, and General Manager/COO Leonardo Raspini (who is a dead ringer for an Untouchables-era Sean Connery, by the way). Basile emphasized the relative youth of Bolgheri as a formal winemaking region: “It was given for the first time to a style of wine, using international varietals [sic] in a unique Mediterranean climate. It was not an area known for big reds. The first DOC given here was for rosé wine – the area was known for a light rosé wine. Argentiera arrived here in the late `90s.”
Bolgheri, of course, has made up for its late start in premium reds with a relatively rapid ascent to cult-like heights. Form Argentiera, their success comes down to their four different vineyard sources, each with slightly different proximites to the sea, according to Raspini. “Argentiera is the selection from different soils, from different little plots.” he noted, calling their vineyards’ soil variation “our richness. This richness is the base for Argentiera wines. It’s a little nightmare for our oenologist [in terms of vinification of separate plots, etc.].” With their vines now hitting an average of 20 years of age, “this moment is the right moment to produce, year by year, very important wines.”
Winemaker Carrara joined in 2009, and endured good-natured ribbing about being the youngster in both age and tenure in the Argentiera group. “Argentiera has this mirror effect from sea breezes, combined with typical soil for the coast, characterized by sandy soil,” he added. “All this richness that we have in our property let us make a wine with a certain ‘soul’. We like to reinforce the development of each terroir that we have in our fields” by matching plantings, pruning, etc. to each soil type. “We feel very lucky in Argentiera. We don’t want to do extra work. We try to be gentle as possible. We want to be precise in the vineyard [and] in the cellar.”
The soils from this source vineyard for this Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend are older, and rich in clay. “In May we suffered some disease in the vineyards,” Nicolò Carrara recalled. “In the beginning I felt scared. But we had a very beautiful Summer.” The fruits are quite dark here, with some prune, black cherry, and black plums. There’s earth and funk, deep red plum, and enticing spices and dried rose petal notes on the nose. As good as al of that is, the mouthfeel is the main event – superb and elegant, there’s energy, breadth, depth, leathery grip, structure, and minerality, all stately and austere and just pitch-perfect. Despite the austerity in its personality, it’s all presented in a delicious, drinkable package that finishes incredibly long. It’s already showing a gorgeous sense of harmony, while still feeling young and full of life. Just stellar.
For Carrara, “2019 represents for us the best vintage of Argentiera. Every plot didn’t suffer anything – any stress, any diseases, whatever. The weather was normal, I have to say, with an unusual cold May.” Another Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend, with a small amount of Petit Verdot as well, this has a classic Bordeaux blend nose (dried violets, cassis, black plums, and dried herbs). But it adds that Tuscan dustiness, too, with a wonderful sense of salinity. The palate shows depth and power and suppleness on entry, then transforms to a more vivacious, structured, and dark-fruited little wonder. Leather and dark spice notes, cigar, pencil lead, and more dried herbs abound. This is quite serious, and shows impressive aging potential for the price point. It is really showing off the vintage in a fabulous way, and is over-achieving even at this price-point; I would have pegged it for a $90+ Bolgheri if tasted blind.
Carrara described 2016 as “a tough vintage, but the quality of the soil helped us to maintain a good balance of vigor to achieve a very high quality of ripeness.” This red hails from a tiny vineyard on a small hill that connects two of Argentiera ‘s other vineyards. Surrounded by woods, and planted to Cabernet Franc in a sort of sun-dial formation, “it’s a very particular place to grow vines, it’s a spectacular vineyard” noted Carrara (it’s actually named after the fan-like plantings that circle a large tree near the center of the hilltop). This is the first vintage of ‘Ventaglio’ that’s comprised of 100% Cab Franc. Wooden tanks were used during fermentation, with aging in 25% new oak, with some aging in tonneau. Red fruits on the nose – cherries, plums, cranberry, currants… all incredibly pure and very deep and rich. Small hints of saline, slate, and graphite, too. Nicolò Carrara cited the strength and elegance combination in this wine as a “favorite” and I’ve got to agree. As much as I love the variety, I have to begrudgingly admit that it’s rare to find a standalone Cabernet Franc that offers this much potency and concentration while also remaining so meticulous and finely appointed in its textural touches of energetic acidity, structure, and complexity. Leather, dried herbs, and chewy tannins. mark a forever finish. F*ck, this is sooooo good. The real deal in many ways.