A horsey break in the mtns of Cordoba,Los Potreros Estancia, Argentina

“I think it’s gin o’clock, don’t you?” said my hostess and trail boss, Louise (Lou) Begg. After a rough two hours on the trail ( not really, the horses barely broke into a trot) we were back at the estancia in time for a pre-lunch drink. I was spending a few days of R&R between all my visits to various wineries at the Estancia Los Potreros in the province of Cordoba,  in the central/northern part of Argentina.   Los Potreros has been in the Begg family for 4 generations but it originally started out as a farm to breed mules for the Peruvian silver mines back in 1574. It was bought by the Begg family in the first quarter of the 20th century and today the fourth generation of the Anglo/Argentine Begg family (Kevin and his wife Louise) run the estancia as not only a working farm, breeding award winning Angus cattle but also as a country retreat for horse lovers. Horse day trips, working with the gauchos, playing polo, golf, winetastings, trekking, bird-watching or just laying by the pool are all options on the ranch. If you’re a horsey person, this is the ideal retreat. Now, The Winesleuth is not really that much of a horse person but I was game and after the first ride, I was hooked. Lou and Kevin adjust to each rider’s level which means if you’re a beginner like me, there’s nothing too strenuous or long.The two-hour twice daily rides we took were just long enough for me. I asked Lou if they ever get people who don’t want to or can’t ride a horse and she replied that it is actually quite common. Often a partner or child doesn’t want to ride which is why they have plenty of other activities on offer. Of course, if you want to go racing up an down the hills, they cater for that as well. The landscape is just gorgeous, big hills rolling out as far as the eye can...

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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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