Lunch with JosÉ Galante of
Bodegas Salentein at the Blue Duck Tavern

José Pepe Galante, WinemakerJosé Pepe Galante, Winemaker

Last week we met up with José Galante, the head winemaker of Mendoza’s Bodegas Salentein, to taste his new releases and pair them with the superb, rich and varied cuisine of the Blue Duck Tavern, graciously hosed by Bethany Scherline of Palm Bay International. We last met José at a very festive birthday party held for him at the Posada Salentein after he had just made the move from Catena to Salentein. We were a little disappointed with the wines we had tasted at the winery earlier that day and told him what great expectations we had for his success. Our tasting at the Blue Duck shows our expectations were not displaced.

In what follows, we present some basic information on Bodegas Salentein and its wines; report the lunch menu and how it combined with the newly released Salentein wines, and then give our tasting notes on the wines.

Benoit ExteriorBodegas Salentein

Bodegas Salentein is a large winery with extensive vineyards (455 hectares) in the prestigious Valle de Uco, 65 miles south of the city of Mendoza. The vineyards vary in altitude from 1050 meters near the highway and rise up to 1700 meters as one proceeds west in the foothills of the Andes. The range of altitudes and soils provides José with a wide variety of quality fruit from which to craft his wines. José works closely with Paul Hobbs, consulting winemaker to Salentein.

In this article, we review three lines of Salentein estate wines—Killka, Salentein Reserve, and the icon wines Primus and Numina. The Killka wines are inexpensive ($15) and offer good value. The Salentein Reserve wines are moderately priced ($20) and in terms of quality stand up to wines costing considerably more. Primus and Numina are very high quality wines that compete with the best wines produced in Argentina. In addition, Salentein makes a line of entry level wines called Portillo, also from Mendoza, and another line called Callia from vineyards in San Juan province; both Portillo and Callia are also imported by Palm Bay.

Don and Mike at San Pablo VineyardDon and Mike at San Pablo Vineyard

Salentein includes three separate large fincas, or vineyards, which are, in terms of increasing altitude, El Oasis, La Pampa, and San Pablo. At 1700 meters, San Pablo is one of the highest altitude vineyards in Mendoza province. We took a ride through Salentein’s vineyards in one of our visits and arrived at San Pablo to find it covered in snow (this was in August). The vineyards there are surrounded by pine forests and planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. José has begun producing single vineyard bottlings of these varieties, as well as a sparkling wine, from San Pablo. While not yet imported to the US, we hope to taste them soon.

Pairing With Blue Duck Tavern Cuisine

Chef Sebastien ArchambaultChef Sebastien Archambault

Blue Duck is a Washington DC restaurant that presents very high quality American cuisine. Chef Sebastien Archambault, who came to the Blue Duck from Los Angeles under a year ago, oversees the preparation of some of most creative, high quality, but also comforting food to be found in Washington. Our tasting menu is illustrative; all food was served family style.

The lunch started off with the Salentein 2011 Killka Torrontés, an easy drinking, fresh tasting wine that doesn’t require food to enjoy. The first course consisted of a Chilled Lobster Salad and Oysters on the Halfshell, served with the Salentein 2011 Reserve Chardonnay. While an oaked Chardonnay may seem a surprising choice for seafood, especially oysters, this one has the freshness and acidity to pair superbly.

A second course of Veal Breast and Carolina Gold Rice Risotto was served with side dishes of Sauteed Spinach and Roasted Baby Turnips and paired with the Salentein 2010 Killka Collection Malbec and the Salentein 2010 Reserve Malbec. The huckleberry jam and chestnuts that accompanied the veal and the wild mushrooms and red wine reduction of the risotto provided the touches required for an excellent pairing with the two Malbecs, both of which tend towards the focused, more elegant side of the variety.

Our third course consisted of Wood Oven Roasted Wagyu Culotte and Braised Beef Rib accompanied by Creamed Corn and Garlic Potato Puree and paired with the top of the line Salentein 2010 Primum Malbec and the Malbec red blend Salentein 2010 Numina. The well structured Numina went superbly with the lean, rare Wagyu Culotte with red wine braised shallots, while we preferred the rich, ripe Primum with the Braised Beef, which had been slowly cooked for 18 hours.

A selection of rich desserts followed, including a delicious seasonal offering of Baked Pumpkin Custard. Next time, José promised to bring along his botrytis Sauvignon Blanc dessert wine for the dessert pairing.

Tasting Notes and Ratings

Salentein 2011 Killka Torrontés Mendoza ($15) 88+

The Torrontés fruit for this wine is sourced from the Valle de Uco, not Salta’s Valle….
The wine is well made, showing minerals and floral notes on the nose and light Muscat flavors with good acidity on a light to medium weight palate. It’s easy drinking and a very good value. Recommended.

Salentein 2011 Chardonnay Reserve Mendoza ($20) 91+

This is an exceptional Chardonnay, especially for the price, with more Burgundian than New World breeding in it. It’s fresh with citrus, flint and passion fruit notes on the nose and a bright, layered palate that fills the mouth. Barrel fermentation and six months on the lees with battonage give weight and roundness to the palate but none of that disjointed sweet oak that mars so many New World Chardonnays. Very, very highly recommended.

Salentein 2010 Killka Malbec Mendoza ($15) 88

This dark ruby, inexpensive Malbec shows scents of cracked pepper and red plum and has a medium weight body with good acidity and a firm grip on the finish. It’s made from Salentein’s lowest altitude vineyards, yielding 8-10 tons/hectare and aged in French oak for about 6 months. It’s pleasant drinking.

Salentein 2010 Malbec Reserve Mendoza ($20) 91+

Like the Salentein Chardonnay Reserve, the Malbec Reserve is exceptional quality for the price. It’s a well-balanced wine with meaty red fruit notes on the nose. It shows an inner mouth perfume with flavors of ripe dark plum, blackberry, and savory, saline notes on a full, nicely weighted palate. Made from selected grapes of both low and high altitude vineyard parcels yielding about 6 tons/hectare and aged in 50% new American and French oak for 12 months.

Salentein 2010 Numina Mendoza ($41) 93

One of the findings in our report on The Diverse Wines of Argentina was how well Malbec works when blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. Malbec contributes flavor and a lush mouth feel, while Cabernet Sauvignon gives structure and elegance. This is confirmed in the Numina, a blend of Malbec (61%), Cabernet Sauvignon (21%) and smaller amounts of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, all from Salentein’s El Oasis vineyard. This well structured wine shows spicy, rich blackberry with a note of honeyed oak on the nose and offers a velvet-textured, refined palate that finishes with gripping, ripe tannins. Aged in French oak for 16 months.

Salentein 2010 Primum Malbec Mendoza ($65) 92

Like the Numina, the Primum is sourced from Salentein’s El Oasis vineyard. In terms of concentration and richness, it’s a step up from the Malbec Reserve. It offers scents of perfumed blackberry with a note of dark chocolate and a viscous but silky palate that is rich and sweet with dark fruit and toasted barrel flavors. To our taste, this wine doesn’t have the elegance of the Numina, but there are many who love this sweet blockbuster style.

Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler

October 2012