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Tradition and Innovation from Mendoza – the Wines of Valentin Bianchi

logoIt’s time we took a look toward South America on our wine investigations.  Over the past twenty years the wines of Argentina and Chile have emerged on the world stage, earning a reputation for value along the way.  In this article we’ll focus on the Mendoza province of Argentina, and specifically the wines of Valentin Bianchi.  Casa Bianchi has a long and storied history in wine making, and they make a wide variety of wines in various lines.  They range from the ultra-premium Enzo Bianchi Bordeaux blend to the New Age Rosé.  They also built a facility 20 years ago to make sparkling wine in the traditional method, so there is a lot going on here.

When people think of wine and Argentina they tend to immediately think of Malbec.  Especially in Mendoza, Malbec has gained international recognition.  It is not, however, our favorite varietal.  We certainly like Malbec, but it just never seems to deliver that “wow” moment.  Chalk it up to personal taste.  Either way, for our foray into Argentina we decided to focus on Cabernet Sauvignon rather than Malbec on the red side, at least for now.  For whites, we’ll look at a traditional grape from the region, Torrontes.  If you are unfamiliar with Torrontes then you should spend some time changing that.  It is becoming one of our favorite white varietals.

bianchi panorama

I am sure we’ll run into some Malbecs at some point that change our mind, but for now let’s start with the Cabs and the Torrontes.  First though, we’ll take a look at the Mendoza area and the history, family and the offerings of Valentin Bianchi.

The wines are imported by Quintessential Wines (http://www.quintessentialwines.com/), who graciously supplied the samples for our review and the background information on the winery.

Mendoza – the Heartland of Argentine Wine

Six hundred miles west of Buenos Aries lies the province of Mendoza, set against the Andes mountains to the west and the border with Chile.  On the broad plains beneath the mountains, vineyards thrive.  Two thirds of Argentina’s wine production comes from Mendoza.

argentina map cropped

The capital of the Mendoza Province is Mendoza City, which by all accounts is a worthy destination with lots to offer, including history, culture, dining and of course, wine.  From here the Uco Valley, Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo are a short distance away.  There are innumerable wineries in the province, and various wine routes suggested depending on your preferences.  There are also several companies which can do the driving for you on your wine excursion, always a good idea if you plan to be at it all day.  You can see more about Mendoza at https://www.gringoinbuenosaires.com/mendoza-argentina-ultimate-guide/#, among many other sites.

Valentin Bianchi – Agentine Wines from Italian Roots

Many “new world” wineries were founded by European immigrants – a number of American wineries were started by transplanted Germans, while Australian and New Zealand wineries have their origins in the Anglo-Scots tradition. In South America, it was the Italians that followed the agricultural heritage of their homeland and planted vines in such fertile soil as Argentina’s Mendoza region.

Valentín Bianchi was one such Italian transplant, who came to Argentina in 1910 with big dreams and a penchant for hard work. During his youth, this entrepreneur held a variety of jobs – from bookkeeper for the local railroad to administrative employee of a French bank – finally leading to his owning a number of diverse businesses.

In 1928 all his other enterprises were overshadowed by the realization of a dream he once thought unattainable – to own a vineyard terroir2and small winery. First known as “El Chiche,” the winery produced a fine red wine that was once called “Super Medoc.” A few years of struggle paid off for Valentín when, in 1934, his wines were awarded the Maximum Quality Prize at the Official Wine Exhibition and Contest, a national event held in the city of Mendoza.   It was this same year that fine wine shops in Buenos Aires discovered his wines, recommending them to the Capitol’s wealthy sophisticates.

In the early 1950s, when Valentín’s sons started joining the now successful enterprise, he decided to rename the company – and Valentín Bianchi SACIF was born. He infused this new company with his spirit, his quest to produce the highest quality wines and an unforgettable personality. It was this winery that he handed down to his sons Alcides Jose and Enzo Arnaldo. Along with their brother-in-law, Aurelio Stradella, they took a team-work approach to running the company, each one handling the part they most enjoyed.

3_tnThe President of Italy decorated its native son, Valentín Bianchi, in 1966 with the Grand Cross of the Cavallieri Ufficiali, rewarding him for a distinguished career serving his business and the community. Two years later, at the age of 80, Valentín Bianchi passed away, however his tradition lives on.

In the mid-1980s Valentín’s grandsons, Valentín Eduardo, Ricardo Stradella and Alejandro Ruben rose to positions of prominence within the company. Today, with the continued expertise of their fathers, they are the third generation to run what is now called Valentín Bianchi S.A.

The sunny 716 acres of vineyards owned by Valentín Bianchi are filled with rootstock from Valentin’s native Italy, as well as vines from California and France. The high quality of the grapes is matched by the use of cutting-edge technology to develop wines that have received praise and awards both in Argentina and abroad.

