I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy. If you’re a fan of “Wayne’s World,” you’ll recognize my lament when I was told I’d be having a lunch with José Galante, whose winemaking career has spanned nearly my entire life (this is the fortieth year that he has made wine in Argentina). Talk about pressure.
I walked into the Tavern on Rush to be greeted by José and his PR and Luxury Portfolio Manager, Matias Bauzá Moreno, both slightly formal in the way foreign visitors sometimes are. Sitting down, I couldn’t help but notice that there were quite a few bottles lined up for a lunch. I sincerely hoped I could keep up and not make a fool of myself.
I needn’t have worried – both men were friendly and excited to share the great work they were doing at Bodegas Salentein in the Uco Valley of Argentina. And this quality is seen across the three levels that were presented: Portillo, entry level; Killka, a step up and labels bearing art from their art museum; and Salentein, which covers all the wines that are considered their best.
Many wines poured, discussed, and related to not just to what was in the glass, but everything that went into the making of these bottles. Their grapes all come from the Uco Valley, which sits at elevations ranging from 3,000–4,000 feet or so above sea level, southwest of Mendoza. Alluvial soil, minimal rain (water is used from the surrounding Andes Mountains) and 250 plus sunny days a year mean that vine growing is tough, but doable. Winds keep pests away and warm days, cool nights make for high quality production.
I'd love to visit Bodegas Salentein. At almost 5,000 acres, this is a huge estate, including 1,124 acres of grapes, the winery, a 125-acre nature preserve, an art museum (Killka Center for Culture and the Arts), and the Posada Salentein, where one can stay to take it all in. From photos, the Uco Valley is very beautiful and not large, so driving down from Mendoza is easy if you're not staying in the valley itself.
2013 Salentein Numina Gran Corte: the "Great Blend," made up of 62% Malbec, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc; the handpicked grapes from the El Oasis estate; separately fermented and aged in 7,000 liter oak casks; blended after 6 months, then aged 16 months; this is an orchestra of grapes deftly handled by José, the conductor; beautiful nose, with fruit through mid-palate and throughout the finish; cork closure; MSRP $40.
2012 Salentein Single Vineyard Malbec: hand harvested grapes from La Pampa estate; 95% fermented in 7,000-litre oak casks and 5% in 225-litre first use French oak barrels.; cold macerated, then racked to oak barrels for malolactic fermentation; lovely fruit on the nose and once again, through mid-palate and into the finish; if the Numina is an orchestra, this is a deft solo artist; cork closure; $50.
2012 Salentein Single Vineyard Chardonnay: hand harvested grapes from San Pablo estate; 6 month oak barrel fermentation; aged sur lie; total malolactic fermentation; straight forward Chardonnay flavor, reduced to its essence, easily the best Chardonnay I've ever had - worth searching out, but only 500 cases made; cork closure; SRP $50.
What was most noticeable to me, across the board, was that the Salentein portfolio shares similar high-quality characteristics. Whether you buy a less expensive Portillo or go for a single vineyard Salentein Chardonnay, you’re going to find fruit at every step of tasting: up front on the nose, through the mid palate, and all the way through the finish. The fruit flavors are straightforward, not masked, and the wines are all beautifully balanced, with acid backbones that make them a pleasure to drink, either on their own or especially with food.
Thanks to José and Matias for sharing their wines, knowledge, and friendly company. Special thanks to Balzac Communications & Marketing for setting up this lunch.
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