Etchart is probably Argentina's most dependable wine producer. They are one of the most established too. From its wine pressed from the white Torrontes grape to that of Cabernet Sauvignon -- the more well-known resident of the Cafayate Valley atop the Salta region -- budget-minded folks are rewarded by returning to this producer year in and year out. Michel Phaneuf has routinely recommended the full gamut of their products in Quebec for the last three vintages running.
From the region of Mendoza comes the Etchart Rio de Plata Merlot 2003. While the 2004 is now the release most stocked on shelves and is ready to be drunk, the 2003 is still full of richness and character. International in style, this Merlot excelerates alongside roasted food. At first it seemed to be calling out for accompaniment, but this low pricepoint purchase is more substantial than you think. It builds up notes of chocolate and hyperripened berry fruit. So much so that I began to believe that for $10 more I might've gotten a similar punch out of a Barbaresco. Rio de Plata has a strong nose and the big chewy tannins that you might expect from a Merlot varietal. It's definitely no Conti Brandolini d'Adda Vistorta, but it doesn't aim to be either.
With this particular bottle I proved to myself that a container of appropriate size with a good seal can keep leftover wine in good drinkable condition for up to a week. Obviously not all wine will gain something or sustain itself after recorking, but so many bottles I open do, especially from the 2003 vintage (being mainly an Old World wine consumer has something to do with that since European harvests were so spectacular that year). Regardless, this Mendoza is another case in point: treat your leftovers with respect and you'll be repaid for it. Three evenings after its initial opening, the wine was every bit as enjoyable. But what is fine on the first day will be oxidized the next if you allow air to take up space in your bottle. Minimize the amount of air space that remains in your mini-bottle. This will also reduce the surface area of the wine, which is important. Screw-top mini-bottles are even better for this since you don't have to guesstimate for the displacement of an inserted cork.
Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. 13%.