Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lunch and Tasting at El Esteco Winery – White Dove of the Valley

El Esteco Winery in Patios Resort
(March 19, 2014) In the afternoon, we were honored to receive an invitation to have lunch with Max, the General Manager of El Esteco Winery.  El Esteco is owned by Pena Flores and is probably the largest producer in the area.  The winery itself is attached to the Patios Hotel where I was staying.  It was originally started in the 1850’s, and has been expanded upon. 

It was a quick walk from my room to the beautiful outdoor patio of the resort restaurant where Max was waiting at a round table with white tablecloth and multiple wine-glasses. The swimming pool sparkled in the sun, and off in the distance I could see the llamas grazing on the wide expanse of green lawn.

Max greeted us and provided information on the history of the winery.  Apparently the resort was the original hacienda of the family, but after a few years they had built a large mansion nearby.  After Pena Flores bought the property, they decided to turn the hacienda into a resort for tourist and wine distributors. They have plans to transform the mansion into a high-end winery tasting room in the future. Currently they farm 500 hectares, and have 200 SKUs, but actual production figures were not revealed. 

Tasting of El Esteco Wines

Max suggested we begin with a tasting of 7 wines, and then enjoy our favorites over lunch.  He explained that they have 4 levels:  Cumas, Don David, Ciclos, and Alimus (icon). All of these wines were excellent, and it was difficult to select a favorite.

Lunch at El Esteco Winery on Patio
Don David Torrontes 2013 – very approachable with classic floral and citrus notes.  Made in SS with 10% American barrel with ML, skin contact.  Picked in March and released in June.  Max explained that they use American oak because it gives more flavor in a shorter time ($15.99)

Ciclos 2013 Torrontes– Peach and floral,  3 months in oak.  More structure and tropical fruit.  Older vines – has an attractive sun/moon medallion on bottle.  14%. ($18.99)

Don David 2012 Cab – peppery, paprika nose, huge, complex amazing value at $18.  70% oak.  Reminds me of a Chilean cab.

Don David Tannat 2012 - Red fruit on nose, but savory on palate with massive tannins, but not painful.  Good acidity, but had to add to must.  Picked in April, released in 1.5 years (Sept.).  3.5 ph, purple black.  Interestingly, Max told us that the reason tannat is so tannic is because it has 4 seeds, rather than 2 like most grapes.

2012 Ciclos Malbec - from single vineyard – Lamaravilla ($19.99) – classic Argentine malbec. Smells like velvet with dark purple and blueberry notes. From a parrel trellis vineyard that was originally grafted from Torrontes.  Amazing 10 tons per acre! This was one of my favorites of this tasting.

2011 Ciclos Malbec/Merlot – 50/50 –80% in barrel.  Plum with some tannins, a bit hollow in middle. 

Altimus 2010 – icon wine at $40.  Made from the best grapes. Glowing ruby red with black depths, complex red/black fruit, very long finish.  A blend that changes every year (the winemaker’s wine).  This year's blend Malbec (always part of core), cab, cab franc, and tannat.  12 months in French 100% new oak, then blend and age another 6 months in oak, and 6 months in bottle. Reminded me of a Napa cab.  Luscious!

Long Lazy Lunch – Argentine Style

Roasted Pork Marinated in Torrontes & Honey
After the tasting, Max signaled for the food to arrive, and the first course was empanadas (of course) served with a fresh green salad made from local vegetables and also a quinoa salad – another local specialty.  I found myself gravitating to the Ciclos Torrontes for this course.

Then the main course arrived, and it had to be one of the best dishes of my trip – roasted pork loin marinated for 24 hours in honey and torrontes.  It was so tender it fell off the bone.  This came with a side of roasted local vegetable, and coupled with the Altimus, I was in heaven.

Vineyard Practices at El Esteco – The Importance of the Parrel System

Max has a viticulture background, so over lunch he answered some of my vineyard questions.  He explained why the parrel trellis system is so important, because it protects the clusters from the strong sun at such a high altitude.  With VSP trellising, some of the grapes get sunburned.

He said they do not have to use many sprays for powdery mildew or other diseases because the climate is so dry. However ants are a huge problem, so organic farming is difficult.  They have one organic line, but are losing money on it.

Birth Parents of Torrontes – Muscat de Alexander & Criolla

Max described one of their old Torrontes vineyards, “The fathers are in the vineyard –mixed in the Torrontes you will find its parents -- the Muscat de Alexander and the Criolla, which is a pink grape.” 

He also explained that both malbec and Torrontes produce huge clusters and are very vigorous.  Malbec usually achieves 10 tons per hectare, and Torrontes is not far behind.  In general, they need to pick Torrontes at three different times to achieve complexity, and the last pick is often after malbec.  He also said Torrontes should be generally be consumed within 3 years, unless it has oak – in which case it may last a bit longer.

The El Esteco Visitor’s Tasting Room

Ciclos Passito Malbec
After lunch, I took a long nap in order to be ready for my seminar that evening in the winery.  Afterwards, we were invited to the El Esteco Visitor’s Tasting Room where we were treated to two dessert wines – a sweet sparkling Torrontes, which was a bit too leesy, and an amazing Ciclos Passito Malbec for only 81 pesos ($10).  This was made by drying malbec grapes until they were raisened and very sweet.  A small amount of dried tannat was also added to the mix.  It tasted similar to port but with a delicious blackberry syrup edge.  I was impressed to see that the tasting room was very large and open to the public for drop in visits.

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