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The Wines of Pascual Toso from Mendoza, Argentina

toso-vineyards

Barrancas Vineyards

Mendoza, Argentina has become one of the more recognizable wine regions in the New World order, which in a general sense means anything outside of France, Italy, Spain and Napa/Sonoma.  These “new” wine making regions have emerged over time, and include Australia, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa, to name only a few.  Of course they have all, for the most part, been making wine for a long time, it’s just that the international recognition came later.  Mendoza is such an area.  Along with its rise in prominence and reputation, Malbec also took center stage as a varietal.  The two are somewhat intertwined, and if you asked most fairly wine knowledgeable people about Mendoza, they would immediately say “Malbec”.  This is true, to a degree, but there is much more to Mendoza than Malbec.

Malbec has never been our favorite varietal.  There are several reasons, but primarily it comes down to never having found a “wow” bottle of the stuff.  To be sure we have had many good Malbecs, and sometimes we’ll see a name we know on a wine list and order a toso-logoglass because we know it will be good.  I have always suspected that it was our lack of exposure to the world of high end Malbec which has caused this impression.  Recently I had the chance to sample a range of wines from Pascual Toso, a venerable wine making tradition in Mendoza, started by a family with a now 125 year long tradition of making fine wine in the area.  This evening there would be Malbecs.  There would also be many other varietals.  As it turned out, all are well worth talking about.

Mendoza is Argentina’s largest wine making region, accounting for about 70% of total Argentine production.  It sits on the east side, and in the rain shadow, of the Andes (which means the mountains block moisture and create dry conditions), at elevations between 2000 and 4000 feet.  As the winemaker from Pascual Toso reminded us several times, this is a desert.  Three oasis areas are home to the wine production, and the Pascual Toso vineyards are in one of them, Maipú, which is close to the region’s capital of Mendoza City.  Major varietals are the aforementioned Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon as well as some Tempranillo, Torrontes and Chardonnay.

Pascual Toso was founded by its namesake in 1890.  Twenty five years later he began buying land in Barrancas, Maipú, finally acquiring just under 1000 acres on which to grow vines.  The land has the traditional features of Mendoza, with varying soil and geology within the appellation, large diurnal temperature ranges and high altitude.  Soils are generally poor, making the vines struggle a bit.  It is also generally dry and hot.  Ripeness tends to not be a problem for the wineries of Mendoza.  Of course, Mother Nature always has a curveball to throw every now and then.

Pascual Toso has built their reputation for 100 years, and is well known within Argentina and in many places around the world.  They took another step towards international acclaim when they hired Paul Hobbs, of Napa fame, as a consultant in 2001.  That relationship continues, and Paul

Winemaker Felipe Stahlschmidt

Winemaker Felipe Stahlschmidt

blends the flagship Magdalena Toso wine.  The resident winemaker is a relative newcomer to Pascual Toso, Felipe Stahlschmidt.  Felipe spent a decade or so working with the winemaking team at Catena, so he knows a lot about his craft and the area.  Felipe was on hand to present the wines, which made this opportunity all the more enjoyable.  He is engaging and clearly passionate about Mendoza and the wines.  His approach appears to be consistent with the tradition of the area and of Toso, which is seeking the best that can be coaxed out of the grapes and into the bottle.

There are several ranges of wine in the Toso portfolio, from everyday to special occasion quality and price.  I ran across some great value points along this journey, so several wines will move to our Value List.  The premium wines were quite special, and there was a Malbec, and a Malbec blend, that just might have changed our opinion of how good Malbec can be.

By the way, all of this took place at a small restaurant in Guilford, CT, the D’Vine Bistro.  This was a great place to spend some time.  General Manager Thomas Ammerman, Jr. has the restaurant hitting on all cylinders.  Only open since April, they specialize in unpretentious but elegant, world class French food.  I’d like to get back there with Cheri for dinner some time, and we’ll do a full review when we get a spare moment.  But this night was about the wine.  Let’s see what happened.

Toso Brut NV – this sparkler is 100% Chardonay, and is produced using the tank method.  They make several sparkling wines at Pascual Toso, both with the tank and the traditional methods.  One also has some Pinot Noir in it.  These wines are extremely popular in Argentina and Toso is one of the top three domestic sparklers in country.  They make almost as much bubbly as still wine.  I think they might have an international winner here, as this wine is crisp with some yeast notes and a long finish.  Some tropical fruit emerges towards the end, giving it some complexity.  The flavor profile speaks to a mid-price range Champagne, yet this carries a suggested retail of $12.99.  I promised some great values were coming, and here is the first one.  Easily a Value List wine and something to look for.  This drinks well above its price.

2015 Pascual Toso Estate Chardonnay – here the wine is crafted in two lots.  One sees no oak, the other spends two months in American oak.  While the barrels used are second or third year, and only 40% sees wood, the oak is very prominent in the nose and palate.  The color is a rich, light golden yellow.  Tropical fruit finishes the experience.  This is good, well made, but not for those who prefer little to no oak in their Chardonnay.  $13.99, and well done for the price.

