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Visiting Mendoza, Argentina
Part 3: O Fournier

Jose Manuel Ortega (above) is a smart guy, His background is banking, but he now makes wine in three countries: Argentina, Chile and his native Spain. And he’s doing quite a good job of it.

His Argentine venture is in the Valle d’Uco at 1200 metres elevation – one of Mendoza’s happening sub-regions. ‘When I came here in May 2000 there was nothing here,’ he explains. ‘There had been vines here, but it wasn’t productive enough.’ 

For his purposes, though, it seemed perfect, and he decided to construct an elaborate, modernist winery. It looks beautiful, and despite its modern lines, fits in well with the dramatic environment of the Uco Valley. ‘It took four years to build the winery’, Jose Manuel reveals. ‘We had to change the construction company.’


The vineyards here look a bit different, because he decided to plant gobelet (bush) vines, rather than to trellis. ‘It’s not because I’m Spanish’, he asserts. ‘Look at Mendoza: we have excess sun – 320 days a year. It’s high altitude, so the sun is intense. A bush vine provides shade, like an umbrella. The sugar content of the grapes rises slower and the grapes don’t get burnt. Bush vines are also thought to age longer.’


So far, 200 hectares of the estate remain unplanted, and Jose Manuel hasn’t decided what to do with this. ‘We’re new to the country and area, and didn’t know what would work, so we planted a bit of everything. I’m very much into science, so I’m planting a little bit without knowledge. For example, we planted three clones of Tempranillo and one, a Rioja clone, didn’t work, so we will graft this to Malbec.’


The main challenge of Valle d’Uco is that it’s a borderline area. ‘All exceptional wines are made in borderline areas’, claims Jose Manuel. There is potential here for spring and autumn frosts, but hail isn’t as much as a problem here as in other parts of Mendoza. The average temperature here is approximately 6 °C lower than in Mendoza.


The young vines currently contribute to entry level wines, but they are worked as if they were for top quality wines (short pruning for low yields, for example), because it’s hard to work vineyards for entry level and then change them for low production later in their lives. 50% of Fournier’s needs are met from bought-in grapes from older vineyards.

Jose Manuel looked at 240 properties in the Uco Valley to select the 22 he uses. ‘We pay by the hectare and not by the kilo’, says Jose Manuel. ‘It’s a very personal relationship.’

The winery was busy;  vintage was underway. The grapes being received and sorted were accompanied by swarms of wasps, which must make life a little unpleasant for the workers on the sorting line. We toured the underground cellar and then tasted through the range.

The wines here are impressive, ranging from astutely made more commercial offerings (the ‘Urban’ brand) to pretty solid high-end wines. Jose Manuel asserts that ‘acidity, oak and fruit are like a three legged chair: you need all three for ageworthy wines’. He thinks that wines for long ageing need oak. ‘The problem today is that high end wines are being released early’, he says. ‘If you rely 100% on fruit, it is the first thing that disappears [with ageing]. If you don’t have oak you don’t have the backbone to sustain years of ageing’.  

The wines

Centauri Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Chile
A blend of fruit from Aconcagua, San Antonio and Leyda. Noticeably green on the nose with lots of green pepper character. Quite sophisticated, still. Dense, full palate with concentrated green pepper notes. 88/100

Urban Uco Torrontés 2007 Cafayete, Salta, Argentina
Altitude 1750 metres.
Jose Manuel started making this in 2006 and it has been a great success. ‘Our style is more constrained than the more floral Torrontés’, he explains. Amazing nose: powerful, almost oily, exotic aromatic herb and pineapple fruit. The palate has a rich texture with bold herbal character. Very powerful with a rich texture. 89/100

O Fournier B Crux Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Crisp, assertive palate with nice grassiness. Quite sophisticated. The palate shows lovely concentration and minerality. Not at all blowsy. 89/100

Urban Merlot Carignan Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Maule, Chile
Very sweet but fresh cherry and berry fruits nose. Soft and approachable. The palate is fresh with bright cherry and berry fruit, lovely freshness and an attractive juicy character. Soft tannins. 88/100

Urban Uco Malbec Tempranillo 2005 Mendoza, Argentina
Very attractive bright berry fruits on the nose, with a subtle roasted edge. The palate shows generous berry fruit with chocolatey richness and some spice. Seductive effort. 87/100

O Fournier Spiga 2004 Ribera del Duero, Spain
Deep coloured. Sweet nose has rich dark fruits with some creamy richness, and a hint of vanilla oak. Seductive and brooding. The palate shows lovely definition of fruit: ripe and rich with spicy chocolatey richness. A powerful wine of great density. Still a bit alcoholic and oaky but very nice. 91/100

O Fournier B Crux 2004 Uco Valley, Mendoza
A blend of 50% Tempranillo, 40% Malbec and 10% Merlot. Nicely defined tight dark fruits on the nose. Sweet but defined with a slightly meaty edge. The palate is lush and ripe but still has some definition. A seductive style with good fruit quality and liqueur-like richness. 90/100

O Fournier Alfa Crux 2005 Uco Valley, Mendoza
From two old vineyards: one is 65 years old, the other 85 years old – both in La Consulta. Lovely sweet well defined nose of pure blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with some elegant spiciness. The palate is sweetly fruited, rich and dense with well integrated oak and good structure. Exuberant fruit here: it’s ripe, but it avoids being jammy. 91/100

O Fournier Alfa Crux 2002 Uco Valley, Mendoza
Brooding sweet dark fruits nose leads to a concentrated palate with dense, dark fruit. Sweet and liqueur-like but well defined with good freshness and nice tannic structure. Dark and serious; the oak is well integrated. 92/100

see a short film from my visit:

Wines tasted 03/08  
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