By Bruno Prats
Monday 18 March 2013
Tasting at Palacio San Martín
The Cabinet Chief of the Minister of Foreign Relations welcomes us in this magnificent palace, built in 1906 for the Anchorena family by Norwegian architect Alejandro Christophersen on the occasion of the visit of the Infant Isabella of Bourbon. The French style of the building is punctuated by Art Nouveau elements. The room in which the tasting is held is sumptuous and embellished in gold.
The Argentinean vineyards cover 230,000 ha. of vines, including 31,000 of Malbec, 20,000 of Bonarda, 18,000 of Cabernet Sauvignon, 12,000 of Syrah and 1,600 of Pint Noir. The consumption of wine has reduced from 90 liters to 30 liters per inhabitant – the vineyards and cellars had to make radical changes in order to produce better quality and exportable wines. Roberto de la Mota organized a tasting of wines from regions we will not be able to visit on this trip.
Federico Sacca introduces the region. The main vineyards are located at a height between 38° and 39.5° latitude, 350km east of the Andes and 450km west of the Atlantic, in a continental climate. During summer, the temperature from night to daytime lowers from 35° to 15 °C. It is very dry (120 to 170mm of rainfall per year) and at an altitude of 350 to 400m, it is the lowest in all Argentinean vineyards. The strong winds and drought help produce very healthy vines and little, thick-skinned grapes with low returns. Frosts are feared from mid-April until the end of December. Some test-vineyards have been planted at 42° latitude, against the Cordillère. The majority of the vines are non-grafted and have nematode issues.
Bodega Schroeder was created in 2001 in the context of a government programme aimed at redeploying oil revenues towards fruit growing (Neuquén is the biggest oil area in Argentina). Grapes varieties: Malbec, Cabernet-sauvignon, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Torrontes. Experiments in process on Syrah and Cabernet franc. Merlot is doing very well. The Saurus brand comes from the presence of a dinosaure skeleton on site.
1. Pinot noir Saurus 2010. 70% of mass selection (Pinots noirs from Mendoza were selected by Chandon for sparkling wines, with big returns), 30% clone 777. Harvesting in February. Average colour, oaky aromas, round tannins, light structure, delightful.
2. Pinot noir Fin del Mundo 2010. Mass selection, ageing in American oak barrels. The oaky aroma masks the varietal character, deep robe, nice structure, strong oaky finish.
3. Malbec Saurus barrel fermented 2010. 5 days of cold maceration and barrel fermentation. Very good wine, great freshness, subtle and elegant tannins, original style.
4. Malbec Malma 2010, Bodega NQN. Classic stainless steel vinification, remounting at beginning of fermentation and maceration for 15 to 20 days, followed by ageing of 30% in oak, 70% in stainless steel. Good varietal aroma, nice balance, ripe fruit, finish is a little oaky.
5. Malbec Universo 2009, Bodega NQN. Hot year. Extraction a little more emphasized, maceration for 25 days, 12 months of ageing. The American oak is very present, very rich structure, ripe and powerful tannins, wine made for the American market.
6. Malbec – Cabernet sauvignon – Merlot, Universo blend 2009, Bodega NQN. Vinification in 120 hl stainless steel barrels, ageing in 50% French oak and 50% in American oak. Good balance, strong presence of American oak.
7. Cabernet sauvignon – Malbec – Merlot, Special blend 2008, Fin del Mundo. Their high-end wine, with 18 months of ageing in oak, very rich, blended and soft structure but very strong vanilla-scented finish of American oak.
With its 70,000 ha, San Juan is the second largest viticultural region after Mendoza. Formerly, it produced base wines for Vermouth and mass table wines for the domestic market. Exportation began in 1990 with U.S. retail prices from 6 to 7 $, sold today at a price between 10 and 15 $. La Bodega Graffignia (Pernod Ricard Group) was producing 4,000 cases a year in 1998 and 420,000 cases in 2005. The climate is very hot, up to 42 °C in the summer, with 120 to 140mm of rainfall each year. The ground is sandy or sandy-clay at an altitude of 1,400m.
1. Malbec Graffignia Gran Reserva 2011. Nice varietal aromas, light structure, simple.
2. Cabernet sauvignon Graffignia Gran Reserva 2010. No vegetal taste, proper, simple, relatively common oak (chips ?).
Particularly known for the Torrontes, which is a white grape originated from seeds brought to Peru by the Spanish or, according to other oenologists, a cross between Alexandria Muscat and Criolla (Mission). Productive and rustic, its Muscat aroma is appreciated by young Americans. There are three varieties. The valley is located at an altitude of 800m but today plots can be planted at up to 1,800m. Syrah is developing. The biggest producer is the La Riojana cooperative, which vinifies 75 million liters at a very low price.
