Argentina: It’s more than Malbec

Hallgarten head of buying, Steve Daniel, recently put pen to paper to recount his first experience of Argentina as well as looking at what the future may hold.

My first visit to Argentina was in the mid-90s. I had been travelling to neighbouring Chile since 1988, had seen their wineries evolve and Santiago transform from a rundown city with no night life into a dynamic, modern international power house with incredible restaurants and bars.

When I finally took the short hop across the Andes to Mendoza and landed in a rural, sprawling agricultural area of around 1 million people it was like stepping back into the 70s! The cars were ancient rust buckets, the town was very run-down and – for a vegetarian (no big juicy steaks for me) – the food was truly awful.

The one hotel that was deemed suitable for foreigners was The Aconcagua which reminded me of a very cheap youth hostel I had stayed in in Greece during my time as a backpacker. It had the noisiest most inefficient air-con I had ever encountered, and was one of the most uncomfortable stays I have ever endured.

Thankfully I was there to taste the wine and not rate the hotels. The red wines were old fashioned and heavy. Nobody talked about the whites, which was not surprising as they were completely oxidised and totally undrinkable when you did encounter one.

Most of the wines were produced in vineyards on the hot, flatlands around the city. The most common way of training was still an ancient Italian pergola system, which was all about getting as large of a yield as possible, and the wineries were old and not very clean!

However, the one thing that struck me was the vibrant energy of the people. They had an amazing spirit, and despite what their government inflicted on them, they embraced life and were still amazingly positive and joyful.

It is this spirit and ‘can-do’ attitude that was the driving-force that revolutionised their wine industry in the following years. The winemakers still have to deal with hyperinflation and a struggling economy, but they have managed to deal with everything their government has thrown at them and emerged triumphant.

So where is the Argentinean wine industry now?

The vineyards have spread from the flatlands around Mendoza to the foothills of the Andes, where the combination of altitude and latitude plays a fundamental role in the resulting wine. The cool, high vineyards of Tupungato, where Andeluna are situated and Juampi Michelini utilises his egg fermenters at Zorzal, and La Consulta are producing amazing fragrant white wines fully of verve and zip, and red wines of balance and class. Cafayate and Salta in the far north, where we work with Piattelli Vineyards, are some of the highest vineyards on the planet are making beautiful vibrant wines.

In the far cold south of Patagonia ancient vineyards have been resurrected and new ones planted. It is from this lesser-known of Argentina’s winemaking regions that Matías Riccitelli produces his ‘Old Vines From Patagonia’ range which have received critical acclaim since their launch.

In the vineyards, some of the old Pergola vines still exist but yields have been reduced and large areas planted using Guyot. The wineries are now state-of-the-art and chock full of stainless steel, computer-controlled and temperature-controlled winemaking gadgets. Gone is the one size fits all approach, each winery also has rows of barrique and new larger formats barrels, as well as concrete fermenters – including the in-vogue concrete eggs.

They are as well-equipped as anywhere on earth, but again, the thing that makes the difference are still the people. Argentinean winemakers can now make squeaky clean wines on an industrial scale if they want, but what really excites them is expressing themselves. These guys and girls love to push the boundaries of what is possible. Argentine Malbec has turned from an unknown 15 years ago into the darling of the wine consumer, and is the go-to for steak and a ‘must have’ on all restaurant lists, but Argentina has so much more to offer! It is a huge mistake to think that Argentina is a one-trick pony.

The high altitude vineyards of Argentina are growing some of the best quality Bordeaux grapes in the world. In my opinion, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon from these high vineyards can more than rival anything from Bordeaux or the swanky Napa Valley, and at far more attractive prices.

The fragrant Torrontes is the perfect match with Japanese food. The Chardonnays have real depth and class and the best Sauvignon Blanc has a rapier-like intensity that are more than a match for Sancerre. The country’s high altitude vineyards are producing some of the most exciting wines on the world stage – something that was almost unimaginable during my first trip to the country 25 years ago. Oh, and as an aside, Mendoza has also transformed. There are amazing hotels to stay in and the food is amazing (even for a vegetarian). I would now thoroughly recommend a stay there!

The Blink Effect

Do customers really make decisions on wine spend that quickly?

As I write this article we are all in Lockdown and the industry in which I ply my trade has been shut down. These are uncertain times, but I’m hoping that by the time this article is released the worst of this pandemic will be behind us. Let’s all hope for a bounce back of monumental proportions!

