Two lovely fizzy Italian reds

radice lambrusco

Fizzy red wines. Not mainstream, I know, but I quite liked these two examples from Italy. They’re being sold by a retailer new to the UK, Tannico.

Paltrinieri Lambrusco di Sorbara Frizzante Secco 2015 DOC Radice, Italy
£14.90 Tannico.co.uk
11% alcohol
This is a family run winery located in the heart of Sorbara, Modena. They’ve been making this Lambrusco di Sorbara for three generations, from 15 hectares of vineyards on chalky and sandy soils. The grapes are destemmed, pressed and the juice settled before primary fermentation. After around 70 days the wine is bottled where refermentation occurs with indigenous yeasts for around 90 days. The resulting wine is a slightly cloudy pale pink colour. The savoury, toasty nose shows attractive cherry and citrus fruit, and there’s a bit of pear and red apple richness. Toasty and nutty on the finish, with some fizziness. The yeasty, toasty character is really appealing, with a fine spiciness. Dry and easy to drink, finishing nutty and toasty. 90/100

piccolo bonarda

Piccolo Bacco dei Quaroni Vivace 2015 Bonarda dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC, Italy
£9.99 Tannico.co.uk
12.5% alcohol
A blend of Croatina (referred to here as Bonarda) 90%, Barbera 10%. Four chums bought a small (2.5 hectare) historical vineyard called Piccolo Bacco dei Quaroni in 2001. Here we are in the Oltrepo Pavese region in the northwest of Italy, bordering Emilia-Romagna. The vines are planted at high density and viticulture is close to organic. Second fermentation here is in pressurised tanks. Wild yeasts only. Deeply coloured and intense, this fizzy red wine is quite delicious. It’s inky and supple with black cherry and blackberry fruit, showing a hint of meaty spiciness and a sleek, ripe fruit character. Dry with some fruit sweetness, this is a lovely wine that’s delicious alone but would work with food. You can serve it chilled or at room temperature, and it’s lovely at both. Unusual, and great value for money. 90/100

On pens and writing

ink pens writing

I have decided to resurrect my ink pens, which have been a bit neglected of late. Instead, I’ve taken the easy option and used Uni-ball Eye Fine pens, which are pretty good and very easy to write with, but they aren’t ink pens.

There’s something special about writing long hand. It’s massively inefficient. You’d think it would have become extinct in the age of the laptop and iPad.

But it is an aesthetic choice.

As is buying Moleskine or Rhodia notebooks. They’re expensive, at about £15 a pop, for what is essentially blank paper. You could get a notebook that would do the same job for less than a tenth of the price. Couple that with ink pens that are inconvenient and potentially messy, and you are choosing the road less travelled.

But consider music consumption. Vinyl is inconvenient, and should be extinct. It’s just daft to buy vinyl, but vinyl sales are booming. It’s not just for dudes going through mid-life crises.

My point? People like to make aesthetic choices, and this includes writers. In an age where many wine writers are jumping straight to the laptop to bang out as many tasting notes as possible, there’s something to be said for writing long hand, pen on nice paper. It changes the way you write, I reckon.

We live in a media age where we struggle with a tsunami of information, where everyone is a writer. Professional writers are afraid of being lost in the crowd, and the temptation for them is to bank out more output in a bid to stay relevant and corner a larger slice of the market.

But could it be that the answer is to produce less, but better? Could changing the medium from laptop to longhand producer better output?

I use my laptop for tasting notes, sometimes. But tasting notes are just tasting notes. The world probably doesn’t need too many more of them. Competition has resulted in vast numbers of tasting notes being published, and also score creep. Like a drug addict who needs an ever increasing dose to feel the same high, the consumers of scores need ever greater scores. Yet the limit is 100. It will soon be reached, to the point that wines will be judged on a binary score: 99 (fail); 100 (succeed).

Could ink and decent paper be the answer?

Wines of the year (1) Instagram favourites

instagramfavourites

How do you decide which your favourite wines were from the year past? Difficult.

One way is to let others decide. I have quite a few instagram followers, and it’s interesting to see which wines that I post are the most popular.

There are lots of confounders here. If I post a nice picture that looks good it might get more likes. Or if I post at certain times of the day it may have an effect.

I have not included bottles that I haven’t drunk (you could take photos of a posh cellar or wine shop shelf). Also, not all wines I tried got posted, and some got posted as compilations. Also, I had more followers at the end of the year than the beginning.

Still, it’s fun compiling a list like this. Some real surprises. Number of likes indicated in brackets, and I’ve included all wines that had 200 likes or more.

1. Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia 1999 (451)
2. Musar 2005 (365)
3. Julien Sunier Fleurie 2015 (345)
4. Lapierre Morgon 2015 (329)
5. Niepoort Turris 2012 (314)
6. Champagne Bollinger Grande Annee 2005 (306)
7. Vieux Chateau Certan Pomerol 1985 (292)
8. Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva 2004 (289)
9. Foillard Morgon Cote du Py 2014 (286)
10. Maximin Grunhaus Abstberg Kabinett 2014 (279)
11. Savage Follow The Line 2015 (270)
12. Egon Muller Scharzhoberger Auslese 2011 (263)
13. Chateau Suduiraut 2001 Sauternes (262)
14. Blandy’s Bual Madeira 1920 (256)
15. Quinta do Noval Colheita 2000 (254)
16. Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2006 (253)
17. JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2001 (253)
18. Roulot Meursault Clos des Bouchières 1er Cru 2012 (249)
19. Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 2007 (248)
20. Domaine Leflaive Bienvenue Batard Montrachet 2012 (243)
21. Eyrie Vineyards Melon de Bourgogne 2012 (238)
22. Nyetimber Tillington 2010 (237)
23. Raveneau Chablis Butteaux 1er Cru 1999 (236)
24. Vina Tondonia Rioja Reserva 2002 (235)
25. Champagne Jacquesson 739 NV (230)
26. Champagne Savart L’Ouverture Premier Cru NV (230)
27. Dutraive Fleurie ‘Champagne’ Domaine de la Grand Cour 2005 (229)
28. Norman Hardie Niagara Chardonnay 2013 (226)
29. Domaine de Trevallon 1990 (223)
30. Jamet Cote Rotie 1999 (222)
31. Chave Hermitage 1995 (220)
32. Ridge Montebello 1989 (217)
33. Cos d’Estournel Blanc 2012 (216)
34. Keller Riesling 2013 (215)
35. Domaine Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques 1998 (215)
36. Domaine Bruno Clair Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru 2007 (215)
37. De Montille Pouilly Fuisse En Vergisson 2013 (212)
38. Valentini Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo 1992 (212)
39. Champagne Pol Roger 2006 (212)
40. Chateau Latour 2001 (209)
41. Chateau Pichon Baron 2012 (209)
42. JJ Prum Riesling Kabinett 2014 (208)
43. Champagne Gimonnet Cuis NV (206)
44. Anton von Klopper The Wildman Pinot 2015 (206)
45. The Wine Society Bonnes Mares, De Vogue, 1969 (204)
46. Pieropan Soave Classico 2014 (204)
47. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2006 (204)
48. Clos Rougeard Saumur Champigny 2010 (204)
49. Graf Von Kanitz Lorcher Bodental-Steinberg Riesling Auslese 1976 Rheingau (202)
50. Champagne Gimonnet Cuis 1er Cru NV (201)
51. Champagne Gimonnet Oenophile 2005 (201)
52. Champagne Dom Perignon 1998 P2 (201)
53, Burn Cottage Gruner Veltliner 2014 (201)

Hush Heath Estate Balfour Brut Rosé 2013

hush heath

I was really impressed by this pink fizz from Hush Heath. It’s really elegant.

Hush Heath Estate Balfour Brut 2013 Kent, England
2013 was a late harvest here: Pinot began on 22 October, and Chardonnay came in on 7 November. The result is a wine with a very pale salmon pink in colour, and showing beautiful balance. There’s a fine citrus fruit core with some red cherry and rosehip notes, as well as a touch of apple. Really fine and expressive with pure fruit and lovely delicacy. The acidity is beautifully integrated and the finish is just so elegant. A really fine, fruit-driven wine. 92/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

Oh, the places you'll go! 2016 in review

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

January: the year began in New Zealand, for a South Island Road trip, followed by the Sauvignon Blanc celebration. We started off in Central Otago, where it was unseasonably cold. Rippon is pictured above.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

North Canterbury provided some highlights. including Pyramid Valley (above) and Bell Hill (below).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

February saw the Professional Wine Writers’ Symposium in Napa, California. Hugh Johnson’s keynote was the highlight. A terribly unfocused discussion on minerality was the lowlight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In February, I attended Simplesmente Vinho in Porto, Portugal. It’s a lovely, slightly alternative wine fair.

Sashi Moorman

Sashi Moorman

In March I took a lovely trip to California with some great people. We started off in Santa Barbara’s wine country and then headed up north to Napa and Sonoma. It was great to see the Lompoc Wine Ghetto where the likes of Sashi Moorman and Raj Parr make their wines.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jason and Bob Haas

Jason and Bob Haas

It was great to visit Tablas Creek in Paso Robles (above), and Nathan and Duncan of Arnot Roberts, one of the state’s most exciting producers (below).

Duncan and Nathan, Arnot Roberts

Duncan and Nathan, Arnot Roberts

Grower Champagne, ProWein

Grower Champagne, ProWein

March continues with Prowein. I tasted a lot of grower Champagne there, as well as doing some seminars for Canada.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

March also saw a quick trip to Bordeaux to taste the bottled 2014s with Millesima. Above, the modern winery of Marquis d’Alesme. Below, the lovely city of Bordeaux.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Johan Reyneke

Johan Reyneke

In early April I travelled to South Africa for the first of three visits. This was for judging the Top 100 competition. Pictured above is Johan Reyneke, who I visited on the last morning.

IMGP9905-500x333

April is also International Wine Challenge month. Two weeks of hard work, and good times with colleagues. It’s like a family.