1. Torrontes La Riojana. Intense musky aromas, proper acidity, light bitterness on the finish.
2. Malbec Reserva Raza. Very ripe grape, simple but good fruit.
Developing region, superb and culturally very rich. It almost lies on the Tropic. Only at 2,000m do you find fresh air, which is the reason why grapes are harvested a month and a half later than in Mendoza. 250mm of rain falls every summer although in 2012, it poured 500mm. Problems with botrytis emerged. Donald Hess bought 55,000 ha on a mountain and planted a part of it.
1. Torrontes Reserva Cafayate, Bodega Etchart (Pernod Ricard). Very aromatic, Muscat aromas, rather neutral taste and a light, sweet finish.
2. Torrontes 2011 Finca Domingo. Delicate aromas, light greenness, a little heavy.
3. Malbec 2012 Piatelli. It is the first harvest from a new, spectacular cellar of 60 ha., belonging to an American investor. Dry oaky smell, peppery, delicate tannins, finish is somewhat bitter.
4. Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Cafayate Etchart. Very strong green bell pepper smell, rather round taste, tannic finish.
5. Malbec – Cabernet sauvignon Arnaldo B 2010, Etchart. Winey aromas, structured, blended tannins, high in sugar.
6. Malbec – Cabernet sauvignon – Tannat 2010 Rupestre Domingo Molina. Vineyard at an altitude of 1,200m, fresh, excellent balance, one of the best wines of the tasting.
The Charmat method (closed barrel) was developed by Chandon in 1961 in order to avoid issues with bottle turning.
1. Torrontes Raza. Vegetal smell, generous mousse.
2. Pinot noir from Patagonia, Rosa de Los Vientos. Pretty pinkish robe, elegant smell, fresh palate, U.S. retail price : 19 $
We enjoy lunch at Las Lilas restaurant, located in a refurblished port warehouse in Puerto Madero. We eat a traditional Asado meal and enjoy the wines tasted earlier in the morning.
The evening is spent at Bar Sur, a traditional tango establishment, opened in 1960 and listed as part of the Argentinean cultural heritage. Orchestra and singers (bandoneón, double bass and piano), two couples of tango dancers. A marvellous,timeless, authentic setting.
Tuesday, 19 March 2013
As our flight is cancelled, the day’s programme is modified slightly. We are welcomed in Mendoza by José Octavio Bordón, former Governor of Mendoza and former Ambassador of Argentina in the United States, where he befriended our President. He will accompany us during our whole trip, allowing us to appreciate his humour and incomparable knowledge about the history of the Mendoza viticulture. The current Governor, Dr. Francisco Pérez, was also present at the airport.
BODEGA VISTALBA – LUJAN DE CUYO
We are welcomed by Carlos and Eduardo Pulenta and their respective wives. The Pulenta family has played a very important part in the development of the Mendoza vineyards and in its reorientation towards quality. Carlos explains that the new challenge is to find new quality plots in big vineyards and to explore new soils. The 50 ha Vistalba vineyard is non-grafted and is watered by furrow irrigation at an altitude of 980m. Its beautiful buildings are consturcted in a traditional style. An underground cellar, air-conditioned by a false refrigerated ceiling features a floor cut showing 20cm of silt and a great depth of clay ground, full of voluminous gneiss rocks sculpted by glaciers. A stainless steel and a concrete chest are in service. The reception of harvests is organized outside. The installation is modern, with manual sorting before and after the de-stemming and filling of the tanks through gravity with mobile basins. The grape is cold, having spent the night outside in crates. Three days of cold maceration take place before fermentation and manual punching.
1. Tomero Sauvignon blanc 2008, Vistalba. Powerful nose, controlled oaky flavour, very fleshy palate, very well made. Vines from Valle de Uco, no malolactic fermentation, one year in barrel.
2. Cabernet franc 2006, Bodega Pulenta. Fresh blackcurrant aromas, very well achieved extraction, very frank finish, a delightful wine to drink with a meal.
3. Vistalba Cortea 2007. 87% Malbec, 8% Bonarda, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Vine planted in 1948. Intense red fruit nose, extended extraction, great richness, very noticeable tannins with a light bitter finish.
4. Bodega Tapiz, Seleccion de Barricas 2008. 40% Malbec, 36% Cabernet sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 10% Syrah. Vines at an altitude of 1,400m in Valle de Uco, 18 months of ageing in French oak. Fresh and fruity aromas, nice oaky taste but dominant on the palate, nice fruit but a little dry on the finish.