2014 Pascual Toso Estate Malbec – here again 40% of this wine sees oak, this time eight months in American barrels.  The wine was tasted alongside the Reserve and Alta line Malbecs, and the color was the first noticeable difference.  Where the Reserve and Alta were progressively clearer, more brilliant and darker, this wine was a bit opaque.  It has nice plum and some complex aromas and some good fruit on the palate.  Overall this is a good, everyday Malbec.  $13.99

2014 Pascual Toso Reserva Malbec – noticeably darker and more brilliant than the Estate Malbec, this just looks like a superior wine.  The nose is rich, with black plum.  When you take a sip you smile, as this is rich, long and chock full of goodness.  This is an excellent Malbec, and is complex and clean, without that slight turn towards earthy dirt that a lot of Malbecs deliver.  $24.99

2013 Pascual Toso Alta Malbec –   their premium line of wines is the Alta range, and this wine is deep purple red.  The nose is alta-malbecimpeccable, with blackberries and spice.  On the palate it is rich and pure, with that laser beam focus of fruits framed with complex flavors that the great wines bring.  I can finally say “wow” with a Malbec.  This is great wine, and while not inexpensive still goes on the Value List.  $49.99 and world class.

2014 Pascual Toso Barrancas – this is a blend of 60% Malbec and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which see partial oak.  So really they make this wine in four lots, one each, oaked and unoaked of the Malbec and Cab.  It’s a relatively new wine for Toso, as this is only the third vintage.  It’s dark purple red, with a rich, fruit driven nose.  Overall the wine is less integrated than the previous wines, and came across as a bit harsh.  Some time may help that.  I would give this a few years.  $19.99

2014 Pascual Toso Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – a beautiful deep red color here, with a nose of red and black fruit, including some raspberry.  For me the tannins were still a bit strong and this is still wound a bit tight.  It is a very good wine, just not at its peak.  Give it two or three years and then enjoy, or decant for an hour or two.  $24.99

2014 Pascual Toso Alta Cabernet Sauvignon – from their premium line, this wine shows some good fruit and holds some promise, but I found it closed down and tight right now.  It’s tough to review, as it really is not showing its stuff.  An hour in the glass didn’t really bring it out, so let’s say we’re not sure.  $49.99

2014 Pascual Toso Alta Syrah – another from the premium line, this particular wine is showing beautifully, and is at the level of quality of the Alta Malbec mentioned earlier.  They only have 12 hectares of Syrah (about 30 acres or so), so this is small production.  When great, Syrah has a purity of fruit to it that is one of my favorite things, and this wine has that.  It’s rich and pure, very long, and throws a lot of complex flavors and aromas into the mix just for fun.  The vanilla was really great.  Also outstanding and Value List material at $49.99.

2013 Pascual Toso Magdalena – now we step up to their flagship wine.  Paul Hobbs, consulting winemaker, selects the barrelsmagdelena that go into this blend, which they only make in years where quality supports it.  It’s a blend of 80% Malbec and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.  There are only 23 barrels of this, and they bottled 700 six packs total.  That’s it.  It’s dark red purple in color, with a nose showing fruit hidden a bit behind complex aromas of tar and leather.  The tannins are still a bit stiff but approachable.  This is a baby, and it will last decades.  Another world class wine it is a bit pricey at $129.99.  Is it great?  Yes it is.  Value at this price is a personal decision however.

2014 Pascual Toso Pedegral – their other super-premium wine, this is 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Malbec.  There are also only 700 six packs of this.  From old vines which are farmed for low yields, the wine is rich with much more fruit up front than the Magdalena.  There are nuances of tar, stones and black licorice.  Another baby, this wine needs time, and is a bit tannic, but you can certainly drink it now.  I would wait though, as there is much more waiting to come out once the tannins mellow a bit.  Another world class wine.  $73.99

These were really good wines, and most were at great value points.  The sparkler is a fabulous value.  So is the Reserve Malbec.  I would drink the Alta Malbec and Syrah all day long, if I could afford to.  They both are worth consideration as special occasion wines.  The two ultra-premium wines were pretty spectacular, and if you can spend that kind of money both are worthy options.  The Magdalena is as good as anything out there.

All the wines tasted here were made before Felipe took charge, although he did blend the Pedegral (quite well we might add).  He was handed the harvest of 2015/2016 as a welcome present, which was cold and wet and fairly miserable.  Felipe believes he has made some good wines in spite of that, and he managed to coax 13% or more in alcohol out of the reds.  We looking forward to seeing what he has crafted, and what he does with a more typical harvest in the future.  He was great to talk to.  Winemakers are such interesting people.

The wines from Pascual Toso are imported and distributed by Quintessential Wines. You can read more about their entire portfolio, including the wines from Toso, at www.quintessentialwines.com.

Great wine, great values and a “wow” Malbec.  What else could you ask for?

A votre santé!

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