Tag Archives: argentina

Argentina: Who cares if I miss the plane?

When you get to the last day of a two-week buying trip on the other side of the world, you just want to get home. You’re thinking of getting this last appointment out of the way and getting to the airport.

 

Well, banish the thought – we are here to visit Riccitelli!

 

I always knew that working with Matias would be an interesting gig; during my time representing Bodega Norton I worked with his slightly bonkers dad, Jorge, one of the funniest men in the wine trade. Today, as Matias is slumming it in Brazil, I have an appointment with a third member of the family, the vivacious Veronica.

 

“Jeem!” she shouts and rushes towards me with eyes that could melt an igloo. She gives me a conspiratorial smile and lugs me into a winery which is compact and modern and clean. But you don’t really notice any of this. Instead, your senses are caressed by the sounds of laughter – real belly laughter – and loud Latino jazz-funk which dances through the open plan space that is at once a staff room and a tasting room. There is a lovely chaos here. They are having a staff meeting to the sound of Cumbia Colombia in a room adorned with pop art by the local artist Federico Calandria. You think to yourself: This is exactly where I would like to work. This is a place of hugs and kisses rather than handshakes. Day-glow Mendoza-style. And very loud shirts.

The winery is located in Las Compuertas, the highest part of Lujan de Cuyo at about 1100 meters above sea level. To the south is the Rio Mendoza, to the east is Vistalba and to the north is Chacras de Coria. They also work with partners in the Uco Valley who have plots of land in Gualtallary, Chacayes (very trendy right now), Altamira and La Carrera.

 

But for all the modernity you have to remember that they have some history here. The Malbec vines surrounding the vineyard were planted in 1927. Because of their success (the winery has a capacity of 250,000 litres but they are producing 400,000 bottles per year), they have to first harvest and ferment the whites and rosés, then move them out and use the tanks for the reds. Veronica shows me the stainless steel square-shaped open top fermenters that Matias himself designed (to save space, as round tanks take up more room – but also to allow the workers to jump in and tread the grapes.) But they really need to increase capacity. Whatever they do, you know they will do it with a sense of elan and fun.

 

I won’t repeat all of my tasting notes, because they would seem a bit toadying. But here are some highlights:

 

Hey Rosé! Malbec 2019 is looking fresh and lively, with a smidgeon of lavender shimmying through the soft strawberries.

 

Take a look at the De La Casa labels: you’d think there’s a bit of Quentin Tarantino in there, but they were designed by local artists. The Blanco de la Casa 2018 is a blend of 40% Sauvignon Blanc (Gualtallary, calcareous soils at 1400 metres), 40% Semillon (La Consulta, sandy soil) and 20% Chardonnay (La Carrera at 1700 metres). It is a rapacious mouthful, a touch, nay, a hint of pineapple, but with lively bounce-of-the-wall acidity. And they call this their house wine, for Heaven’s sake.

 

They have renamed the Riccitelli Vineyard Selection range as the Riccitelli Viñedos de Montaña range which makes sense. The Chardonnay 2018, from 50% used oak and 50% concrete tank, is so fragrant and elevated that you might be in Puligny territory. There is a touch of (very expensive) ice cream sundae, but the overall impression is one of raciness and verve (and it reminds me of another of our wines, Ocean Eight’s Verve Chardonnay from the Mornington Peninsular.)

 

I am already in danger of deliberately missing my plane home. That would be a terrible shame. Yup, a terrible shame.

 

The Patagonia Old Vines Semillon 2018, from 75-year-old vines in the Rio Negro, is utterly compelling, full and rich, but in no way overpowering; it leaves you pleading for more.

 

I taste a Sauvignon Blanc 2018, their first harvest of this wine, destined for an amazingly-designed range called Vinos de Finca. Goodness me – you what? From Mendoza vineyards, this leaps out if the glass with a stunning intensity that is almost painful but at the same time heavenly to taste. Blimey, how many more ranges is he going to invent?

 

Veronica keeps giggling at my reaction, like she’s saying: Yeah, I know, ridiculous isn’t it!”

 

But surely she is going to bring something up which doesn’t hit the mark, falls a bit short, promises more than it delivers. Could this be the one that breaks the sequence? But, no, this one is brilliant, too. What about that one? Nope, that’s brilliant as well. Crikey, surely something’s going to disappoint…

 

On to the reds. We start with a couple of the new Riccitelli Viñedos de Montaña (ex-Vineyard Selection) wines.

 

The Viñedos de Montaña Malbec 2017, from Gualtallary fruit, is classic Malbec, dark and brooding, a hint of the earth, dark plums.

 

Then we come to a mind-bender: the Viñedos de Montaña Cabernet Franc 2015 which we have stocked for some years but which I haven’t tasted for a few months. This pulls out all the stops, with a heavenly, subtle nose of brioche, oak and currants. It lasts forever, a lingering flavour of herbs. Now I know what they mean when they tell me Cabernet Franc is the grape of region, with this being sourced 50% from Chacayes and 50% from Campo de Los Andes.

 

This is a Thursday afternoon in a winery by the foothills of the Andes and the sun is shining. The wine is flowing and the music is contagious. I will ask for their Spotify Playlist – but will it sound the same in Romford?

 

Now comes a new wine, a Vinos de Finca Malbec 2016. This is a more lighter(ish) style of Malbec, in contest to the Viñedos de Montaña version. This needs food, but its beautiful acidity would go really well with any kind of meat. We want more more more of this. “That’s the idea,” says Veronica. With a certain insouciance.

 

We now have an interesting contract between the Apple Doesn’t Fall… Bonarda 2017 and a more pricey Vinos de Finca Bonarda 2017, from Vistalba fruit. We stock the Apple and this shows lovely red and black cherries and good acidity. It is an easy drink to understand. The Vistalba, however, is a different animal altogether. From 114-year old vines, this has lovely anise wrapping itself around cherry red. There is a hint of mint, too. This is hugely complex with a touch of garrigue. But would we sell more of this at a higher price than we would the Apple?

