Cheval des Andes, lunch with Nicolas Audebert, winemaker

Back in September I was invited to a polo match and wine tasting in Richmond to meet the winemaker for Argentine winery, Cheval des Andes. I went, met their rather dashing French polo-playing winemaker, Nicolas Audebert, watched a polo match and had the pleasure of trying their wines. I never did get a chance to write it up because before I knew it, I was on a plane to Argentina and then another to Mendoza.  That’s how I came to actually be in the Cheval des Andes vineyards at the foot of the Andes Mtns chatting with Nicolas once again about Cheval des Andes’ wines. Nicolas and I had lunch on the terrace of the Cheval lodge, in the middle of the vines, overlooking the polo field and in the shadow of the Andes. The lodge was built in 2008 to welcome invited guests of Cheval des Andes. An open plan, polished tan wood and glass walled edifice, it’s the perfect place for a drink or to wander out to the terrace that faces the polo field to watch a match. Tastefully decorated with antiques, polo memorabilia and food and wine books, it’s a place to easily while away the afternoon, enjoying your glass of wine. Cheval des Andes is  a joint venture between Cheval Blanc and Terrazas los Andes begun in 1998. Terrazas was bought  by Chandon in the 50’s but it’s winery goes back to the early 20th century and they still have vines reaching back to that time. Cheval des Andes was able to take advantage of these old vines and has a parcel of vines that date from the 1920’s. It is from these vines that Cheval takes it’s malbec for it’s blend. The wine is a bordeaux blend style of wine, malbec,  cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot making up the wine. The hope behind the wine is that they produce a wine that is distinctly South American but has the French wine making stamp on it. Nicolas came from...

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More Patagonian winetasting adventures – Bodega NQN

It´s windy in Patagonia. I mean, really windy. The wind never seems to stop. While it´s not very good for my hair, it´s great for the vines. The desert winds of Patagonia sweep the vineyards clear of pests, make for an antiseptic environment, keep humidity to a minimum and gives the berries a thick skin. Neuquen, Patagonia has some of the newest vineyards in the world, most of them in fact were started less then 10 years ago. San Patricio del Chañar is what they´ve christened the newest wine producing region of Argentina and it sits between two desert plateaus, an oasis in the Patagonian desert, none of which could be possible without extensive irrigation. Fortunately, the Rio Negro runs through the desert and it is from this river that the vineyards get their water.   Following a dusty, narrow,  one and half lane road (it seemed like that to me, every time we saw a bus coming our way, I closed my eyes in anticipation of getting hit by it) we finally arrived at Bodega NQN, situated about 50 kms from Neuquen city. An ultra modern winery, it sits on top of a small hill overlooking the vines. Because there is so much space in Argentina, this vineyard covered hectares and hectares of land. They have over a 1000 hectares to work with, only a fraction of it being currently used but there are plans to plant more vines in the future. Lucas Nemesio, the owner of the vineyard was kind enough to sit down with me for lunch, paired with his wines, in the winery restaurant Malma. Over lunch, Lucas explained to me that their philosophy is to keep the character of their Patagonian wines. They don´t want to cater to any particular markets or styles. For this reason, they don´t have a flying winemaker as many Argentine wineries do, but prefer to go it on their own and see what the grapes themselves are capable of producing.  The vines of Patagonia are very...

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Bonarda and Malbec from Altos las Hormigas

The savvy winery has a twitter account. How else to know who´s visiting your region or who´s in town to try your wines? It was precisely because of Twitter that I found myself in a popular parrilla in a trendy Buenos Aires barrio one Friday nite tucking into a gigantic steak and talking wine with Estefani Litardo, Mkt Manager of Altos las Hormigas in Buenos Aires. First off, the most interesting thing I found out was that the vineyards are in the Medrano region of Lujan de Cuyo. It might not be interesting to you but my last name is Medrano. How could I resist a wine that comes from a region with my moniker on it? It has to be good, no prejudice here, no siree, Bob! Seriously, though, she did have my complete attention after I heard the name of the region, purely out of curiousity as my surname is not very common. Not all the vines are in the department of Medrano, they have vineyards scattered around Mendoza and the grapes for the reserva wine come from Valle de Uco. Another interesting side note, the wine is called Altos las Hormigas because when the vines were young, the winemakers were inspecting the vines and saw millions of ants (hormigas in spanish) in amongst the vineyard floor, something quite unusual for the area. They used herbicides and plant protectors to get rid of the ants but kept the name and symbol of the ant for their wine. Altos las Hormigas is a partnership of Italian and Argentine winemakers. The well known Italian winemaker Alberto Antonini went to Mendoza in the late 90´s to find a suitable vineyard to grow grapes. He was looking for a region that had similarities with his home region of Tuscany. The project was conceived to focus primarily on malbec. At the time, malbec was not the flagship grape of Argentina but Antonini believed it should be and he was one of the first to promote malbec as a premium...