5. Bodega Topiz Black Tears Malbec 2008. Roasted nose, fresh and grainy first impression, very powerful wine but very oaky with a dry finish.
6. Petit Verdot Tomero 2009, Vistalba. 15 months in French oak barrels, harvested in the beginning of May. Nice ripe and fresh nose, nice acidity, a little short on the palate.
7. Cortea 2009 Vistalba. 60% Malbec, 30% Bonarda, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, barreled for 18 months. rich aromas, light eucalyptus, nice structure, ample wine.
8. Cabernet franc Pulenta Gran 2009. Vines in Ugarteche. Nose is somewhat dusty but nice round structure with tender tannins and a fresh finish, very delightful.
9. Progenie I (Vistalba). Champagne method, 60% Pinot noir, 40% Chardonnay. Fresh and light, very pleasant, weak persistance of froth.
We have lunch on-site : frayed rabbit with a Malbec pear confit, red deer sirloin and sweet potato mousseline, aubergines, caramel pears and Cabernet franc and Malbec sorbet. Proving Argentina does not only make grilled beef!
CHEVAL DES ANDES – VISTALBA
We are welcomed by Nicolas Eudebert, sporting his polo equipment (player N°3, the most important position in the team), who offers us some Baron B, the high-end of the Chandon range, before he engages in four animated chukkas with his team mates and friends. Unfortunately, his team loses by five goals to four. The polo field lies in the middle of a 50 ha vineyard, composed of 85% of Malbec, including 16 ha from 1928. The remaining plots are planted in Petit Verdot, Cabernet franc and Merlot. Vineyard with furrow irrigation (5,000 m3 per ha and per year are needed), traditional planting of 1,80m x 1m, double guyot pruning. The wine is made in Terrazas de Los Andes.
1. Cheval des Andes 2008. 55% Malbec, 45% Cabernet sauvignon, 10% petit Verdot, 2 years in French oak, cool year with little return (failure of the grape to set and frost on 15 April). 35,000 bottles (whereas 2007 yielded 100,000 bottles). The wine has just been introduced to the market. Silky tannins, a lot of freshness, lightly bitter finish.
2. Cheval des Andes 2005. Roberto de la Mota’s last vintage, nice nose, very blended tannins, rich and spicy, nice wine.
3. Cheval des Andes 2003. Very hot year, 18% of Petit Verdot, very subtle and blended tannins, spicy, less concentrated than the other vintages.
4. Cheval des Andes 1999. 60% Cabernet sauvignon, 40% Malbec, Cheval des Andes’s first vintage. Very nice, fresh and floral nose, nice rich and fine structure, a little dry on the finish. A very beautiful, French-spirited wine.
A fantastic cocktail is served to us in the hospitality building (there is no technical equipment on site since the wine is made in Terrazas).
Wednesday, 20 March 2013
BODEGA TRAPICHE – COQUIMBITO
We are welcomed by Daniel Pi, chief of production and a man as modest as he is competent. Daniel manages the technical aspects of a significant business founded in 1883, which used to be the property of the Pulenta family. It was taken over in 1970 by Peñaflor, which now belongs to the Bimber family, the biggest Argentinean brewer. They made Peñaflor the eighth wine group in the world. Amongst the members of the family are the de Ganey, the Montalembert and the Poniatowski. Daniel Pi vinifies with 20% of non-de-stemmed grapes and indigenous yeast.
We start by visiting the 10,000,000 litre capacity 1912-built cellar where the high-ends wines are made. It is located in a superb, perfectly restored building and the original harvest-reception area has been preserved. It was a state-of-the-art facility in its time. The modern reception includes three vinimatic tanks, whose manual filling surprised us. Fermentation is made in 115 hl epoxy-lined cement vats. We then visit a more industrial cellar hiding at 24m underground, It is the largest cement vat in the world, with a capacity of 5,250,000 litres. Built in 1970, it was destined to make sets capable of filling a 40-wagon train for transportation to Buenos Aires.
We start the tasting with two wines from Bodega Lopez in Maipu, the most anciently planted region in Mendoza. They produce the traditional way, in 15,000l French oak vats with a very long ageing time.
1. Montchenot 2002, Bodega Lopez, Maipu. Cabernet sauvignon 70%, Merlot 15%, Malbec 15%, 6 years of ageing in foudres. Candied aromas, relatively round but very dry on the finish. Representative of a style made only for the internal market.
2. Château Vieux 2004, Bodega Lopez. 70% Cabernet sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 15% Pinot noir. The nose is undefined and extremely evolved, full warm mouth, tannins are not as dry, very surprising.