I ask for Veronica to pose with the bottles and rather sheepishly she does so. The labels scream come-and-get-me and are so brilliantly gorgeous you want to drink all of their contents.

 

The Republica Malbec 2016 is the star of the show. From fruit drawn entirely from around the winery at Las Compuertas, this is like walking across a carpet of violets; so incredibly floral with soft sweet tannins. “Soft, soft, very soft,” says the admiring Veronica. “People say the Uco Valley is the future for Malbec. And we agree that parts of the valley do make very good wine. But we have to stand up for our own vineyards. We are Mendozinians and we must shout about it.” The multi flagged label is a tribute to the town’s forefathers: French, Spanish and, particularly for the Riccitelli’s, Italian. “This is our homage to our heritage.”

 

I am almost sated but there is one more to go; the Riccitelli & Father 2015, which consists of 80% Malbec from 1927 ungrafted vines in Las Compuertas and 20% Cabernet Franc from Chacayes in the Uco Valley. This is redcurrants mostly, a big gushing waterfall of them, and with a lovely soft coating of anise on the finish.

 

And, sadly, now I really do have to dash to the airport and leave behind this fabulous and exuberant city. Veronica has proved a wonderfully vibrant host. Now imagine if Matias had also been here with her: I’d never have left!

 

Sitting in the departure lounge, it’s easy to remember the warmth of the visit and the slightly giddy atmosphere and the sheer jollity of Riccitelli. But actually that would miss the point. Because underneath the bonhomie is an acute mind at work. Matias Riccitelli lives and dreams his work. And in case you want to evidence about how much he immerses himself in every aspect of his wines, take a look at the video about the making of the labels for the De La Casa range: that’s him in the red and black checked shirt. The winemaker.

For more information on any wines from Matias Riccitelli, please speak to your account manager.

Argentina: Bittersweet Symphony

Doña Paula is at the forefront of wine and soil research in Argentina.

 

Over the years they have conducted trials in 700 soil pits in various fields.

  • What does each type of soil give to each grape, to each wine?
  • Is soil the biggest factor in a wine’s tannic structure?
  • Do the most restrictive soils, whether they are less deep or have a higher stone content or have a layer of calcium carbonate limiting the root’s growth, produce a bigger concentration in the wine?

 

I am standing beside one of the soil pits with Marcos Fernandez, Chief Winemaker at Doña Paula. We are in the middle of their famous Alluvia vineyard in Gualtallary. “Alluvia is rocky and with a high chalk content. This gives excellent acidity and very good tannin structure.” He crumbles the soil while I snap away with the Nikon.

Climbing out of the pit, Marcos picks up a stick and draws a very rough map in the soil. “Gualtallary is shaped like a cone, see. And this vineyard is right in the middle.” On my previous travels through Tupungato other winemakers had sometimes pointed out the vineyard to me as we passed. “That’s Doña Paula’s Alluvia Vineyard,” they would say in hushed tones.

 

But even within the vineyards there are differences. We jump in the four wheel drive and we career around the vineyard. In the southernmost part Marcos shows me Malbec bush vines in stony calcium carbonate soil. Then, after a few minutes of bumpy riding, we get to the northern extremity. Here the vines are Guyot-trained. “Here we have less stony soil and a touch more clay and sand.”

Back to the four-wheel. “We pick by spots and not by rows, using GPS. We are trying to identify every little spot. Here, this is Block 10. We only realised in 2015 how good this was, so we started vinifying it on its own. Previously it had gone into the Estate wines.”

 

We look at some of the vines. “We are removing some Chardonnay and replacing with Cabernet Franc.” (More testimony of how well-regarded that grape is in these parts!)

 

On the drive up to their home vineyard at Ugarteche, Marcos explains: “We are picking earlier, getting less extraction, toning down the oak.” He pauses, strokes his chin. “At some point in Argentina we lost the ability to do different things. But we are now arriving at the first point in the history of fine winemaking in Argentina. Right now.”

When we arrive at Finca El Alto in Ugarteche it is already dark. In the tasting room, set up in the middle of the vineyards, we are joined by Eduardo Alemparte, the group’s Viticulture Director.

 

It is a huge tasting. We start with the Paula range, going through a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. All are tasting spot-on, especially the Chardonnay. Marcos explains that many of their export countries prefer some oak, especially China and some mid-European countries, but he keeps this to a minimum for our market and the USA. The Malbec is also looking very good. This undergoes a low temperature fermentation at 22 degrees, compared to the 28 degrees for the Estate Malbec. It has masses of yellow plums and what Marcos refers to as “high intensity” aromas.

 

Of the estate wines, a 2017 Estate Chardonnay has a lovely rich flavour; this has more than a nod towards the Napa.

 

Marcos tells me he is very happy with a 2018 Estate Riesling, which has lovely primary fruit characteristics and none of the off-putting aromas I occasionally get with this grape. There is a lovely touch of honey on the finish.

 

The 2018 Estate Malbec from Gualtallary sees 12 months in French oak and is memorably described by Marcos as tasting “like those juices you get at the end of a really good asado.”

 

The 2017 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Luyan du Cuyo, as Gualtallary is too cold. It has voluptuous fruit and a touch of tar.

 

We now come to an interesting tasting of two wines, the Blue Edition and the Black, both from 2017. Both have over 50% of Malbec, but the blue is then blended with Pinot Noir and Bonarda, whereas the Black has Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot added in. I prefer the Blue Edition, as I did when I first tasted these in London 18 months ago. It has more elegance and panache than the slightly chunkier Black.

 

We pause for a few minutes to clean the glasses. I look out at the night. It looks eerie and our little haven would feel quite romantic were it not for the fact that I am spitting and slurping with two blokes.

