Wine of the Week: Achaval Ferrer, Quimera, Mendoza 2020

A beautifully textured, fleshy libation with striking intensity and depth, but also a refreshing, lifted note born of its racy acidity

Argentina made its name as a winemaking country on the back of its muscular – dare one say masculine – malbecs. Big, bold wines that are generally high in alcohol, tannin and oak, most are made to complement steak, an asado and, perhaps, a bruising game of rugby.

A vineyard with trees and mountains in the background

But, in much the same way as the idea of men being brutish, predictable sports bores has become somewhat outdated, the world has moved on from big, brutish wines. (And, for that matter, the very use of the term ‘masculine’ to describe a wine.) Today, wine lovers are seeking something more nuanced from the world’s fifth-largest winemaking country. Enter Achaval Ferrer.

A wooden building on a vineyard with mountains in the background

25 years ago, friends Santiago Achaval and Manuel Ferrer, an accountant and lawyer by trade, realised that accountancy and law were not what made their hearts sing. Wine, on the other hand, did – so they joined forces with an Italian winemaker, Roberto Cipresso, to launch a winery. In so doing, they managed to secure vineyards whose vines were, in some cases, over a century old. Such vines are ungrafted (that is to say on their original rootstock, rather than grafted onto American rootstock to protect them from the phylloxera pest that feeds on vines and kills them). Older, seemingly disease-resistant vines, with roots stretching deeper into the soil for nutrients, tend to yield grapes with extra concentration and bolder, more complex flavours beyond just a brightness of fruit, with higher acidity and greater ageing potential. As a result, they can be cropped at lower yields to deliver more stable quality from year to year.

A pair of hands holding a bunch of grapes in a crate

They also require minimal intervention, both in the vineyard and the winery, allowing winemaker Gustavo Rearte (Cipresso is a consultant to the estate these days) to eschew any added sugar, acid or sulphites, and avoid fining, filtering or ‘overworking’ the wine. The result, like the Latin-Italian mix behind the winery’s formation, is a marriage of the New World’s fullness and concentration of flavour with the Old World’s traditional terroir-driven approach – and more elegant, balanced wines than the confected Argentinian stereotype.

Today, Achaval Ferrer’s most vaunted wines are its three ‘Finca’ malbecs, which range from the spicy Bella Vista to the fresher Altamira. Each is sourced from an individual vineyard to showcase the often overlooked nuances of Mendoza terroir and the different altitudes at which they are grown – as one would expect from £100 wines, of which fewer than 10,000 bottles of each are made.

A cellar with walls lined with wine barrels

But, for me, the producer’s most impressive – and, at £40, best-value – wine is its Quimera cuvée. Rather than a straight malbec, Quimera is a blend of the five Bordeaux grape varieties – cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and, yes, malbec – and is notably complex and layered in its make-up. Although the blend changes from year to year, its proportions are slightly different from the grapes’ French heartland, where the cabernets and merlot tend to dominate. As one would expect in Mendoza, malbec is king, taking up 48 per cent of the blend in the current vintage, the 2020.

A person holding a bottle of red wine
A person pulling out vines from the ground

Tellingly, only 60 per cent of the wine is aged in new oak (whereas many Argentinian reds rack up 100 per cent) and that oak is the more subtle, spicy French variety rather than the sweeter, more obvious, vanilla-tinged American. The result is a beautifully textured, fleshy wine with striking intensity and depth, but also a refreshing, lifted note born of its racy acidity.

The winery itself goes so far as to describe it as ‘almost feminine’ – but we won’t go there…

Achaval Ferrer, Quimera, Mendoza 2020

Achaval Ferrer, Quimera, Mendoza 2020

Learn More

Want more wine content? Read our review of the Simpsons White Cliff Blanc de Blancs 2018…

Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.

Become a Gentleman’s Journal Member?

Become a Gentleman’s Journal Member?

Like the Gentleman’s Journal? Why not join the Clubhouse, a special kind of private club where members receive offers and experiences from hand-picked, premium brands. You will also receive invites to exclusive events, the quarterly print magazine delivered directly to your door and your own membership card.

Click here to find out more

Further reading