Moving on to the Trapiche wines
1. Trapiche Gran, Cabernet sauvignon 2010. Grapes from Maipu, vines planted non-grafted in 1960 on a rocky, very permeable terrain, with furrow irrigation. Very sharp wine, well-balanced oak, moderate extraction, floral, flexible, fresh finish, very pleasant to drink.
2. Finca Las Pierdas 2010. Malbec from the region of Los Arboles (Lujan), 10-year old vines including 80% grafted on R110 and 1103 Paulsen, watered by drip irrigation, vinified with 10% fruit cluster. Nose still a little austere, good balance, freshness, very noticeable tannins on the finish but no heaviness, deserves a longer ageing process.
3. Terroir Series Malbec 2009 Jorge Miralles. Name of the grape supplier ; there are more than 200. Vineyard at an altitude of 1,000m. Fermentation in regularly rolled barrels in order to imitate punching. Spectacular nose, profound and complex, very fine and supple tannins, a lot of sweetness on the finish, an irresistible wine. U.S. retail price : 50 $.
4. Iscay, Malbec and Cabernet franc 2008. The name means « two » in Quechua. It is the most expensive one in Bodega Trapiche. Roasted and grilled aromas, very elegant palate, no excess of power, firm finish. Character wine but can be hardened by acidification.
BODEGA LA RURAL – COQUIMBITO
We are welcomed by Mariano di Paola, chief oenologist who has the physique of a rugby player, and Gonzalo Videla, vineyard director. We walk along a « Parral » (pergola vineyard) of 1973 Cabernet before entering the museum created by the Italian founder of La Rural, Felipe Rutini, who died in 1919 and whose children took over the business. The cobble-walled and reed-fenced building showcases surprising tools from the colonial period, including a bull-skin « lagar ».
We start by tasting wines from Bodega Montequieto in Lujan de Cuyo
1. Quieto 2008. 35% Cabernet franc, 40% Malbec, 25% Cabernet sauvignon. The wine lacks clarity, round and supple, it is a little hollow on the palate.
2. Quieto Reserva 2008. 45% Cabernet franc, 40% Malbec, 15% Cabernet sauvignon. Warm nose with a welcome peppery note, balanced, good freshness.
We proceed to the garden for a lunch composed of empanadas, cold cuts, delicious stuffed crêpes and excellent salmon which is welcome after so much meat.
1. Trumpeter. Rosé Malbec, Champagne method. Excellent surprise, we like this wine a lot, very pleasant to drink.
2. Rutini extra brut. 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot noir. Very well made and pleasant.
3. Rutini Apartado Blanco 2011. Chardonnay 90%, Sauvignon 7%, Pinot gris 3%, barrel fermentation and aged for 14 months. Very rich wine, buttery palate, powerful.
4. Pinot noir 2010. 14 months in French oak barrels. This wine is not yet on the market. Good varietal aromas, blended tannins but a lack of vivacity.
5. Antologia 2009. Merlot 90%, Cabernet franc 7%, Petit Verdot 3%. Very ripe nose, a little warm, rich and heavy wine, needs time to blend.
6. Gran Malbec Rutini. 90% Malbec (3 origins : Consulta, Altamira and Tupungato), 10% petit Verdot, 2 years in barrel. Nice verietal aromas, powerful but balanced wine, serious, relatively austere.
7.Rutini Vin doux naturel 2010. Sémillon, Sauvignon, Gewürtztraminer, botrytisation through water spraying. Amusing.
8. Malbec Encabezado. Malbec fortified with Malbec Grappa, 19°5, 138g of sugar. Interesting and original but the marc-character of the grappa is dominant.
BODEGA MENDEL – DRUMMOND
This is the bodega that Roberto de la Mota took over in 2002. It produces 80,000 to 120,000 bottles per year. Roberto welcomes us with his right-hand man Santiago Mayorga. The cellar is composed of two vineyards, one in Lujan de Cuyo, the other in Valle de Uco. Ahead of us lies a 1928 non-grafted Malbec vineyard of 1,80m x 1m. It is no longer watered by furrow irrigation. Since 2002, it has been watered twice a week by a large drip irrigation in order to keep control of the phylloxera. During winter, furrow irrigation is practiced if needed. These conditions permit the continuation of layering. We have the impression that the vine is ready to be harvested but Santiago explains that they must wait around eight more days. There are 6 ha of organic culture with 5 T/ha of returns. Soil work is undertaken with a narrow tractor as according to tradition, olive trees are preserved in the rows in order to spread risks.