Marcos sets up the stylish Altitude wines, all named after the altitude of the vineyards: 969, 1100 and 1300. This is a fascinating tasting. The 2018 969 (55% Petit Verdot, 40% Bonarda, 5% Tannat) is sourced from the vineyard in which we sit. It has a beautiful mulberry nose, wonderful texture with a certain grippiness, and mouth-watering acidity. The 2017 1100 (60% Malbec, 30% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) is sourced from three blocks of the Los Indios Estate, in Altamira in the southern part of the Uco Valley. This has gorgeous mocha and chocolate flavours, with a hint of vanilla. It is more rounded than the 969. The 2017 1350 (50% Cabernet Franc, 45% Malbec, 5% Casavecchia – a native of Campania) is a more tannic and bigger beast. Dark flavours of tar and liquorice abound. We all think this needs a bit more time.

 

I keep going back to the 969, which is my favourite wine of the tasting. (Later I decide it is my favourite wine of the entire trip.) Goodness, the acidity running through this gives it a wonderful saline quality. Time and again I keep going back. How apt that on the day that Jagger and Richards end their lawsuit with the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft over Bittersweet Symphony, I get the same bittersweet tastes from this amazing wine. The bitter comes via the acidity of the grapes from their altitude and soil, and the sweetness comes from grapes which were picked at exactly the right minute of the right hour of the right day, and then handed over to a master craftsman. This is Fernandez’s masterpiece.

 

Now we come to the parcels of Malbec from individual plots:

 

The 2014 El Alto comes from this, their home vineyard, and is made from 42 year-old vines. Like the other two parcel wines, this is in French oak for 22 months. Curiously, it reminds me of a very good Chianti, with that odd boot polish smell I sometimes find in the Tuscan classics.  The 2014 Los Indios comes from Altamira in the Uco Valley and seems a touch more elegant, with redcurrants to the fore. Finally, the 2014 Alluvia comes from the last vineyard we visited, in Gualtallary. Wow, this has a gorgeous nose. Strawberries and a touch of umami. Lovely.

What a tasting this has been! Now, almost exhausted, we turn to the flagship Selección de Bodega Malbec from the 2016 vintage. 100% of the grapes are sourced from the Alluvia vineyard; 60% guyot-trained block 10 and 40 % bush vines. Lovely aromas of damson, violets and crushed strawberries tempts me to keep nosing. On the palate it is beautifully smooth and rounded. It’s easy to see why Tim Atkin gave this 95 points a month earlier. Marcos and Eduardo purr longingly. I nod in agreement. But I keep going back to that 969.

 

And then I go back again.

 

PS. If anyone is interested in reading about Doña Paula extensive vineyard research they can find more information at http://donapaula.com/terroir-in-focus/.

 

For more information on any wines from Doña Paula, please speak to your account manager.

Argentina: A poetic Pasionado

I have often thought that winemakers have a touch of the poet about them: working late into the night, fashioning lyrical liquid from the heart of the land, depicting their wines with expressive passion and a touch of romance. But the Andeluna winemaker, Manuel González, really is a poet. His words adorn the labels on the great Pasionado range, and he has had books published. I am in awe!

 

Andeluna was conceived in 2003 and was the brainchild of Ward Lay, the heir to Frito-Lay business. With an expert team on hand, including Michel Rolland, Lay decided to invest in the best winelands in Argentina: the Uco-Gualtallary Valley.

The project is now in the hands of the Barale family, the Brazilian-based energy giants. They run the winery on the principles of its founder: with a respect for people, ideas and the environment. Hans Vinding-Diers is the consultant who works with Manuel.

 

The day is bright and the view towards the Andes from the winery is breathtaking.

 

As the softly spoken Manuel guides me round the impeccably clean and stylish winery, you get the impression the project is in safe hands. A thoughtful, quiet man, he deliberates before each sentence and clearly gives a lot of thought to any major decision. He is doing experiments with egg, but is concerned about the cleaning process; some wineries are now using epoxy which may or may not negate some of the advantages of using concrete.

 

In the barrel room I take a photo of the humidity fans kicking in which makes for a quietly dramatic scene, and then we get down to taste. A Malbec which is the result of micro-oxygenation and which now sits in a ceramic tank has a lovely fresh and vibrant nose and has beautiful fruit, with violets to the fore. Manuel says he has been searching for five years for the perfect plot of land in which to fashion THE Andeluna wine. “I search and I search. I find the soil and, ahhh, then I find the climate and, ahhh…”

The poet has kicked in. “I’ll write this down, Manuel,” I say, and he blushes.

 

As we move into the tasting room and we are joined by Alicia Casale, the beautiful lady who takes care of Hallgarten & Novum Wines, Manuel tell me: “I want to show you just how good Cabernet Franc is in Tupungato.”

 

We work our way through the 1300 and Altitud ranges; these are all showing as good as ever and confirm what a great winery this is. But then I begin to be intrigued as we turn to some wines which are new to me.

A new Semillon, only 300 dozen produced, a blend of one third each fermented in stainless steel, ceramic and French second-year oak and which will be bottled in one month, has a lovely purity of fruit and a touch of that citrusy flavour that you get from this grape. It is still closed but has lots of vibrancy. We don’t have many Semillons from Argentina, so this could be just the job.

 

A new blend of 65% Chardonnay, 25% Torrontes and 10% Sauvignon Blanc is a lovely mouthful, crisp and refreshing. We mess around with different blends and come up with a 55% Chardonnay, 30% Torrontes and 15% Sauvignon Blanc; this is more vibrant but perhaps lacks the class of the first. We shall look at the two blends again back at Hallgarten HQ.

 

Then Manual brings out a little masterpiece: a Blanc de Franc 2019. I’d spotted this earlier in the tank room and had been puzzled then. This is an absolute peach of a wine, with a pale colour but a full and startlingly rich mouthful with hints of rhubarb. Manuel says it was inspired by a visit he made to the Loire, but for me this knocks most Loire rosés into a cocked hat. I tell him to reserve as much as he can for us.

