Food & Wine Photo Credit: Bodegas Santa Ana

The Perfect BBQ Wine Is Not What You Think It Is

It’s Argentine but it’s Cabernet, not Malbec.

La Mascota 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, $17

Not that long ago, the sales pitch for Cabernet from Argentina (or Chile for that matter) was that it contains 90 percent of the fruit of Napa at 25 percent of the price, meaning that winemakers chased an ultra-ripe expression of the grape that then (and still sorta is) in vogue. And to control all that fruit was a big cradle of oak, which made for big, bold, boozy wines. Though, even if you like the style, it’s never translated well to the summer heat.

A few years back, however, things started to change. It’s tough to say where this change began, but for ease of reference, let’s put the mantle on the 500-pound gorilla that is Bodega Catena Zapata, the most famous winery in Argentina. Winemakers there started to experiment in higher and higher altitudes—up and away from the baking plains of Mendoza—and it was then that wonderfully nuanced Cabernets (and Chardonnays and others) began to emerge. These wines were all sorts of interesting—and all sorts of expensive—though Catena has now created a more approachable version of these high-altitude Cabernets. (And while those bottles are not the subject of this review, they’re worth seeking out at $24.)

Not every Argentine winery has Catena’s high-altitude vineyards or savvy marketing department. This week’s wine is made by Bodegas Santa Ana, though it doesn’t even appear on the winery’s website. It seems like it might be bottled just for export to North America, which, while not the kiss of death, also isn’t usually how you market your prized stallion. But notwithstanding all those warning signs, the bottle in question is pleasantly surprising: the oak and fruit are dialed back, and there’s a wonderful savouriness. It’s 14 percent alcohol, but there’s a nice thread of freshness here and I can see it even reacting favourably to a little light chilling. And when all those things come in a $17 package, you know you’ve stumbled on a minor gem.

The nice thing is that, increasingly, wines like this aren’t outliers. If you’re in the sub-$15 range then, yes, many of the wines will be in the rich and simple style. But this wine and Catena’s, as well as widely available Cabernet offerings from Finco Decero and Familia Zuccardi, really show a class and restraint that belie their relatively low price point. BBQ time.

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