If needed, they can cure the vine against botrytis with a grapefruit seed extract called BC 1000, efficient and with no implementation limit. The cellar, functional and very modern, is located in a beautiful old building. Stainless steel vets of 50 and 80 hl, extraction by punching only, selected yeasts. The old cement vets have been reconverted for the purpose of barrel ageing.
1. Sémillon 2009. Fermented and aged in the vat except for 15% in barrels (because the vat was full !), very clear and brilliant colour, very sharp, very fresh, pH of 3,2, light greenness on the finish which accentuates the freshness.
2. Malbec 2010. Cool year. Nice ripe aromas, no heaviness, rich, savoury tannins, well balanced oak (Taransaud), light bitterness on the finish.
3. Unus 2007. Rainy year. 70% Malbec, 30% Cabernet sauvignon (clone 337 grafted on 101-14), 14 months of new wood. Very ripe nose, very deep, very savoury attack, rich and silky structure but finish is a little harsh like many of the wines we have tasted during this trip.
4. Finca Remota. Malbec, vines at an altitude of 1,150 m in a cool and windy area, 3,000 bottles made. Nice aromas, very rich and opulent but no heaviness, very fine finish, beautiful wine.
5. Petit Verdot 2011. Still in barrels. Intense and peppery nose, at this state this wine still lacks some flesh and the acid finish is very noticeable. Nice potential.
Roberto invited some friends who introduced us to their wines.
Domaine St. Diego
It is a family affair led by patriarch Angel Mendoza, former oenologist at Peñaflor, who tells us in detail about his family history and his personal and original views on vinification. He makes 30,000 bottles a year and his cellar is close to Bodega Mendel.
1. Paradigma. 60% Malbec, 20% Cabernet franc, 20% Cabernet sauvignon, no wood, aged in stainless steel. Nose is a little reduced, particular balance, entry is hollow and finish is tannic.
2. Pura Sangre. 80% Malbec, 20% Cabernet sauvignon, 9 months of ageing in new wood. This wine is not convincing.
Bodega Familia Zuccardi – Maipu – directed by José Alberto Zuccardi
1. Emma. 100% Bonarda (not the French Bonarda but the French Corbeau). Not very aromatic, sharp but austere tannins a little like a Tannat.
2. Tito 2010. Valle de Uco, 80% Malbec, 10% Cabernet sauvignon, 8% Caladoc (Malbec x Grenache from the INRA), 2% Chardonnay. Well made wine, dominant acidity.
3. Zuccardi Alluvional 2009. 100% Malbec, vineyard at an altitude of 1,200 m. rich and sweet style, a little sticky. Sold at 80 $ in the U.S.A.
Bodega Weinert – presented by Andres Weinert, son of the owner.
1. Malbec 1977. Wine elaborated by Roberto de la Mota’s father, very late harvest because the construction of the cellar was not finished, fermented in 400hl cement vets with stirrings and an 8-day maceration, ageing for 6 years in 25 to 60 hl foudres. Very evolved licorice nose, totally blended tannins but not dry, pleasant acidity on the finish.
2. Cavas de Weinert 1977. 60% Cabernet sauvignon, 30% Malbec, 10% Merlot. Evolved nose, a little affected by old wood, blended tannins, complexity, good length on the palate, persistent finish. Proof that the traditional method could make very interesting wines.
BODEGA LAGARDE – LUJAN DE CUYO
We are welcomed by Lucy Pez Carmona in the beautiful, magnificently restored Casa Patronal, with its impressive high ceilings and wide brick walls. This great lady, who speaks perfect French, impresses us with her vast knowledge and sparkling intelligence. Dinner was prepared by Mariano Gallego and Florencia D’Amico, both young chefs at the Brindillas restaurant and was delicious: vegetable soup, vegetable and anchovy tartlet, crispy quinoa, pumpkin and sweet corn candy, pork filet with home-made sauce, rabbit escabèche with mustard sauce, red deer filet with pink pepper pears and apples, lemon sorbet with maté infusion, almond tart with maracuja, cookies.
1. Lagarde Extra brut. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot noir, Lujan de Cuyo et Tupungato, Champagne method, 18 months in deposits. Rich and warm style.
2. Lagarde Viognier 2012, Perdriel, Lujan de Cuyo. It was the first Viognier planted in South America in 1993. Stainless steel fermentation at 17° with selected yeasts. No wood. Sticks to the grape variety’s style.
3. Lagarde Primeras Vinas Malbec 2008. Lujan de Cuyo, plantation from 1906, 3 days of cold maceration, fermentation with indigenous yeasts with stirrings and unballastings, 20 days of maceration, 12 months of new French oak. 8,000 bottles. Intense nose, plum, red fruit, spicy and fatty palate, alcohol is very noticeable at the end of the palate. Impressive wine but not very easy to drink.