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Literally in the middle of nowhere,Bodega del Desierto -La Pampa, Patagonia

Picture it: Sicily, 1920, an Italian peasant, boarding the boat for a new life in the new world, all his worldly possessions in a beat-up old suitcase, cradling a tiny vine in his pocket, nurturing it, taking care that nothing happens to it on the long voyage across the sea. Finally, he arrives in the port of Buenos Aires and makes his way across the pampas to the province of Mendoza where he finds a beautiful plot of land beneath the Andes. Here, here is where he will plant his carefully tended vine and make wine. If only that´s the  way that Bodega del Desierto was founded. Instead, what started out as a gas company  looking to diversify it´s investments in the La Pampa region of Argentina has turned into a labour of love. Originally, the gas company was looking to grow grapes and sell them onward but the vines transfixed the family behind the company and before they knew it, they were pouring money and manpower into transforming the Patagonian desert into a vineyard. Helped along early on by expert winemakers, the desert has now produced a vineyard of very high quality. Famed Argentine wine maker, Mario Toso was brought on board to develop the project and he in turn brought on California winemaker, Paul Hobbs, once he realized the potential of the area. At first, Hobbs was reluctant to take on a winery that had only produced one vintage  but Toso convinced him that the area was capable of producing high quality grapes and after a bit of persuasion, Hobbs agreed to contribute his expertise. The first thing they did was decide to make all the vineyard decisions while the vines were being planted and growing. Thus they knew they could get the best quality out of the grapes according to how they raised the vines from the very beginning. The vineyards are literally in the middle of  nowhere, 160 kms from the nearest human settlement, the area was virgin desert land, not having...

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Familia Schroeder – more pinot, this time in Patagonia

  When I was in Mendoza last month I tried some rather big and brawny pinot noirs. I wondered aloud on twitter if these were the only kinds of pinots to be had in Argentina.  Lo and behold, Twitter spoke and before I knew it, I was on a bus to Patagonia, heading for the vineyards of the province of Neuquen in Patagonia to see what kind of pinots they are producing. The Argentine winery Familia Schroeder have planted 120 hectares and grow pinot noir along with the usual suspects of malbec, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon. First, a bit of history behind the vineyards of Neuquen. Back in the early 2000´s the state government of Neuquen realized that the natural oil and gas that was the bedrock of it´s economy was going to sooner or later dry out. What to do? They decided they needed a long term investment plan and settled on giving money and tax breaks to anyone who would plant a vineyard in the area and make wine. The area surrounding Neuquen consists of high desert plataeus with a narrow valley running between two that has been irrigated for years.  The primary crops grown are cherries and strawberries, people knew that crops would grow in the soil. The not so hard part was to get winemakers to venture south. Many winemakers from Mendoza came down as the climate is similar, desert land with very little rain, lots of sunshine, quite a large thermic amplitude and very few pests. The added ingredient being the Patagonian winds that seem to blow almost constantly and causes the berries of the vine to have thicker skins then their Mendocino kin. How much of an effect on the wines this would have, remained to be seen. The new wine producing region has been christened San Patricio de Chañar and is where almost all the vineyards of Patagonia can be found.   While I was there, one entire day was given over to a dust storm, producing a brown haze and rather poor visibility. They say it´s good for the...

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Un lugar en los Andes, high altitude malbec from Mendoza

I was visiting Mendoza, Argentina as part of my prize for winning the Argento/Bibendum Wine Contest back in March of this year. As you may recall, me and Niamh (Eatlikeagirl) made a guerilla winetasting video and won. Sadly, Niamh had to postpone her trip due to a family illness but I was game to carry on. Part of the trip was a visit to an estancia which was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.  I visited Estancia San Pablo on the hills flanking the Valle de Uco. Our host for the afternoon was Walter Scibilia-Campana, an enologist as well as owner of the estancia.  Walter and his wife, Karinna have carved out a lovely little guesthouse in the foothills of the Andes and welcome guests to take part in horseback excursions into the mountains as well as spend a few days on a working estancia. Walter’s family are big cattle ranchers but Walter decided to break away from that tradition and went to the Univ. of Mendoza to study enology. An interesting story about Walter´s history. Back when he was at the graduation ceremony from the University of Mendoza, he attended wearing the traditional Guacho dress of the region. The school authorities refused to give him his diploma saying he was not dressed appropriately. They told him, he could receive his diploma once he was dressed accordingly. Now, this did not sit will with Walter, who had worn traditional dress throughout his university career. He decided to sue the univeristy for discrimination and won! Rather then take the payout, Walter requested that the university pay for his wine master’s degree at Montpellier in France, which they did. After finishing at Montpellier, he went on to work for wineries in Bordeaux and California before settling in Mendoza to raise a family and wines. Walter has planted vines at some of the highest if not the highest altitudes in Mendoza. His malbec vines are at 1700 metres as well as his pinot noir. The pinot is...

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