We finish with the great wines from Andeluna – the Pasionado range. The 2015 Malbec is big and alcoholic, warm and inviting. An uncompromising food wine, but on the finish there is an acidity which keeps everything in check. The 2015 Cuatro Cepas, a blend dominated by Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a chunk of Cabernet Franc and a dollop of Merlot, is sturdy, with delicious integration of fruit and spritzy spicy raisins. The Cabernet Franc, this time from 2016, is beautiful and smooth, well balanced with luscious firm tannins balancing the rhubarb palate.

 

It has been a great tasting and is followed by a sumptuous lunch in the bodega’s stylish restaurant prepared by chef Pablo Marigliano. He seeks to match the food to the wine and we eat from the Autumn menu: Caramelized Onion Soup, Sourdough Crouton, Olive Oil Ice-Cream (accompanied by 1300 Merlot); Creamy Cauliflower, Dehydrated Quinoa, Corn Spheres with Blue Cheese Notes (accompanied by Altitud Chardonnay); Smoked Boar, Sweet Potatoes, Raisin and Blueberry “Tropezones” (accompanied by Altitud Malbec); Sirloin Strip Steak and Leek Textures (accompanied by Cuatro Cepas.)

 

And then dessert. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!

 

Finally, the ultimate: As I am leaving, Manuel presents me with a copy of one of his book of poems, Alma de Jarilla. I feel a bit humbled. I rashly promise to translate one of his poems in English.

 

I hope he doesn’t have to wait too long.

For more information on any wines from Andeluna, please speak to your account manager.

Argentina: Guitars, golf and the future of Tupungato

Snow arrives early in Mendoza this year – on the day I arrive. The picturesque old road over the los Cerrojos hills to San Jose has been closed, so the trip to Zorzal takes much longer, as we’ve got to leg it down the extremely straight and very boring Route 40. That’s the bad news; the good news is that I am sharing the car with Juan Pablo Michelini; never has a car journey been better spent.

Juan Pablo (Juam-Pi, to his friends) is always keen to talk about the Argentine wine industry. “It’s incredible the amount of change we have seen in the last ten years. We’ve moved away from all producing one particular style of wine which was the old fashioned big Malbec. Now we have huge diversity even just with that grape. Everyone is looking for terroir, all searching for individual plots. We are growing in finesse and elegance. It’s all good news.”

The Michelini brothers have been at the forefront of excitement in Argentina for a few years now; they were the original rock stars. All three have now made their home in Tupungato, where Juan Pablo makes the wine at Zorzal, a joint Michelini venture with Canadian investors. “We all want to be close to the wines we make. We all want to maximise the grapes.”

As we enter the Uco Valley, Juan Pablo makes a prediction (other winemakers I subsequently meet echo this): “Cabernet Franc is going to be hugely popular in Tupungato. Pinot Noir is good at the higher elevated points in the Uco Valley, but it is Cabernet Franc which excites us.”

We drive through the picturesque town of Tupungato and then, instead of taking Route 89, the Wine Route, we head off into the hills towards Gualtallary, climbing steadily to 1,300 metres. What with the recent snow, it is like driving through some weird moonscape and we see very few cars and you think: how do you grow grapes here?

We get on to the topic of hobbies and Juan Pablo tells me he used to be a pretty serious guitarist and played in a semi-famous Mendoza band. Why I am not surprised one little bit at this? With his hipster bushy beard he would be at home in Mumford & Sons. Then he tells me rather sheepishly that he is a keen golfer, which takes me completely by surprise. At that moment we breast a hill and he points down to my right. “That’s where I play.” Incongruously, in among the vines there is a quaint golf course threading its way between the hills in a way not dissimilar to a British links course hiding between the dunes.

Even more incongruous is a polo field. In the middle of nowhere!

There are five micro-climates in Gualtallary, he tells me. At the bottom where it is hotter and where the soil is clay-based, Cabernet Sauvignon performs reasonably well. Right at the top the soil is largely stony granite and limestone. In between there are mixtures. Zorzal is bang in the middle where the soil is largely calcium carbonate.

In the small but beautifully formed winery Juan Pablo runs around like a little kid with his toys. He compares his amphorae with his eggs. “The amphora gives elegance, softness, quiet. The eggs give nerve, length and electricity. It’s all about the shape; in the egg the juice is constantly moving.”

He poses in front of the first egg ever built in South America, constructed in 2012. “The guy who designed this went on to build them for virtually every winery in Argentina; he’s now a millionaire.”

Accompanied by his assistant winemaker, the beautifully-named Noelia Juri, Juan Pablo dashes excitedly from one wine to another, firstly comparing Chardonnays from 500-litre and 225-litre barrels (not surprisingly, the larger barrel produces a nervier liquid); then a stunning Chardonnay from foudre (“not sure where this will go”) which tastes like wine which has been dragged over an oyster bed and which leaves a staggeringly gorgeous flavour in my mouth for minutes after; then a Malbec which may go into El Barba (“this has some tension”) and which leaves a curious candy floss taste in my mouth; then a solera-based Pinot Noir containing wines from eight different vintages which is intriguingly steely and salty; then a Cabernet Franc which will go into his Piantao wine and which is just pure rhubarb fruit juice; finally, his extraordinary flor-based Altar Uco (“flor power”) which allows him to demonstrate his prowess with a venencia.

As we begin to taste from bottle in the tasting room, Juan Pablo tells me how keen he is to make some of his whites in an oxidative style. “We rack the barrels and don’t add sulphur. Natural yeast, naturally. We oxidate the wines to give brown juice, which we then clarify and hold in stainless steel. Wines like this can age forever.” The 2018 Chardonnay we taste has a pure salinity and a touch of saltiness. It is like tasting wine washed over pebbles and with a tiny amount of lime juice added. A 2018 Sauvignon Blanc is more commercial. A 2018 red blend from Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec has an extraordinary nose of earth, mushrooms, beetroot and truffles., while a Malbec from 2017 is rhubarb and carrot juice at first, then liquorice. “You can taste the chalk,” says Juan Pablo.

We are interrupted by the kitchen staff bearing an amazing looking asado with chimichurri sauce. Pablo asks if I am okay to continue the tasting. Of course, I say, trying to concentrate in the wine with one eye of the pile of beef.

