The Queen of Argentinian Wine
It is both fascinating and awe-inspiring to read through the career highlights of Argentinian winemaker Susana Balbo:
- The first female enologist in Argentina.
- Credited by many for transforming Salta’s Torrontes from a blending grape to a single varietal star and Argentina’s signature white grape, earning her the nickname “Queen of Torrontes”.
- Hired to design and direct construction of Bodega Catena Zapata, arguably the most important modern winery in Mendoza today.
- Elected three times by peers as president of Wines of Argentina.
- Known for her innovation with barrel sizes and regimens, egg-shaped concrete fermenters, and wild yeast fermentations.
Currently CEO of Dominio Del Plata Winery, Balbo is likely best known in the US for the Crios label, a fruit-forward, budget-priced brand aimed at the mass market. In addition, however, she also makes a terrior-driven signature label, which she describes as “maximum expression of her art as a wine- maker,” as well as two other labels, BenMarco and Nosotros.
We’ve discussed the issues with Torrontes before – in the wrong hands, it can be flabby and flat, limp and uninspiring. Tasting the Crios Torrontes ($8.99), however, it’s easy to understand how Balbo earned her moniker. Complex and crisp, it is redolent of tropical fruit and flowers, honey and citrus, finishing with bright acid, especially for this particular variety. Considering the bargain bin price, this is the version to start any exploration of the grape (and perhaps to finish with as well).
I was intrigued to be able to pit Balbo’s Crios Malbec ($14.99) against one of her Signature wines, Susana Balbo Brioso 2012 (2011 available from Wine.com for $46.99), a blend of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, with Malbec, Cab Franc and some Petit Verdot. With such drastically different price points, it was perhaps an unfair comparison, but it seemed an interesting experiment, one that would either prove the worth of the supposed finer wine or not.
The Crios lives up to its fruit-forward billing, bringing a heavy dose of plums and dark fruit on the palate, preceded by a nose of violets. The mid-palate is its weak point, but it finishes strong, spicy with quite a bit of chocolate.
Compared side by side, the Brioso does far outclass the Crios, but for more than $25 more, it should. With more depth and a modern sheen, evidence of the 15 months it spent in 100% new French Oak, there’s a level of complexity here that will reward near-term cellaring or match up to a special meal.
That said, my experience with the Crios line suggests that it is a great everyday option, providing excellent value for money, and in many cases outperforming other similar options in its class.