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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Two Argentine whites for the holidays

Although it’s freezing cold outside,( in Europe at any rate, I’m still sunning myself in South America) there’s always room for white wine, whether as an aperitif or something to go with a roast chicken dinner, white wine is a lovely choice. Pinot grigio is often the go-to drink when people are looking for a light white wine but I’ve discovered a lovely Torrontes from Terrazas de los Andes, an Argentine winery situated in the wine region of Mendoza. Terrazas de los Andes has been producing quality wines since the 1980’s and have turned their hand at making a fresh and fruity yet dry white wine. Torrontes one of the flagship varietals of Argentina along with Malbec and is a hybrid that is unique to Argentina. A cross of malvasia and criolla chica, a native grape of Argentina, it has proven itself to be a real winner of a wine from the vines of Argentina. The Terrazas Torrontes Reserva 2009 is fresh and clean, a great wine with lovely tropical fruit notes, full bodied with great acidity and balance, it was refreshingly dry, an elegant wine which would work on it’s own or with Asian cuisine. Thai dishes, Japanese tempura, ginger, shrimp, all of these popped to mind while I was drinking this wine. Another of Terrazas wines I really enjoyed was their 2009 Chardonnay. Terrazas de los Andes’ vineyards are situated in the Lujan de Cujo region of Mendoza and the chardonnay vineyards sit at 1200 meters. This is great for producing fresh wines. Too much sun and not enough time to cool down at night would result in wines that are flabby and lack freshness and acidity. Terrazas does everything to ensure that their chardonnays are crisp and clean including NOT letting them go through malo-lactic fermentation to preserve freshness, while still exhibiting the true expression of Argentine fruit. So what does a true Argentine chardonnay taste like according to Terrazas de los Andes? A crisp, clean wine, tropical fruit notes with...

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A pinot taste-off at The Vines of Mendoza

They always say, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Last week I tried a rather anemic pinot noir from Mendoza, Argentina. I wondered if this was the best that Mendoza could do and vowed to try and find a Mendozan pinot noir with a bit more structure, body and flavour. Well, I succeeded, perhaps a little too successfully. I found myself at the bar of the tasting room of The Vines of Mendoza in the city centre with Emily Camblin, the VoM Director of Marketing and my drinking companion for the afternoon. We were there to have a bit of a taste off. I had come to Emily with my “problem” and challenged her to find me a pinot that was no wilting flower. I had come to the right place as The Vines of Mendoza is the only tasting room in all of South America. What also sets it apart from a run of the mill winery tasting room  is that they source their wines from all over Argentina. So, besides the ubiquitous malbec, there’s syrah and cabernet franc as well as pinot noir and malbec and plenty of boutique wineries represented amongst the bottles behind the counter. They even serve up wines from Brazil. Emily offered me a taste but I’ve had them in London and let’s just say, I’m not a fan. The idea behind Vines is to not only showcase the best that Argentina has to offer but also to do their bit for wine education. They offer wine by the glass and also by the flight with little mini-tutored tastings given by the very friendly, knowledgeable bi-lingual staff. The staff were extremely enthusiastic about their wines and couldn’t wait to tell me all about them. I felt right at home and probably would have spent the entire afternoon there talking through their flights but first, there were other, more important matters at hand – the pinots. “I’m sure you’ll find these pinots are not...

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I really wanted to like this wine…Padrillos, pinot noir from Mendoza

The pinot noir was not a hit. What a shame. My Argentine friends asked me what ever possessed me to buy a pinot noir from Mendoza when I could have bought a perfectly good malbec or syrah from Mendoza. I guess curiosity got the better of me. I´ve had pinots from Patagonia but never from Mendoza so when I spotted it on the shelf I just had to buy it. That and combined with the fact that it had the name Catena on it, I thought it would be good bet. But sadly, it wasn’t. Padrillos is the handiwork of the son of Nicolas Catena Zapata, Ernesto. Going into the wine making business for himself, Ernesto sources the grapes from other growers and makes the wine. Visiting the website, there is a whole story about the Incas and lost treasures etc but it all seemed a bit too much. The back label of the pinot noir also seems to ramble on with a story about a stallion climbing the Andes mountains and some how relating it to the freshness of the wine. This is my rough translation but my friends said it didn’t make much sense in Spanish either. Honestly, if you have to make up such a story, is it a distraction from the wine? In this case, I think yes. I haven’t tried the other wines he makes but I’m not really tempted to based on the pinot. A simple wine with not many defining characteristics other then “tastes like fruit juice” as my friends commented. I thought it had lots of cherry on the palate but I think they were right, it was like drinking cherry cola minus the fizz. Light to medium bodied, it reminded me of Beaujolais but not as good. What a disappointment, I was so looking forward to loving this wine, especially after paying 40 pesos for it. Bear in mind, you can get a perfectly acceptable bottle in the supermarket for 12 pesos and a really good...

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