The Eggo wines, from single vineyards, are all looking great. The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc has an anise flavour which I cannot ever remember seeing in the varietal. The 2017 Cabernet Franc has an unusual nose, a touch saline and a bit of stalkiness. “Understated,” says Juan Pablo. The Malbec has another showstopper nose: it reminds of liquorice root that I used to chew when I was a kid. The Pinot Noir is steely, poised and edgy.

By now I am wolfing down the hunks of beef; the wines make amazing companions. I keep going back to check on them. All of them are intriguing, as is the whole operation.

The kitchen staff come to join us and we get into a discussion about football. It is here that the big debate about Messi needs to be brought to a climax, so I ask them: is it Lee-O or Lie-O. Every one of them tells me Lee-O, even against my protestations of the pronunciation of his father’s inspiration, Lionel Richie. The only who doesn’t join in is the cook. “She prefers Maradona,” says Juan Pablo.

 

For more information on any wines from Zorzal, please speak to your account manager.

Argentina: One producer, two regions, one tasting

I had forgotten just how much I love Mendoza. Like Stellenbosch and Adelaide, this is a wine town. At eleven o’clock on a cold Sunday night the Plaza Independencia is heaving with promenading families. and there looks to be a restaurant/wine bar for every human being.

 

Meanwhile, on Avenida Arístides Villanueva, in a very short space I stroll past an orgy of craft beer pubs, restobars and beautiful looking restaurants: El Mercadito, El Club de la Milanesa, Johnny B.Good, Chachingo Craft Beer, Taqueria de Fabriza, Buffalo Steak Bar, Al Toque, Zitto, La Lucia, Bar Latina, Gingger, Don Aldo, Bar de Montana, Antares Mendoza and, finally, at the end of the street, Hangar 52, from which comes the riotous sound of a heavy blues band.

 

And there appears to be a supermodel wannabee on every corner.

Yup, welcome back to Mendoza.

 

We started working with Piattelli four or five years ago, principally because they offered us wines from Cafayate, from altitudes of 1,700 metres above sea level (these are still the highest-altitude wines on our list). However, at our first meeting we also fell in love with their Mendoza wines, and we took some smaller parcels from there, too. The Finance team raised their eyebrows…

I had wanted to go back to Cafayate, but the logistics were too tight, so instead I am driving down to Agrelo in Luján de Cuyo to meet with winemakers Valeria Antolin and Alejandro Nesman. Valeria looks after the Mendoza operation; Alejandro the Cafayate. It is an interesting contrast to sit between them as I taste. Alejandro is a cuddly bear of a man who cannot keep still while he is talking ninety-to-the-dozen; Valeria has a more subtle feline presence.

 

The contrast here is between the more mineral Cafayate wines and the full, rich, though still gorgeously subtle Mendoza wines.

 

The Mendoza grapes are grown in two vineyards; around the winery in Luján de Cuyo, and in the Uco Valley, 20 miles further south in Tupungato at 4,000 feet above sea level (and from where the grapes which go into the Premium and Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Premium Chardonnay wines come). The vineyards are USDA certified organic as there is no need for pesticides in an area which is pest-free due to the low humidity and high altitudes. The good news for us is that from the 2017 vintage they moved everything into Diam, because Valeria was worried about the different evolutionary rates of the wines. Like virtually every winemaker I meet these days, they are moving away from new oak to old oak for their wines.

 

The highlights from Mendoza:
  • The 2017 Malbec Premium Reserve shows an elegant and restrained nose of redcurrant and raspberry juice, but then grows and grows as it sits in the glass and develops some gorgeous silky plummy notes.
  • But this is overshadowed by the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Premium Reserve. This has the same oak treatment as the Malbec (eight months in second-year French and American barrels), but has a fleshy and generous curranty nose and an elegant mouthfeel.
  • The 2017 Malbec Grand Reserve is a step up. Fermented in small tanks, this is still reserved on the nose, but then opens up into a beautiful damson perfume with a firm and meaty structure in the mouth.
  • But again, this is overshadows by its Cabernet counterpart of the same year, sourced from Tupungato fruit. This has a more advanced nose than the Malbec, and deep dark and alluring forest fruit scents, with a hint of cedar. In the mouth it has wonderful structure and a long finish.

This is not the first time I have been in an Argentine tasting where the Cabernet has outperformed the Malbec, and I may be odd in that sense!

Now, for Cafayate:

Alejandro takes centre stage and we begin with the two fruit driven value wines, the Alto Molino Torrontes and Malbec. Both are generous and seem to outperform their category with the Torrontes in particular showing an elegance and a subtlety which I often fail to detect in this grape.

 

Alejandro explains that Cafayate receives a lot of sun due to the high altitude, but the nights are very cold. These diurnal extremes mean that they have a very long growing season which allows for a balanced and ripe structure in the grapes by harvest. Highlights:

 

  • The 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is a beauty. Dark blackcurranty nose, brooding, but with a lovely minerality running through the finish. Lip-smacking.
  • The 2017 Tannat is rich and savoury, with salami to the fore. This is a good variety for Cafayate because the climate gives the acidity which this grape sorely needs.
  • The 2017 Malbec Grand Reserve is a real beauty – extreme minerality from grapes grown on limestone. Long lasting and very moreish.
  • The 2016 Arlene (named after the owner’s wife and with a beautiful label) is still in the process of opening up. Dense chewy fruit at the beginning, but then opens up in the mouth and leaves you wanting more. Very stylish and beautifully balanced.

 

During the tasting there is constant friendly interplay between the two winemakers. It’s fascinating to sit between them and listen to urbane and super-friendly Alejandro face off with the lovely and softly spoken – but I wouldn’t mess with her – Valeria.

 

The winemakers are then keen to show me their newbies and experiments. Loscano is a new range which aspires to a feminine feel both in looks and taste, and allows Valeria and Alejandro to play around with blends. The highlight is a red blend which has lovely young fruit, and is a beautiful combination of fruit and acidity.