I can’t remember the first time I heard the term ‘The Blink Effect’ but at the time I remember thinking, this all makes a lot of sense. From then on I’ve pretty much made this concept the basis for my sales patter over the last ten years, but is it real?

The premise behind my theory was that a consumer will make a very quick decision on what they are willing to spend on wine within seconds of entering an establishment. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’, “spontaneous decisions are often as good as, or even better than, carefully planned and considered ones”.

So if consumers are going to make a really quick decision, I wanted to make sure all my customers were armed and ready. Let’s just say I was an unequivocal believer and ready to spread the word!

So what are we talking about here? What can we change in an establishment to increase the average spend on wine? It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get more bums on seats, so increasing the average spend has never been more important.

Firstly I want to acknowledge that the concept of any establishment has the biggest influence on wine spend. For example a restaurant specialising in burgers will undoubtedly have a lower average spend than a restaurant serving up rare breed steaks cooked over coal. It’s the little details that I want to concentrate on. My theory is that when you add up the effects of all these little changes, the positive impact on spend far outweighs the level of investment needed. I realise I’m starting to sound like Dave Brailsford (former Director of British Cycling) and his Marginal Gains philosophy, but I’m sure you get my point.

In my opinion, one of the key influencers on wine spend is stemware. It’s a simple concept: if you see a decent glass on the table you’d be more inclined to want to fill it with something good. If I go somewhere and see glasses that would be more at home in the Queen Vic, I maybe unfairly presume that wine isn’t a focus for their business. You’re hardly going to drop a Barolo into it! Is it really this simple though? Put out sexy glasses and watch sales sky-rocket! My colleagues have often asked me if I have proof that this actually works and to be honest I haven’t – but it has to make a difference, doesn’t it??

The actual visibility of wine in the outlet is another area that I like to explore with customers. It’s something else that customers can see, or not as the case may be, within seconds of walking into a restaurant. Again for me it underlines how serious an establishment is about wine. Now this could just be a simple wall display using dummy bottles, or budget permitting, display fridges on show in the restaurant. For me, any visibility should be seen as positive. I remember one customer asking me why wine sales had dropped and I could see three newly installed beer vats over his shoulder! It’s pretty clear to me, if you don’t show people that you sell quality wine, why would you expect them to buy it?

Place settings – now there’s something that keeps me awake at night! On one occasion I had to remind myself that I was supposed to be selling wine, after I’d spent the best part of an hour obsessing over salt and pepper mills with a customer. As a customer if you sit down at a table and everything just looks right, I believe this can have a really positive impact on wine spend. If I see salt and pepper pots that don’t match, I’m grabbing my coat and sprinting for the nearest exit! When a customer walks in, one of the first things they’ll see are the tables, so making sure they send the right message is vital.

I suppose what I’m saying is everything the consumer sees influences the average spend on wine. The reality is most of what I’ve outlined can be seen within 5 seconds of walking through the door. So if the Blink Effect is real and we only have a few seconds, let’s make them count.

-Joe Wadhams, Business Development Director

WOTM: Kyperounda Winery, Petritis, Limassol 2018

High, high altitude! From one of the highest vineyards in Europe, atop the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus comes Petritis, from Kyperounda Winery. Made from the indigenous Xynisteri grape, this wine has a touch of oak to give it an added complexity and a long, persistent finish.

In a nutshell

Delicious aromas of fresh pineapple combined with vanilla and ripe pear through to a long and creamy finish.

The producer

This producer has not only the highest winery in Europe situated at 1,140 metres, but also the highest vineyards at over 1,400 metres above sea level. Located at Kyperounda, in the Pitsilia area of the Troodos mountain range, the Kyperounda Winery sits in an idyllic setting, with correspondingly spectacular views. The winery was designed to the specifications of experienced winemakers and uses gravity to produce wine in the gentlest possible way. Kyperounda Winery has been producing wine since 2003 and has already made quite a splash on the international stage.

The wine

The Xynisteri variety, pronounced (Sin-ees-ter-ee), is a native grape to the island. These indigenous grapes are grown on the southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains, in some of the highest vineyards in Europe. The plots sit on rocky terraces, where the soils are made up of sandy clay. Due to the altitude of the vineyards, Kyperounda invariably harvests approximately one month later than vineyards at half their elevation and the long hang time results in concentrated flavours in the fruit, while preserving refreshing acidity.

Find out more about Kyperounda Winery, Petritis, Limassol 2018 here.