Italian culture is one that is admired around the world and emulated by several countries that span the globe. There is no doubt that the US, especially NYC, has had a long love affair with everything Italian. On a wine press trip to Trento, Italy this past September, I met a wine colleague from China who studied Italian opera because he felt like he had an Italian heart; it was an amazing experience sailing on Lake Garda with this Chinese man and our Italian captain serenading us with Italian songs. It was wonderful to see that the love for Italian culture crossed so many continents.
Italy’s Influence on Argentina
I have heard people say in the past that Argentinean people were Italians who happened to speak Spanish. Although Argentina was at one time a colony of Spain, a few hundred years ago, some would argue that Italy has had just as much influence on this South American country – due to the Italian communities established there since the late 19th to early 20th centuries. From the boisterous ways they speak with their hands to the typical greeting “Chau!” (pronounced like “Ciao!”), or their most basic common sauce called Tuco (tomato sauce flavored with tomato, garlic, oregano, basil and paprika), Argentines show their Italian roots with pride.
Much of the Argentine winemaking history is linked to the Italian immigrants who were happy to bring their long, traditional history of making wine to Argentina. Despite the large corporate wine companies that have converged on Argentina and the popularity of making Malbec wines with a New World fruit forward spin, there are some wineries with Italian roots making wines in Argentina with finesse and sense of place. Bodegas Valentin Bianchi is one such winery.
As a young man, Valentin Bianchi moved from his home in the Italian town of Fasano to what seemed like the other side of the world, Argentina, in 1910. After various jobs he was able to realize his dream by buying his own vineyards and building a winery in 1928; Valentin’s wines quickly gained recognition from those who admired his wines’ ability to capture South American sunshine in the bottle while still keeping a sense of Italian charm. Two years before Valentin Bianchi passed away, he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Cavalieri Ufficiali (knighthood) from the President of Italy in 1966.
The legend of Valentin Bianchi has been carried on by his son, Enzo, and his grandson, Valentin, with the fourth generation of great-grandchildren working for the family today. They have a diversity of terroir with vineyards that span 716 acres at various attitudes with different soil types and microclimates that give each wine in their portfolio unique attributes.
I had the pleasure to taste a selection of Bianchi wines during lunch a few weeks ago. Although I have tasted many wines from Argentina, the Bianchi wines had a special Italian-ness that made them food-friendly and completely irresistible with bright acidity and nuances of flavors that expressed a sense of place. It was almost as if I could feel Valentin’s Italian heart surge through these wines and it is wonderful that his family has been able to keep that quality alive.
For some reason there are many cultures that get lost among immigrants traveling to far away lands such as the myriad that fade away in NYC, yet there is something about the Italian culture that stays… I think because many of us, no matter our background, deep down inside, want to be Italian.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2017 Bodegas Valentin Bianchi, Elsa Torrontes, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina ($11.99): 100% Torrontes from their La Rioja vineyards that are 2500 feet above sea level – so the wines have a vibrant acidity. This aromatic white wine, named after Valentin’s wife Elsa, had a beautiful nose of white flowers and spice with a palate that had delicious juicy white peach flavors. Many times Torrontes can disappoint on the palate but this one did not!
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)
2016 Bodegas Valentin Bianchi, Malbec, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.99): 100% Malbec. Bianchi has a few different Malbec wines and this is their fun, easy drinking one that is a remarkable value. Bright blueberry fruit with a hint of toast and wild flowers. This Malbec could be drunk on its own or paired with lighter dishes.
2015 Bodegas Valentin Bianchi, Famiglia Bianchi Red Blend, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.99): 50% Malbec and 50% Nebbiolo. This red wine blend really showed the harmonious marriage of Argentina and Italy. An intoxicating nose of rose water, tar and black cherries that had an elegant body with fine tannins and a long expressive finish.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2013 Bodegas Valentin Bianchi, Enzo Bianchi, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina ($54.99): 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec and 7% Petit Verdot. This wine honored Valentin’s son, Enzo, who was the enologist for over 50 years and who was the pioneer for Bianchi’s Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes come from vines that are over 40 years old from their Finca Asti vineyards that are 2460 feet above sea level. I was lucky to take this bottle home and it showed well even after having it open for a couple days. Despite being intensely concentrated, this wine had a breathtaking grace to it. Black currants, smoky cedar and grilled rosemary with a plush texture that had a great backbone of acidity and remarkable precision.