It’s been a great tasting, conducted by two very enthusiastic winemakers and which also included Marcelo Farmache, the General Manager, Santiago Acosta, the Marketing Manager, and Luis Mohammad, who looks after us. They are a very warm and genuine team and over a huge asado lunch (and they keep refreshing my plate!) we drink some of the rarities in the Limited Edition range, including a stunning 2016 Chardonnay which screams Burgundy.

 

Then – unbelievably – they take me to a flash hotel for afternoon tea to make me feel at home! (I can’t remember ever taking afternoon tea at home in Romford). But I’m so full from lunch that I cannot do it justice. As we are waiting for the car to be brought back round, we listen to the hotel’s piped music, which is all British. This takes me back a couple of days to when I was sitting in a burger joint in downtown Santiago, a place which had no obvious connection to the UK, but in which I watched Man City playing Watford in the FA Cup Final on three television screens on mute, while listening to an endless stream of British pop music (British, not American!) A reminder of one of the things at which we are still world class.

 

To walk off the asado I stroll through the Parque General San Martin in the cool autumnal sunshine and make my way up to the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, where I relive the memory that all of Scotland hold dear: that of Archie Gemmill slaloming his way through the Dutch defence in the 68th minute on June 11th 1978 to score one of the greatest goals in World Cup history “…and Scotland are in dreamland!…”

 

Yup, welcome back to Mendoza!

 

For more information on any wines from Piattelli Vineayrds, please speak to your account manager.

WOTM: Zorzal ‘Eggo Blanc de Cal’, Tupungato, Sauvignon Blanc 2015

From a high altitude, drip irrigated vineyard in Gualtallary, Zorzal ‘Eggo Blanc de Cal’ 2015 is everything you might not have ever tasted in a Sauvignon Blanc – egg fermenters, volcanic soil and Argentinian – the perfect bottle to open on International Sauvignon Blanc Day 2019.

In a nutshell:

A characterful Sauvignon Blanc showcasing a strongmineral and  gunflint intensity, combined with grassy andherbaceous notes.

The producer:

Zorzal is an Argentinian boutique winery which has been dedicated  to the production of high quality wines since 2008 and is located at the highest point of the Uco Valley. Hailed as one of the most exclusive and well-regarded areas for viticulture in Argentina, the terroir is revealed in the Zorzal wines through a respectful, non-invasive winemaking process that puts austerity before exuberance and fruit before wood.

The wines have rapidly gained international recognition. Founded by the Michelini brothers, who are outstanding in their passionate leadership in the vineyards and winery, this highly regarded winemaking duo have become renowned as the trendsetters of the Argentinian winemaking scene.

The wine:

The grapes were gently pressed and combined in the cement eggs. Fermentation started naturally with native yeasts at temperatures of between 18 to 21°C. When fermentation was complete, a partial malolactic fermentation took place. The wine was then left in the same cement eggs for five months, without separating it from the lees, which generated volume on the palate. It was bottled directly from the cement egg without any intervention to stabilise or filter the wine. The cement egg significantly helps with the structuring and stabilisation of the wine, through the natural movements that are created by this shape.

For further information on the ‘Eggo Blanc de Cal’, Sauvignon Blanc 2015 or any other Zorzal wines, please contact your account manager. 

Malbec World Day

Malbec World Day seeks to position Argentine Malbec as one of the most prominent in the world. Every April 17th, and throughout the whole month, different activities are carried out in major cities around the globe to celebrate the success of Argentina’s flagship grape. This is the perfect opportunity to shout about the inky, rich wine that is Malbec, tell your customers and open some bottles!

 

Doña Paula, Estate Malbec | 2017
Mendoza, Argentina

Winemaker Marcos Fernandez creates wines that reflect their sense of place from 100% estate owned fruit, which has been sustainably farmed and  handpicked from two of their finest, high altitude vineyard sites in Uco Valley,  Mendoza.

The cool climate allows the grapes to develop rich varietal characteristics, while retaining balanced acidity, producing an elegant and complex expression of Malbec.

 

Matias Riccitelli, Malbec ‘The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree’ | 2017
Mendoza, Argentina

Young, dynamic winemaker Matias Riccitelli deftly handcrafts wines to express the full potential of Argentine high-altitude terroir. The fusion of two vineyard sites at elevations of up to 1,400 metres brings complexity to this exceptional Malbec.

Made from carefully selected and hand-picked grapes, the cool evenings and warm days produce rich, concentrated flavours, while retaining a balancing freshness.

It’s no wonder this received 92 points from Tim Atkin.

 

Piattelli Vineyards, Malbec Premium | 2017
Salta, Argentina

The century-old vines are grown at an altitude of 1,700 metres surrounded by the stunning Andes Mountains. At this elevation the vines are exposed to intense sunlight, resulting in the grapes forming thicker and darker skins to protect themselves, and ultimately produce deeper colour and flavour concentration.

Valeria produces this exquisite Malbec, which is smooth and refined, full of rich black fruits and a touch of graphite from this cooler region.

Winemaker profile: Matías Riccitelli, Riccitelli Wines

What does the name Matías Riccitelli mean to us, Riccitelli Wines and the wine industry as a whole? We have taken a look at the great man and his back story in our latest Winemaker Profile.

Matías Riccitelli, owner and winemaker of Riccitelli Wines, was born in Cafayate, Salta, a village in Northern Argentina, famous for its wines.

After moving to Mendoza when he was a few years older, he began to study winemaking. The rest is history!

Time spent completing vintages in numerous countries honed Matías’ skills. Following this, he decided that Mendoza was the region for him and decided to focus on exploring the terroir of the region, working as Chief Winemaker for two leading Argentinian wineries.

It’s a family affair! Matías was mentored by his father, Jorge Riccitelli, the first Latin American to win Winemaker of the Year from Wine Enthusiast. Winemaking accolades run in the family with Matías winning Tim Atkin’s Young Winemaker of the Year in 2016.

