2011 Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon Signature Mendoza
Expert Rating
ST 92 points
(Read the full review below)
We're sorry, this offer is sold out.
Read about wines still available for purchase »

Susana Balbo Vineyards, Mendoza and 3.93 out of 5 stars! Mendoza's Last 92-Point Cabernet Bargain?

The world isn't getting any rosier for Cabernet Sauvignon bargain-hunters. Most of Napa's wineries have yet to release their 2011s, the fourth consecutive short-crop vintage in the valley. With little inventory in the cellar, and plenty of fixed costs, discounting is all but out of the question. While we expect to see some relief in 2015 when the more copious 2012 crop hits the market, 2014 is looking bleak for the thrifty.

Over the last decade, the next stop for Cabernet shoppers has been Argentina. The high ground of Mendoza, from Luján de Cuyo to Agrelo has given birth to deep, dark, luscious Cabernet Sauvignons, packed with Napa-like concentration while braced by firm acid backbone. But if you've been paying attention to the Business section of the Times or the WSJ, you've no doubt read stories about the inflationary turmoil in Buenos Aires and the continued devaluation of the peso — and why the combination of the two is threatening the future of bargain Argentine Cabernet and Malbec.

While the subtleties of the economics are above our pay grade, this little story is quite telling. The peso dropped 15 percent last week, a move that on the surface would appear to help winegrowing exporters. But with inflation running at almost 3 percent per MONTH, wineries are caught in the crosshairs. "Sure, we can sell," one proprietor told us. "But what's the cost to restock? The price of all of our imported supplies (bottles, corks, foil, etc.) are skyrocketing by the day. We make money on the first sale, but we're then obliged to raise prices on the second. It's a tough way to do business."

Indeed, it is. Last week, several importers confided that they could now see a day when there would be no more bargain Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon on American retail shelves. "In the last five years, Argentine wines have taken market share from the rest of the world. Now, it seems like they could be giving it back as fast as they gobbled it up!"

That anecdote, perhaps more than any other in the last year, explains why Susana Balbo's 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon — Stephen Tanzer's highest-rated under-$20 Cabernet Sauvignon in the last 5 years — may be the last 92-point shot for American bargain-hunters in Argentina.

Over the course of the last few decades, Susana Balbo followed the script that had first been laid out for her by Warren Winiarski at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. She re-planted her vineyards with tightened spacing — some as tight as 8,000 plants per hectare — harvesting just one kilo of Cabernet per plant. But, understanding the bright sun of the Andes is capable of blistering clusters in a single afternoon, she took extra care to protect her small-berry Cabernet clusters. Working with small crews, she taught her vineyard team to pull leaves only from the cooler, western side of the vines to promote ripeness, while leaving the canopy in place on the eastern side. By 2004, the Queen of Agrelo was harvesting ultra-ripe bunches, putting out a deep, dark, sleek reserve that would earn 91 points from The Wine Advocate.

But last year, when we asked Susanna to describe what makes for a great Cabernet vintage on the mountain terraces of Tupungato, even Balbo was hard-pressed to craft a more perfect script than the one written in the summer of 2011.

Spring featured an excellent set, but a zonda wind moving up from Patagonia on November 9th blew in a major frost, trimming crop levels before things really got started. The summer would feature high winds and some heavy rain, even a bit of hail -- although Susana Balbo's "Signature" sites were barely touched. But as always, harvest drama doesn't play out until the last act — never more so than in March 2011.

The fabulous Indian summer that began three weeks before harvest brought turquoise skies, mild days and cool mountain nights. The dramatic diurnal temperature shift spiked sugars during the day as the chilly evenings preserved every gram of crisp acidity. At harvest, the berry size was small. Skins were thick, but seeds were perfectly brown, providing for perfectly ripe tannic balance.

Susana Balbo's extravagant 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon "Signature" may well be the finest bottle ever to come out of this superstar estate. Opaque purple in color, with explosive aromas of blackberry and blueberry preserves, spiked with sweet mountain herbs. Rich, juicy and wildly opulent on the attack yet still marvelously restrained and back on its heels, in this cool vintage Balbo has brilliantly walked the tightrope between the Old World and New with this luscious shot across Stag's Leap's bow.

Tasting Notes

2011 Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon Signature Mendoza
"(aged in 80% new French oak): Good saturated ruby-red. Aromas of blueberry, blackberry, violet, leather and herbs. Sappy, juicy and attractively sweet, with rather claret-like flavors of dark berries, herbs and spices. Nicely combines an Old World silkiness of texture with the ripeness of Mendoza cabernet. The long, rising finish features very smooth tannins. Classy juice, and long on personality."
92 points -- Stephen Tanzer, International Wine Cellar


By law, wine may ONLY be shipped to the following states: AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, KS, LA, ME, MI, MN, MO, NC, NE, NH, NM, NV, OH, OR, PA, SC, TN, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY.