World Malbec Day with Guacho

Apr 08, 15 World Malbec Day with Guacho

Posted by in All, Argentina

World Malbec Day is coming up, it’s April 17th in case you forgot to save the date. To mark the day, Argentine restaurant Gaucho is launching a week of special Malbec tastings at various Gauchos around London. I was invited to a sneak preview of the tastings with Mr Malbec, himself, Gaucho’s Director of Wine, Phil Crozier. The tasting was held at the Gaucho Piccadilly restaurant location, very handy locale, I love going there. Phil explained that our tasting would cover the spectrum of Argentine malbec from north to south and east to west. Phil started by giving us a bit of history about the grape. According to legend, malbec arrived on April 17th with a French missionary in the 1600’s. For many years it was known as the ‘French grape’ by the Italian immigrants who mainly cultivated the vines in Argentina. Malbec has had its ups and downs in Argentina but since the 1980’s 15 billion dollars has been inveseted in the industry and today, there are over 50,000 hectares in production. The tastings over the 7 days starts with The Pioneers, the winemakers who brought malbec to worldwide attention. We tasted the Mandala 2013 from one of the true pioneers of Argentine wine, Susanna Balboa. A beautiful wine, inky purple blue in colour, smooth and round but not too heavy. Lucky us, Phil brought out a board of lomita steak to match. Excellent with the steak, cutting through the fattiness of the melt in your mouth meat…. The New Generation was represented by Sebastian Zuccardi and his Poligonos, an unoaked wine made from old vines. A powerful, concentrated wine but full of fruit and very clean. The vines are in the Uco Valley where some the oldest vines in Argentina can be found. Phil developed this wine with Seb for the Gaucho wine list. As a matter of fact, 5 of the 7 wines we were tasting were developed by Phil with the winemakers. The other themed tastings will feature, ‘Old Vine...

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Chatting with Edgardo del Popolo of Dona Paula Estates, Argentina

Sep 24, 12 Chatting with Edgardo del Popolo of Dona Paula Estates, Argentina

Posted by in Argentina

“Blends are definitely the next step for Argentine malbec.” That opinion was voiced to me by Dona Paula winemaker Edgardo del Popolo while we were tasting a few of his wines the other day. Edgardo (or Edy as he prefers to be called) and I were at The Only Running Footman in Mayfair for a small tasting and we were chatting about not only Dona Paula’s wines but also meandered into the future of Argentine wine. Edy was referring specifically to malbec/cabernet franc blends. He thinks that consumers today are looking for not just everyday wines from Argentina but also for premium, high quality wines. And that is where blends come into play. Dona Paula have found some great vineyard spots in the Uco Valley of Mendoza and it is here that he’s planted not only cabernet franc but also chardonnay and malbec. Edy thinks that the cabernet franc lifts malbec, giving it the structure that it needs. He compares it to Bordeaux blends, merlot and cabernet sauvignon are fine on their own but put them together and it’s a whole different dimension. So what about these great vineyards that Edy was talking about? He was referring to the Altamira and Gualtallary vineyards of the Uco Valley. Dona Paula has such confidence in Edy that about 15 years ago he was tasked with finding the best region both in climate and soil for Dona Paula’s wines. Edy found both areas by flying over them and once identified, they had to ride in on horseback to inspect the soil as they were in a completely isolated region. Dona Paula then bought 160 hectares, each hectare going through extensive analysis to decide what would grow best there. Edy liked the region because the soils were particularly poor but full of calcium carbonate which he believes gives his wines the minerality he prizes. One of the grapes he thinks do well in the Gualtallary is chardonnay. Edy wants to make a chardonnay that is not the usual...

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Wines at Altitude – Carmenere and Malbec

Jan 27, 12 Wines at Altitude – Carmenere and Malbec

Posted by in Argentina, Chile

I don’t hate Carmenere. It’s often referred to as the “marmite” of wine, you either love it or hate it. I fall into the ambivilent category, neither hating it nor loving it. I was given a little more insight into carmenere when I participated in a wine workshop sponsored by Santa Rita Estates, a premium Chilean producer, which sought to shed a bit more light on not only the wines of Chile but also it’s neighbour, Argentina and it’s flagship grape, Malbec. I participated only in the red wine tasting of the seminar but there was a white wine tasting in the morning. The Carmenere tasting was lead by Tim Atkin MW, Brian Croser and Peter Richards MW with Panellists Andres Ilabaca and Sebastian Labbe. Peter Richards MW noted that carmenere is still relatively new and that it needs more time and that he has “…no doubt that quality will increase in time. Lots of different kinds of Carmenere will emerge, as it’s a naturally varied variety…” Viña Casa Silva, Santa Rita Estates, Carmen Winemakers, and Concha y Toro were all on show, an mix of 2008 and 2009 vintages. What was most evident was the slight green notes of the wines and the tannins. I also found that there was a coffee bean character to them, but I liked that! The standout was not surprisingly a blend, 85% carmenere, 10% carignan and 5% cabernet the 2009 Apalta by Carmen Winemakers. Carmenere seems to work best when blended and this wine was fresh, spicy and full of fruit. The added varities seemed to give the wine a lift and extra dimension. Carmenere is still a work in progress for the Chileans. After a short break we reconvened for Malbec. I’ve drunk a lot of malbec, mostly in Argentina, so I was looking forward to tasting these wines. Colome Estate, Bodega Noemia, and Dona Paula were all on tasting. Salta is one of the highest altitude wine producing regions in the world, if not the...

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The local bus was taking forever. On the map there looked to be about 40 kms between Neuquen and Rio Negro, not far, there in half an hour. However, I forgot that I was traveling in South America and nothing is ever quick or fast on a bus, even if it was the “express” bus, it’s a term used very loosely in this part of the world. I swear we stopped at every other street corner along the way. I was in Patagonia and to get here it takes 15 hours on a bus from Buenos Aires, down a lonely 2-lane highway. It really did feel like the bottom of the world. Isolated, windswept desert vistas as far as the eye can see, with the occasional tiny settlement on the Patagonian steppe. While it may not look like the ideal place to grow grapes and is hundreds of miles away from any “real” civilization, Patagonia has proven to be the place to go for adventurous wines makers. I had been alerted to the vineyards of Rio Negro from the winemakers of Neuquen, which I had been visiting. Go there if you want to try wines from old vines, they said. It was just a short drive away, 40 kms. “That’s nothing”, or so I thought, to the Rio Negro Valley. The Rio Negro Valley is 625 miles south of Buenos Aires but it was one of the first regions to produce wine on a large scale in Argentina. As a matter of fact, 100 years ago, it was the place to go for quality Argentine wines. Over the years, though, farmers found it more profitable and easier to grow apples and pears and most of the vineyards were grubbed up and replaced with fruit orchards. There are still a few wineries in the area and the land is quite suitable for viticulture, being in an irrigated oasis in the Patagonian desert. As the vineyards are in the desert, there are very few, if any,...

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Making wine at the end of the world…Bodega del Fin del Mundo

As I ventured further south into the Pampas and beyond of Argentina, it really did begin to feel like the end of the world. The Argentines  have a phrase, “el culo del mundo”  which roughly translates as the “ass of the world” . Once you’ve gone 15 hrs on a bus on a 2 lane highway that never wavers, never swerves, just one long, lone straight line that disappears into the distance, either side of the highway, not a hillock in sight, flat as a pancake, just the land and the sky. It is a lonely feeling. Eventually, you do come upon a major settlement and that would be the capital city of Neuquen, deep in Patagonia. A dusty, low slung city, once you leave the city limits you are back into the desert and then, trees, a (man made) lake, signs of life. This is where Bodega del Fin Del Mundo is, 50 kms outside of Neuquen at a road that ends in vines. The Bodega del Fin del Mundo winery, like most of the wineries in Neuquen is fairly new, having been built within the last 10 years. Lots of stainless steel tanks, state of the art technology and a good size cave, which houses more than 2000 oak barrels, both French and American, give it an up-to-the-minute feel despite it’s lonely location. The winery is technically in the designated grape producing region of San Particio del Chañar, within the Patagonian province of Neuquen. San Patricio del Chañar is very dry (less then 180 ml rainfall annually) and the winery relies on irrigation to water it’s 800 hectares of grapes. Another definitive factor in the grape production is the strong Patagonian winds that blow constantly, causing the grapes to have thick skins which contributes mightly to the colour without the need for much extraction.   BFDM grow a variety of red and white varietals, malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc amongst others. I tasted through their various ranges,...

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