A keen traveller, he considers himself something of a dreamer and is now fulfilling his dream as Chief Winemaker of his own boutique winery – Riccitelli Wines – which he began in 2009. His vineyards are spread over 50 hectares and three sites within the premium growing region of Lujan de Cuyo, as well as vines in Río Negro, Patagonia. His aim is to use grapes from the most prestigious regions in Argentina and make wines in his own unique style. Matías puts his huge creative energy into creating wines with freshness and vibrancy.

Semillon, Torrontes and Chardonnay are all part of Matías’ exciting range of wines; he is hugely passionate about Argentinian white wines and believes they can retain great freshness and acidity if the grapes come from well-located vineyards.

 

For more information on Riccitelli Wines, speak to your account manager.

Malbec World Day

Malbec is Argentina’s flagship variety, and the country has the largest Malbec acreage in the world. This variety originally comes from South West France, where it is called Cot and features a hard, tannic style. Due to its intense colour and dark hues, wines obtained from this variety were once called “the black wines of Cahors.” These wines consolidated their prestige in the Middle Ages and gained full recognition in modern times.
Malbec by numbers:
  • In Argentina 3,948,716.512 hectares of vineyard are Malbec
  • 86% of all Malbec vineyards in Argentina are in Mendoza
  • In 1852, Malbec was brought to Argentina by Michel A. Pouget
To celebrate, here’s a couple to choose from our portfolio to choose from.

Doña Paula ‘Selección de Bodega’, Uco Valley, Malbec 2015

Region – Mendoza
Sub-region – Uco Valley
Grape Varieties – Malbec 100%

“A sumptuous and opulent wine showing rich black fruit flavours, a well textured palate with dark chocolate and earthy notes and an elegant finish.”

Andeluna ‘Altitud’, Uco Valley, Malbec 2015

Region – Mendoza
Sub-region – Uco Valley
Grape Varieties – Malbec 100%

“A full flavoured Malbec with intense aromas red fruits and violets combined with delicate hints of vanilla, coffee and chocolate. Sweet fruit on the palate is backed by soft, but high volume tannins which give the wine a long and exquisite finish.”

Matias Riccitelli ‘The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree’, Lujan de Cuyo, Malbec 2015

Region – Mendoza
Sub-region – Lujan de Cuyo
Grape Varieties – Malbec 100%

“Deep purple in colour, with beautiful aromas of wild dark fruits, vanilla and chocolate on the nose. This is a complex and rich Malbec with smooth ripe tannins and a long finish.”

Zorzal ‘Eggo Tinto de Tiza’, Tupungato, Malbec 2015

Region – Mendoza
Sub-region – Tupungato
Grape Varieties – Malbec 88%, Cabernet Franc 12%

“A deep, intense and complex example of a Gualtallary Malbec, with the typical aromas of chalk, flint, and mineral tones. Structured and voluminous on the palate with a silky texture, this is poised and direct, with a refreshing quality.”

Piattelli Vineyards, Trinità Grand Reserve, Lujan de Cuyo 2015

Region – Mendoza
Sub-region – Lujan de Cuyo
Grape Varieties – Malbec 72%, Cabernet Sauvignon 22%, Merlot 6%

“A complex, elegant wine with a deep ruby hue, Trinità tantalizes the senses with an aromatic bouquet of plum and raspberry with hints of coffee and spice, which unfolds across the palate with sweetness and a hint of chocolate. A balanced wine with ripe tannins, full body and a long finish.”

What would the experts recommend…

Doña Paula, Estate, Mendoza, Blue Edition 2016

Region – Mendoza
Grape Varieties – Malbec 60%, Pinot Noir 30%, Bonarda 10%

Terry Kirby, The Independent; “This gorgeously attractive and sumptous wine, where the fresh cherry fruits of pinot noir, as well as bonarda, are added to the mix. The slightly sweeter touch makes it a good match for a leg of lamb.”

Matias Riccitelli, Hey Malbec! 2016

Region – Mendoza
Sub-region – Lujan de Cuyo
Grape Varieties – Malbec 100%

David Williams, The Observer; “Not only has malbec from Argentina established itself as one of the UK’s favourite red grape varieties since 2001, it’s also vastly improved, with, in this case, young gun Matias Riccitelli bringing real purity of black fruit and perfumed succulence.”

 

Or something original…

Clos Troteligotte ‘K-nom’, Cahors 2016

Region – Cahors
Grape Varieties – Malbec 85%, Merlot 15%

“A modern styled Cahors with concentrated blackcurrant, menthol nuances and intriguing undertones of crystallised pineapple. Supple with soft, fine tannins, the aromas of fresh black fruits persist on the palate. Full bodied, but approachable with a textured finish.”

A Doña Paula Dinner

During our October of Mendoza madness and amazing Argentinians, Marcos Fernandez, head winemaker at Doña  Paula Wines, hosted an Argentine inspired wine dinner at the prestigious Lansdowne Club – below is how the evening looked.

Doña Paula is a leading, modern winery at the forefront of exploring and investing in new, high quality wine regions in Argentina. Established in 1997, they own all of their vineyards covering 700 hectares. These vineyard sites are located in the best subregions within Mendoza including Ugarteche, Altamira, Gualtallary and Tupungato. They practice sustainable methods in the vineyards, maximising the true expression of terroir. Their continuous innovation in vineyard management ensures top quality wines from one year to the next.

Empanadas
Beans, squash, corn, Queso Fresco
Shrimp, crab
Arepa Bites
Mango & chilli salsa, avocado cream
Chorizo & corn foam
Wine pairing: Sauvage Blanc, NV

What the guests thought: “Crispness and freshness of the wine, along with some good acidity worked a treat with the shrimp and crab Empanadas, and the mango and chilli salsa on the Arepa Bites.”

Seafood platter
Smoked salmon, prawns, crab croquette, chicory, tuna ceviche
Wine pairing: Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016

What the guests thought: “The tropical fruit flavours, passionfruit and acidity were a hit with the tuna ceviche and the bitterness of the chicory.”

Beef fillet, grilled gambas, chargrilled seasonal vegetables, basil pomme purée, sweetcorn, chimichurri salsa
Wine pairings: Paula Malbec 2016
Estate Malbec 2015
Selección de Bodega Malbec 2013

What the guests thought: “The beef fillet with the chimichurri salsa was the perfect match to the weight and power of the 24 month aged Seleccion de Bodega. The guests loved being able to taste the 3 styles side by side. The Paula – fresh and with no oak, Estate Malbec with 12 months oak, and the Seleccion de Bodega with 24 months and it’s incredible intensity.”

The overall consensus from the guests was that this was the best Gourmet evening to date at the Lansdowne Club under Karim Yousfi’s direction and Marcos, as ever, was a hit with all!

WOTM: Piattelli Vineyards, Reserve, Cafayate, Malbec 2016

In a nutshell:

A smooth and refined Malbec with a fruity bouquet of ripe plum, violet and dried berries.

The producer

The Piattelli Vineyards lie in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, where the century old vines are irrigated by the pure waters melting from the snow crested peaks; a significant aspect in making their wines exquisite. At Piattelli Vineyards great pride is taken in crafting wines with a sense of place, as each region has distinct terroirs and microclimates. Mendoza and Cafayate are two of the best grape growing regions in Argentina and they wanted to showcase both. Led by head winemaker Valeria Antolin, the wines are produced through her passionate pursuit of perfection. Their gravity fed winery in Cafayate honours their commitment to sustainable practices. Piattelli Vineyards practises sustainable farming and their Mendoza vineyards are USDA certified organic. The grapes are cultivated with arid clean air, crystal clear water and nutrient rich soil and their award winning wines are produced with wisdom, precision and love.

The wine

The grapes were hand-picked and manually sorted to ensure no green material or imperfect fruit entered the must. The must underwent a three day cold maceration to extract the desired levels of flavour and aromatics. Alcoholic fermentation took place in 5,000 to 10,000 litre stainless steel tanks under controlled temperatures. The wine was aged for nine months in American oak barrels. The wine received a further six months bottle ageing

The tasting note:

A striking wine with a deep purple hue, the fruity aromatics of ripe plum and violet delight the senses. Full bodied, with bright fruit flavours of dried berries and pomegranate, the palate is marked by its structure. Intense and spicy on the finish.

Malbec, The Heart of Argentina

To celebrate Malbec World Day on 17th April and Malbec being the heart of Argentina we have selected a range of Malbecs that celebrate the essence of Argentina and will tantalise your tastebuds in April. 

Malbec is in the DNA of Argentina. It is grown in all the wine regions of the country, making up 35% of the hectares planted in Argentina.

 

2015 Piattelli Vineyards, Alto Molino Malbec

A vibrant unoaked Argentinian Malbec grown at high altitude, with its heady mix of plump, dark, brambly fruits, plum jam notes combined with sweet tannins and a velvety finish. The relatively cool climate gives a remarkably fine and elegant Malbec.

2014 Matias Riccitelli, The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree Malbec

A marvellous Malbec with explosive aromas of dark fruits and violets with impressive purity and length. All the hallmarks of world class Malbec from the young and innovative, Matias Riccitelli.

2015 Doña Paula, Estate Malbec Syrah

A more European take on Argentine Malbec. This Malbec Syrah blend, sourced from two of Doña Paula’s best vineyards in the Uco Valley, it is refined with a herbaceous character making this wine a perfect match with red meats and casseroles.

2014 Andeluna, Pasionado Malbec – Tim Atkin, 92 points

“The top Malbec at Andeluna (at least for now) is wonderfully fragrant and full of personality. It’s a big, bold wine showing masses of blackberry and liquorice notes, underpinned by the chalky acidity that’s such a strong feature of Gualtallary reds. The oak is  increasingly subtle on these wines”.

2015 Piattelli Vineyards, Malbec

Slightly smokey, with a fruity bouquet that delights the senses and warms the palate with notes of blackberries, blueberries and lavender. The ultimate steak wine!

2013 Doña Paula, Selección de Bodega Malbec

A blend of Doña Paula’s very best single vineyard estates from older and naturally lower yielding vines, which produce wines with great depth and complexity. The Seleccion is unfiltered giving even more character and concentrated black fruit and cherry flavours with a long and elegant finish.

2014 Andeluna, Altitud Malbec – Tim Atkin, 91 points

“Showing less oak, extraction and alcohol than in the recent past, this mid-level Malbec is aromatic, fresh and subtly oaked, with plenty of colour, aromas of violets and rose petal, sweet blueberry fruit and a chalky, minerally undertone”.

2015 Oveja Negra, Winemaker’s Selection Malbec Petit Verdot

Oveja Negra or Black Sheep is someone out of the ordinary who stands out from the crowd, like this Chilean Malbec Petit Verdot. It is tremendously aromatic and offers notes of violets intermingled with fresh black fruit aromas of 91 Points blueberries and blackberries.

And here’s a couple of suggestions from John Clarke, writing for The Independent:

2013 Dona Paula, Seleccion De Bodega 

“Sometimes you need a wine to push the boat out (rather than launch it, that would be a waste). This flagship wine, from the 1.35km-high Alluvia vineyard and the (only slightly less elevated) Los Indios and El Alto ones in Mendoza, does exactly that. It’s a layered and complex, full-bodied malbec with alluring dark fruit flavours, soft tannins and an elegant, lingering finish. Can be drunk now or will keep for several years yet.”

2014 Zorzal, Eggo Tinto de Tiza Tupungato 

“What comes first, the chicken or the eggo? Actually it’s all about the Eggo, since the name comes from the egg-shaped concrete vats the wine is matured in for a year without seeing a trace of oak. The result is a bright yet structured wine, bursting full of rich, dark fruit and berry flavours that has marked it out as one of Argentina’s most exhilarating malbecs. A wine to remember.”