4. Henry Gran Guarda N1 2006. Lujan de Cuyo, vines of 12 to 17 years of age an altitude of 980m, 24 months in new oak. Very oaky (probably American), one bottle is a little dry, the other is more fleshy. Spectacular wine but very American-style.
The Minister of Agriculture, his wife, Julieta Gargiulo, vice-president of the Academia Argentina de la Vid y del Vino and Cristina Pandolfi of the Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura shared dinner with us.
Thursday, 21 March 2013
BODEGA LOS NOBLES – LUJAN DE CUYO
We are welcomed by Alberto Arizu, an experienced oenologist who put a lot of thought into the effects of soil. He tells us about the initial indigenous population, Huarpes of Inca culture in the North, Puleches in the South, about the arrival of Europeans through Chile, the Atlantic and through Bolivia. He presents us with geological and climatic maps: the vineyards lie on Andes Cordillera debris cones, in areas irrigated by 200 to 300mm of rain a year with average temperatures from 2 to 4 °C in the winter and 20 to 22 °C in the summer. The southern wind brings rain over the Cordillera but not on the vineyard. The south-eastern wind brings wind to the vineyard and the northern wind, hot and humid, causes localized storms.
The ground is made of 10cm to 1,5m of sandy and muddy silt plus a layer of 30cm. It is difficult to cross through the roots containing stones, which on the lower part are covered in calcium carbonate and calcium sulfate (yeso). Underneath lies sand blended with large rocks, sculpted by glaciers and, at 2,5m of depth, blocks of stone which can reach as much as 2 tons. The ground comprises 30% silt, 15-20% of clay, 4% limestone, 1% of organic matter; the rest is sand and rock. Traditionally planted in a north-south direction, this vine produces better results when planted in north-west – south-east rows, which protect the grapes more efficiently from excessive sun exposure. The Los Nobles vineyard covers 56 ha and its main brand is Luigi Bosca.
1. Chardonnay 2010 Luigi Bosca. Las Lomas, Lujan de Cuyo, new barrel fermentation, 6 months of wood. Rich aromas of white flower, buttery structure without excess, nice acidity.
2. Gala Luigi Bosca 2010. 60% Malbec, 20% petit Verdot, 20% Tannat. 48,000 bottles. Nose is still a little closed, a lot of sweetness, elegant, a hint of bitterness on the finish.
3. Gala Luigi bosca 2009. 60% Cabernet sauvignon, 20% Cabernet franc, 20% Merlot. 48,000 bottles. The nose is rather Merlot-style, light structure, very round palate, the wine is a little too soft.
4. Finca Los Nobles 2008. Cabernet franc, 12,000 bottles. It is the second wine in the cellar hierarchy, the first one being named Icono. Not very structured but fine and elegant, finish is a little dry.
We taste wines from Bodega Viña Alicia, which belongs to Alberto Arizu’s wife and is managed by his son. The soils are more clayey and produce wines with greater chewiness.
1. Malbec 2010. Balanced structure, simple but pleasant, some finesse.
2. Morena 2008. Cabernet sauvignon (5 différent clones) and Cabernet franc (2 different clones). Ripe aromas, round, very fleshy, some finesse.
3. Nebiollo 2008. It is the Lampia variety brought from Italy in 1830 by Alberto Arizu’s grandfather. Today, Piemont cultivates a cross of the Lampia and Michet varieties performed by the Alba Station. Good varietal aromas, structured, tannins quite noticeable and a little rustic.
We try wines from Bodega Kaiken (the name of a bird that came to Mendoza from Chile through the Andes cordillera), created 10 years ago by Aurelio Montes, the well-known Chilean winemaker, and managed by Aurelio Montes junior, who presents us with his wines with competence and authority. Montes produces 700,000 crates in Chile and 150,000 in Argentina. Initially they only produced Malbec and Cabernet sauvignon but now other varieties as they discover new and suitable land.
1. Kaiken Torrontes 2012. Cafayate, return of 8T/ha (Torrontes, a cross between Moscatel and Mission, can produce up to 30 T/ha). Typically intense aromas, good acidity, fresh palate, light, well-controlled bitterness on the finish.
2. Kaiken Terroir Series. 80% Malbec from Vistaflores in Valle de Uco, 12% Bonarda from Agrelo in Lujan de Cuyo, 8% Petit Verdot from Tupungato in Valle de Uco. Excellent wine, elegant nose, complex, very fine tannins, powerful without heaviness, spicy note, finish is long and fine. Sold 15 $ in the U.S.A.
