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PattiAs a rule I try not to praise my own wines (that I sell) like spoiled children—the attachment to a brand or a story clouding my objectivity—by not paying enough attention to their individual faults and virtues. But there are a few wines, and producers, that are so compelling that I feel like I have to share the gospel—this is the closest I will get to proselytizing or picking a favorite child.

Before I started to sell Carmelo Patti’s wines, I knew of one producer pushing counter to the barrage that was being peddled to all buyers (myself included) from Argentina. I had been introduced to Bodegas Weinert, a traditional winery that had been described to me as the R. Lopez de Heredia of Argentina; Malbec, Cabenet Sauvignon and Merlot, among other grapes, fashioned in a masculine style, with immense structure, aged in large casks for extensive periods yielding wines that were savory and could only be thought of with food, unlike the more ubiquitous run-and-gun style offerings. As exciting as these wines were to me, the problem was I could never find them; buyers wouldn’t support Bodegas Weinert consistently, claiming that they were too difficult to sell.

Carmelo Patti is an even smaller operation than the legendary Bodegas Weinert, crafting a fraction of the production nearly singlehandedly. A garagiste. A lot of care in the vineyard sites—Luján de Cuyo—and unmanipulated winemaking, with native yeast fermentation, delicate punch-downs and employing nearly all used French oak to keep the wines pure and honest. Much like Weinert, Patti will release his wines when ready and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon embodied this methodology perfectly.

I opened the bottle for customers, booking appointments for two days to show the wines to accounts I thought would be interested. I was surprised that a few accounts didn’t open their doors to Carmelo Patti (his wines) because the overall showing was stunning—all were snatched up… we are plumb out. That was their loss!

After the end of the second day I took the dregs of the Cabernet Sauvignon for myself and meditated on it privately to further assess what I had: Conjuring Old-World images, medium ruby in the stem, with dusty red raspberry, spearmint, dried tobacco leaves and olives on the nose. It was a deep scent that had no end. On the palate the wine was lithe, a graceful medium-body, contoured by medium-plus acidity and fine tannins that tasted of red raspberry, pomegranate seeds, Earl Grey tea, dashes of cupboard spice (of the savory variety) and pepper. It was elegant and complex; the transparency of the wine was seamless and soulful.

In comparison to Weinert’s wines, they had a softness about them on the tongue. Patti’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is reminder of why I sell wine, exposing others to a producer that is making wines in his modest style—humbly—ignoring the homogenized exports that flood retailers and grocery stores, thereby storming the public’s palate. Every wine has its place and Carmelo Patti and Bodegas Weinert certainly have one in my cellar!

Last week in Downtown LA, with my tasting group, we focused exclusively on Bordeaux for under thirty-five dollars. Nine wines were served in addition to a cache of empanadas, a large tortilla (an egg, potato and vegetable frittata), cheese and olives to tide us over while we sampled a fair smattering of wines from both banks of Bordeaux (the region separated by the Gironde estuary and the Dordogne river), the accompaniment to an Argentine repast.

We were underway by 7:30 p.m., waiting for our last members to carry in, each toting a different bottle that would need to be assessed—to the best of our ability—for purposes of establishing a tasting order. Tasting the wines in a reasonable order gives each wine roughly the same opportunity to show well, no jarring tannins to be followed by the lightest bodied of the bunch—we wanted to give no wine a leg up or diminish any showing of the wines. After our group methodically plotted the tasting we casually sipped ‘n spat through the pride of Bordeaux (in this order):

04 Ch. Saint-Valéry St. Emilion Grand Cru

05 Ch. Faizeau St. Emilion

07 Ch. Moulin St.-Georges St. Emiliion Grand Cru Classé

05 Ch. Carbonnieux Grand Cru Classé Graves

07 Ch. Beaumont Haut-Médoc

06 Ch. Saint-Hilaire Médoc Cru Bourgeois

05 Ch. La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc

03 Ch. Cambon La Pelouse Haut- Médoc

03 Ch. Potensac Médoc

During the sampling we came up with descriptors that I had never heard before like the Ch. La Tour Carnet having a fragrance of bruised apple and an elegant mouth feel too. Olives were frequently thrown out as well; people were ascribing all the varieties (Kalamatta to Empeltre) to a vast array of wines we sniffed. We were in a different environment, but I was not sure from whence these lively pastiches originated!

The 2003 Château Cambon La Pelouse had an intense scent leaping from the glass, a synthesis of earth and fruit detected, with an emphasis on dried cedar like the inserts from Allen Edmonds Shoes.

Apart from the fragrances, quite a few of the Bordeaux hit the mark. The 2005 Château Carbonnieux was probably tied for first with my taste buds. I was stumped by the closed odor but on the palate the wine came alive with notes of blue and black fruits—not too ripe—, leather and lavender. It was elegant and rich with a long persistent finish. That was the wine I sipped most frequently and chose with the meal.