Enzo Bianchi Gran Cru, a Cabernet Sauvignon blended with small amounts of Merlot and/or Malbec, has been the winery’s flagship label for many years, with its grapes coming from only the best plots within the three Valentín Bianchi vineyards – Asti, Las Paredes and Doña Elsa – all located in San Rafael, which is thought to have the best soil in the Mendoza region. Four other labels, Particular, Famiglia Bianchi, Elsa and Sensual also are being exported to the U.S. market and feature the varietals that have made Argentina a world-class wine country, particularly Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Francisco Martinez, the winemaker of all Valentín Bianchi labels, has been with the winery since 1979.

In 1996, Valentín Bianchi’s grandsons hired winemaker Robert Pepi, of Napa Valley’s famed Robert Pepi Winery, as a consultant to introduce new techniques while maintaining the wines’ Argentine character. His expertise with vineyard management and talent at producing “wine lovers” wines have helped keep Valentín Bianchi competitive and successful in the many countries where they are sold.   You can read more about Bob and his own wines by clicking here.

Today, the grandsons of Valentín Bianchi are keeping the immigrant’s dream alive.  You can visit the website of Casa Bianchi here: http://www.vbianchi.com/.  You can also visit their page at Quintessential Wines: http://www.quintessentialwines.com/Valentin-Bianchi.

The Wines

As mentioned we have four samples to evaluate, two each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontes from various lines.  Here they are.

IMG_1951

2012 Famiglia Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon – one of their premium wines, this is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Asti and Dona Elsa Estate vineyards, some 2400 feet above sea level.  The soil is sandy, and the grapes are all hand picked.  It is aged for ten months in oak (90% French, 10% American),  split evenly between new, one year old and two year old barrels.  It is stabilized and filtered prior to bottling.  What we thought:

The wine is brilliant red/purple with a very complex nose, one that just gains in complexity as the wine opens in the glass.  You getIMG_1956 some charred oak, grilled meat and then berry fruit.  On the palate it is fruit driven, with a touch of wood, vanilla and mint at the end.  It’s medium+ bodied, checks in at 14.7% alcohol and has a nice long finish.  Good acid keeps it balanced.  This really is very good, and a good value at its list price of $19.99.  Value List material here.

2013 Valentin Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon – also 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with grapes coming from the same vineyards as the Famiglia Bianchi Cab.  This wine sees six months in barrel, 80% French and 20% American.  It’s slightly lower in alcohol at 14.3%.  Here’s what we found:

This wine is semi transparent with a big nose of ripe currant and blackberry.  There might be some black plum in there as well.  It’s a IMG_1957little jammy on the palate with a rich mouth feel.  It coats your palate with berry flavors.  Maybe a tiny bit of menthol at the end.  This is more towards full bodied, very fruit forward and a good wine.  Its suggested retail is $16.99, and it is on the Value List at that price.  Not as complex as the Famiglia Bianchi, this is perfect for those who like rich, fruit forward wines.

 2013 LEO Torrontes – the grapes for this come from the Dona Elsa vineyards, one of the coolest areas in San Rafael.  They are hand picked and twice sorted, then crushed and fermented over ten days at a controlled 15 degrees Celsius in all stainless steel.  What do we think?:

This is a light yellow color, and comes with a nose that at first hits you pretty big with citrus (grapefruit) and even a little peach.  That IMG_1954slowly becomes much more restrained.  On the palate the wine brings lots of apple notes with a touch of lemon.  This is very smooth, very crisp and more elegant than the other Torrontes we’ll review next.  Good acid keeps it fresh and nicely balanced.  It has a nice, clean and long finish.  At first it reminded me of Sauvignon Blanc, and you could fool some people (including me!) with it.  This is a very high quality wine.  Value List at a recommended retail of $16.99.

2014 Elsa Bianchi Torrontes – from the same vineyards as the LEO Torrontes, the grapes here are pneumatically pressed and then fermented over a two week period.  It is stabilized and filtered before bottling under inert gas to preserve freshness.  Our thoughts:

Also light yellow in color this throws out a huge nose of grapefruit, green apple and tropical fruit notes.  On the palate it is apple IMG_1953and citrus fruits.  The acid is bright and the wine is very clean throughout.  This is very refreshing, would be great with food and really has a little bit of an edge to it.  Very, very different than the LEO.  Recommended retail of $11.99.  Very good wine at that price.

While we only had a small cross section of the wines from Valentin Bianchi, we can say that quality abounds here, and that the value is pretty significant.  Obviously we’ll need to explore more of their offerings, and the Enzo Bordeaux blend is definitely on the list.  Perhaps they have the Malbec that will change our view of that varietal.  Who knows?

We recommend you try some of the wines of Valentin Bianchi.

A votre santé!

 

 

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