BODEGA NORTON – LUJAN DE CUYO
We are welcomed by Jorge Riccitelli who was named oenologist of the year 2012 by The Wine Enthusiast. Norton is a big cellar belonging to the Swarowski family. The total production reaches 20,000,000 bottles with 50% of the grapes purchased and 50% of grapes grown on their 780 ha vineyard, including La Colonia covering 500 ha on a 1,000 ha property. Afterwards, we visit the modern 1997 vat-house equipped with 300 hl stainless steel vats and the 1969 cement vat with a reed-fenced roof with cork isolation, and finally the 1919 vat and the nice underground bottle cellars. The Sauvignon blanc goes through cold maceration and is grafted, pressed and clarified with enzymes up to 60-70 NTU. The Chardonnay is pressed in whole bunches and clarified only until it reaches 600 NTU. Vat fermentation at 17 °C or in barrels at 20-21 °C. The red ones undergo a cold maceration for 5 days and are fermented with 3 to 4 stirrings a day, followed by a 20 to 30-day maceration for high-end bottles. We witness an attempted Malbec fermentation in a 900 litre rotating cask. Every Thursday, the inhabitants of Mendoza are invited to bring their demijohns which they can fill from the wooden cask. This old tradition is still very popular.
1. Norton brut rosé Cosecha Especial. Very fruity, pleasant.
2. Norton Sauvignon blanc 2013. Filtered at the laboratory for our tasting. La Colonia vineyard. Light asparagus nose, light and well-balanced palate, promising.
3. Perdriel Extra brut. 50% Pinot noir, 50% Chardonnay, Champagne method, fine mousse, pleasant, lightly bitter. In 7 years, the production has gone from 7,000 to 2,500,000 bottles, entirely sold on the national market for 80 pesos.
4. Norton Reserva Cabernet sauvignon 2010. Very well made, good varietal aromas, hint of pepper bell, supple structure, nice balance, a little dry on the finish. U.S. retail price 18 $.
5. Norton Reserva Malbec 2010. Nice ripe aromas, very round on the palate, well balanced, fleshy, frank finish with some firmness. Sold 18 $ in the U.S.A.
6. Norton Privada. 40% Malbec, 30% Cabernet sauvignon, 30% Merlot. Complex aromas but still closed, rich palate, a lot of vivacity, very sharp and tight, 20,000 bottles.
7. Norton Privada Malbec 2010. Very powerful, creamy, very noticeable and somewhat drying oak on the finish.
8. Perdriel 2007 Vineyard sélection. 60% Malbec, 28% Cabernet sauvignon, 12% Merlot. Marked but well blended oaky nose, very rich palate but no heaviness, freshness, impressive contest-wine style. Sold 50 $ in the U.S.A.
9. Gernot Langes 2006. Lujan de Cuyo, 80% Malbec, 10% Cabernet sauvignon, 10% Cabernet franc. Elegant nose with very fine wood, very silky tannins, finesse, nice character wine.
10. Norton Malbec 1974. Perdriel. Back in the days, the wine was drained into casks at 3° Baumé and was kept in them for years. Very evolved nose, mushroom and wax notes, palate is dominated by a somewhat burning alcohol. A moving wine but too old.
We are tasting Bodega Piatelli wines, presented by Valeria Antolin, oenologist.
1. Piatelli Torrontes 2012 Premium Reserve. Cafayate. Vines at an altitude of 1,700 on rocky and very poor ground. Elegant and modern style but still with the aromatic flamboyance of the Torrontes.
2. Piattelli Cabernet sauvignon 2009. Tupungato, integral de-stemming, fermentation in 5,000 kg vats with punching, barreled for 13 months, 24,000 bottles. Lively aromas, supple tannins on the attack but a little green on the finish.
3. Piattelli Trinita 2010. 60% Malbec, 25% Merlot, 15% Cabernet sauvignon, barrelled for 16 months. Ripe and complex nose, style of tannins is relatively lively and fresh.
The visit ends with a magnificent assado in the garden : chorizo, blood sausage, sweetbread, tomato salad and aubergines served with Gernot Langes 2006. A glass of Malbec Grappa ends the meal and reminds us that, as their favourite joke claims, Argentineans are Spanish-speaking Italians who take themselves for Englishmen.
TERRAZAS DE LOS ANDES – PERDRIEL
Hervé Bernie-Scott, director of Chandon Argentina, tells us about the creation of the project initiated by the legendary Robert Jean de Vogue who had revolutionized the Moët house in the fifties by creating Don Pérignon and by buying its American importer. It is Renaud Poirier, cellar master at Moët, who chose Mendoza in 1960 to develop the first sparkling wine elaborated outside of France by a grand Champagne house after exploring the world for the perfect place. Today, Chandon possesses 110 ha of Chardonnay and Pinot noir in Argentina and produces 2,700,000 bottles. Chandon Brazil was created in 1973, while Chandon California and Chandon Australia were created in 2000.
