Uruguayan Bodega Marichal and their pinot/chard blend

This is one of those stories where inspiration strikes and the result is, well, maybe not divine but definitely delicious. Winemaking like so much else has embraced technology but sometimes all you need is good old ingenuity to correct a problem. That´s what faced Juan Andrés Marichal when he decided to make a pinot noir solely from saignee (first press of the berries but macerated for 4 hours) from a portion of his pinot noir harvest and discovered after a short time that it was quickly losing its acidity in barrel. I suppose I should back track  a bit and explain how I got to know Juan Andrés´story. I was visiting  his family vineyard, Marichal, in the Canelones region of Uruguay, roughly 40 kilometers outside of Montevideo. The Marichal vines were first planted by Andres´great-grandfather, Isebelino Marichal in the early 20th century, when he arrived to Uruguay from the Canary Islands. It wasn´t until 1938 however, that the winery was built and ever since, it´s been a family-run winery. Juan Andrés likes to tell the story of how his grandparents met. He stares off into the distance from the doorstep of his winery, points to a house about 500 mtrs up the road and says, “that´s where my grandmother grew up and where we are standing now is where my grandfather grew up.” His grandfather literally married the girl next door, or at least the closest next door neighbour he had. What started with his great grandfather has continued through the years to Juan Andrés and his brother. Although neither live at the vineyard, they both live in nearby Montevideo and visit often. Juan Andrés told me that Uruguay has not always been a quality wine producer but in the 1980´s, the government took an interest in the winegrowing industry and provided incentives to pull up all the inferior rootstock and replant it with higher quality vines. The family took advantage of this program and replanted extensively.  Juan Andrés also took advantage of the opportunity to study in Mendoza, Argentina. Today, Juan Andrés and his brother...

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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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Sauvignon Gris from Uruguay, Casa Filgueira

One of the most intriguing things I found when I was in Uruguay was how willing the winemakers are to take chances with their wine. Quite a few times a winemaker would be explaining a new wine or discovery they had made and when I asked them how or why it  came about, they replied, it was an accident! An accident that happened to work out. Uruguay is a country of soft, rolling hills and a sky that seems to take up most of the vista. The majority of Uruguayan vineyards are located in the department of Canelones which is about 35 kms north of Montevideo. Roughly 80% of all the vines are there with the remainder up north in Salto or to the west near Colonia. The climate is maritime and they get a lot of cloud cover so even if it’s a hot day, it can still be cloudy. One of the winemakers told me it’s not uncommon for the 60% of the sky to be covered in clouds. It was hot and sunny day  while I was there so both me and the vines had to put up with the sun.  Another thing I noticed was the use of the lyre system to train the vines. There is a lot of humidity in Uruguay and the growers often have to contend with unwanted botyrtis or mildew. Sebastian Dellorio, Marketing Manager of Filgueira explained that they use the lyre system to prevent the vines from developing all those nasty ailments. Unlike Argentina, there isn’t much need for irrigation and most wineries only use irrigation if it’s been a very dry year. Otherwise, the vines are left to fend for themselves. One of those surprising accidents I drank was a sauvignon gris. The first winery I visited in Uruguay was also one of the most well regarded, Casa Filgueira. Filgueira was founded in the early 1900’s but it wasn’t until the early 90’s that the current generation, Dr. Jose Luiz Filgueira and his...

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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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