The 2007 Château Saint-Valéry from St. Emilion was wonderful in a different way. The first wine of the night is always a tough spot to be, no mark is established and it is really a sensory exam because the tasters have not come to. This blend, predominantly of merlot, showed supple tannins (soft on the palate) with blueberry sprinkled lightly along with aromatic dried herbs. It showed favorably.

The Château Moulin St.-Georges had a moderate perfume of plums and potpourri and on the tongue it had great structure with drying tannins and good acidity and tasty doses of fruit.

Like listening to Kelly Stoltz’s “Prank Calls” for the first time (or the 25th), the tasting brought a smile to my face, where my proudly stained purple teeth were emblazoned for all to see. The Argentine food married nicely with the Bordeaux wines and before I knew it it was 11 p.m. and I was down to 220 wines in my countdown, leaving downtown and heading west with pleasant memories of Bordeaux.

Here we go. A week elapsed after my last wine course concluded on a positive tasting note. The upcoming program was designed to fill the void, providing some shading in of the rest of the map of wine, especially after such serious detail was given to the major players (France, Italy and Spain) of the wine world in my previous course. I was excited about delving into the vin du Canada and pushing all the way across the globe to China, becoming familiar with wines that were not in the standard curriculum and were more off the beaten track. And, as always, thrilled to the thought of continuing the countdown-to-500…now serving number 327.

We began with the more traditional and commercially prevalent wines of South America to kick off this new exploration. Discovering the growing regions and wines of Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, places where they are harvesting about a half-year earlier than we do in the USA, or specifically than my favorite winery in Santa Ynez, California.

We tasted through the darlings of each South American country like Chile’s Carmenère, Argentina’s Malbec and Uruguay’s Tannat, looking at the European influence in each country and how the vines matured, historically.

A couple of these wines served as my first genuine how-do-you-do with Carmenère and Tannat. Carmenère was introduced to Chile by way of the French, where the grape was one of the original six of Bordeaux (in the Médoc), falling out of favor, where now only five remain as the typical ensépagement of red Bordeaux wine. While in the Valle Central in Chile, Carmenère is king—though for some time it was believed to be Merlot.

Tannat, found all over Southwestern France, blended into the wines of Côtes du Saint-Mont, Tursan, Béarn and even in the Northern Basque region, regarded as Southwestern France—the rosés of Irouléguy (an AOC). Tannat found its way to Uruguay through Basque settlers in the 19th century. It took on the name of Harriague, after Pascual Harriague had established the vine in Uruguay but eventually gave way to its traditional moniker. Tannat is incredibly tannic and rough in the way it greets the palate but there is something that is nerdy chic and endearing about the grape at the same time. While dwindling in popularity in France, it has found a new home in Uruguay, setting them aside from other significant wine producing nations in South America by their mastery of the rustic grape.

Among the classic examples of each of these countries we tried a few more wines that have been commercially successful in every country (dubbed Noble varieties) and in which we were already acquainted. We tried a total of seven wines. They were:

08 Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay

09 Lapostolle Casa Carmenère

08 Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir, Casablanca

08 Tukma Torrontés

08 Ernesto Cantena Vineyards Tikal Patriota, Bonarda / Malbec

08 Domino del Plata Susana Balbo, Malbec, Mendoza

08 Bouza Tannat, Montevideo, Uruguay

The first class of the rest of the world went over considerably well, the wines had minimal faults and found favor with many tasters in the class. We tried a wide variety of grapes as opposed to looking at nuances of the same grape being grown in different areas.

I was struck by the Carmenère, which offered a developing bouquet of cocoa, plum, berry, bell pepper, herbs and iron—that tinny metallic flavor—that was dry, with a medium full body, gripping tannins (moderate +), controlled but noticeable oak and a long finish of plum, cocoa and savory herbs. It was rich and interesting.

The Malbec was another favorite of those tasted, yielding a mix of red and black fruit, some herbs and bell pepper—slightly vegetative upon first sniff. On the tongue it was dry, with medium acidity, a medium-to-full body, almost intensely drying tannins (moderate +) and a long finish of cherry, cassis, blackberry, meat and coffee.

After the first class I am dead set on exploring more examples of Carmenère from Chile as well as incorporating a few bottles of Torrontés into the fold, when the sun beats down mercilessly on the streets of Los Angeles in July. With this course I am sure to find a battalion of fascinating alternatives to the traditional pairings of Sauvignon Blanc in the summertime and Napa Valley Cabs with dry aged steak from Whole Foods Market at any time. I am also certain to find some more dynamic food and wine pairings to fuel this blog after the trove of new wines soon to be unearthed in this third course. Stick around; it’s just getting interesting.

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