Roberto de la Mota was present at the very origins of Terrazas in 1991. Today, the property counts 500 ha of red vine. Each grape variety is implanted according to the altitude of the land since shifting from an altitude of 600m to 1,500m is the equivalent of going from north Africa to the Champagne region. The old non-grafted vines are maintained through layering (the bond with the mother is cut after 4 years) and are watered by furrow irrigation. This kind of irrigation brings a lot of silt which accumulates. It is therefore necessary to plough in the rank to maintain soil aeration. Very draining grounds allow deep rooting. If those are watered by drip irrigation, phylloxera and nematodes can kill the vine very quickly. Massive and low-frequency irrigations (every 3 to 4 weeks) are therefore needed.
Having a water resource is fundamental but there is little of it left, and since it is now forbidden to dig new wells, a plot with a well is of great value. Controlling the irrigation by measuring ground humidity happens to be inefficient. The Scholander chamber provides better results but observation and experience are sufficient. Non-grafted vines are more tolerant to drought than those grafted on 1103 Paulsen or on SO4.
We visit the vat-house, very modern and impeccably maintained, which is installed in an old building with magnificent brick arches. It resisted all earthquakes. Hervé Bernie-Scott shows us how the original brick vats were made with almost flat arches, a masterpiece of know-how created by founder Sotero Arizu, a Spanish engineer whose monogram, sculpted in one of the cellar walls, subtly refers to his Masonic membership. We continue our visit stopping at the barrel cellars, composed of 90% of French oak (Taransaud, Sylvain, Darnajou etc.) and 10% of American oak (Canton, Demptos). Red wines are aged for 12 months for Reserva, and for 18 to 22 months for the high-end range. The Chardonnays are vinified in barrels stored in their individual cellar. The total production of still wines is 10,000,000 bottles.
We start by tasting wines from Bodega Fabre Monmayou, a cellar created by Hervé Joyaux, a Bordeaux native. The wines are presented by his oenologist Matthias Ricitteli, son of the Norton oenologist.
1. Malbec Gran reserva 2010. Concentrated nose, great richness of structure but a little dry and a hint of bitterness on the finish.
2. Grand Vin Malbec 2009. Fresher aromas, concentrated and rich, the finish is still harsh. The wine needs more ageing.
We move on to the wines of Terrazas de Los Andes
1. Chardonnay Reserva Terrazas 2005. Vines in Tupungato, clone 95 grafted on SO4, barrel fermentation for 70%. Very nice freshness on the palate, elegant style.
2. Malbec Single Vineyard 2008. Vines at an altitude of 1,070m, north of the Rio Mendoza, planted in 1920. 2008 was a cool year. Very intense colour, fresh aromas of red fruit, blended tannins, great final freshness, rich and elegant.
3. Cabernet Sauvignon Perdriel 2007. Vines at an altitude of 980m, scant, gravelly and very draining soils. Ripe black cherry aromas, nice tannic structure, nice fruit with a lot of ageing potential.
4. Grand Malbec 2011. Very nice concentration, very fleshy and round, nice wine.
5. Cabernet Sauvignon Perdriel 2002. Great aromatic freshness, superb potential, ample tannins, no greenness, very rich wine.
The day ends with an excellent cocktail served in the nicely restored Casa Patronal.
Since I have to leave the group early, it is time for me to provide my general impressions of this very intense, well organized and thrilling trip. Our Argentinean friends impressed us with their hospitality, their mutual support (not once did we hear anybody criticise somebody else) and their willingness to do their best. Argentinean viticulture has changed drastically (during my first trip to Argentina in 1981, continuous vinificators were the rule) and has considerable assets. The variety of micro-climates permits the ripening of various grape varieties in good conditions. Argentinean oenology is efficient and has made considerable investment. Almost all of the wines we tasted were faultless and showed no sign of a lack of concentration or of grape maturity.
A lot of wines appeared to me as being too oaky, but that is a personal opinion. Almost all wines have a great ageing potential, but since they are put on the market relatively soon, consumers do not appreciate their true value. Surely the wine producers can find a way to make these wines drinkable at an earlier stage. The trait that bothered me the most is a dry finish, probably due to acidification, which is difficult to avoid in such a hot climate. Finally, we thought the high-end wines were very expensive but if our Argentinean friends can sell them at such prices, all we can do is congratulate them. Un millon de gracias a nuestros nuevos amigos del fin del mundo.