Anselme Selosse

Anselme Selosse

April finished with a visit to Champagne. So many good visits, including a brilliant one with Anselme Selosse, and a lovely time with Rodolphe Peters of Pierre Peters (below). It was lovely staying in Reims.

rodolphe peters

mee godard

One of the highlights of May was a trip to Beaujolais, visiting some really good people. Mee Godard in Morgon was a great visit among many.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another great visit was with the Thillardon brothers in Chenas (below).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Paul Henri and Charles Thillardon

Paul Henri and Charles Thillardon

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

May also saw a lovely visit to Germany, catching several regions and some great producers, such as Ernie Loosen (above) and Helmut Donnhoff (below).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Me in the Rheinhessen. Germany is on a roll at the moment.

albert boxler

June: Alsace. I love Alsace so much. It’s always great to visit.

Painted Rock

Painted Rock

June saw the first of four trips to Canada. Destination Penticton, for the National Wine Awards of Canada. The Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys are really beautiful.

Severine Pinte

Severine Pinte

Severine Pinte at La Vieux Pin is making some of BC’s best wines: serious Syrah.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lovely BC fizz from Jay!

marquesderiscal

Straight from Canada, I headed over to Rioja for a consultants’ meeting with Lallemand. We visited Contino and also Marques de Riscal (above).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then I was off to South Africa again, at the beginning of July. I explored MCC (South Africa’s sparkling wine), visited the Leeu Collection, and judged the Top 10 Chenin Blanc competition.

dirty little secret chenin blanc

This was lovely: Ken Forrester’s new high-end Chenin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

July saw some West Coast USA action. Starting in Vancouver, we hit Oregon (Eyrie pictured above).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then some Oregon coast action: a quick trip to Cannon Beach.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beckham was a highlight of Oregon. Andrew makes amphora, and uses them.

IMG_0734

Then some time exploring Portland. What a city.

IMG_0743

And time in Seattle, attending the Riesling Rendezvous, a great event.

Wes Pearson at work in the sensory lab

Wes Pearson at work in the sensory lab

July took me to Adelaide, Australia, for the Australian Wine Technical Conference, where I gave a couple of talks, as well as visiting the AWRI (above) and McLaren Vale.

jamiegoodeAWITC-001

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then August too me to Germany again, where I went on a press trip focusing on organic wines, tasted at the VDP event, and then studied sekt with my Canadian colleague Treve Ring. We made a video. Pictured above is Mathieu Kauffmann, who is now winemaker at Von Buhl in the Pfalz.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

August also saw me head over to TexSom in Dallas.

IMG_1378

Looking down on the Barca Velha winery from the chapel

Looking down on the Barca Velha winery from the chapel

September: harvest time in the Douro. A lovely trip taking in the Douro Boys, including Vale Meão (above) and Crasto (below).

Quinta do Crasto

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We also visited Taylors to see foot treading in action. A video on how Port wine is made was the result, another collaboration with Canadian colleague Treve Ring.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jean-Benoit Deslauriers

Jean-Benoit Deslauriers

In September I headed back to Canada. Destination (1) was Nova Scotia, where I visited sparkling wine producer Benjamin Bridge. Great wines from Jean-Benoit and his team.

benjamin bridge

norman hardy chardonnay

Then destination (2) Was Norman Hardie Wines in Prince Edward County, where I was immersed in vintage for a few days. It was a great experience. Norm is pictured above with Claude.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Iona

Iona

Then it was off to Elgin, South Africa’s coolest wine region (above), for the Chardonnay Symposium. It was a lovely few days. I followed it with a night in Bordeaux (below), before heading to Provence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We had a lovely visit to Provence. Rosé is on a roll.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This was followed by a trip to Bordeaux, investigating the shift to organics, and also seeing the alternative side.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_3565

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

October saw me visiting pioneering Spanish wine company Vintae in Rioja and other northern Spanish regions.

victoria

November saw me in BC, Canada, again. I did a gig at Cornucopia in Whistler, then headed over to Victoria (above), to checkout the wine and beer scene here, and to judge in Gold Medal Plates.

Francisco Albuquerque and Chris Blandy

Francisco Albuquerque and Chris Blandy

Late November I headed over to Madeira, for my first visit, with Blandy’s, the leading producer.

madeira

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the last trip of the year: 10 days in Chile and Argentina. Above, Seña. Below, travelling companions Neil Beckett and David Williams.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Doña Paula's Alluvia vineyard in Gualtallary

Doña Paula’s Alluvia vineyard in Gualtallary

It has been a lot of travelling. A big year. Lots learned. One of the best.

Interesting Argentine wines: Bonarda and Cabernet Franc

argentinebonarda

This was a chance to taste some interesting examples of Bonarda and Cabernet Franc from Argentina, with winemakers Sebastian Zuccardi, Matias Riccitelli and Edgardo de Popolo.

Most Bonarda comes from the east of Mendoza, which is warm and at lower altitude, and it has traditionally been used for volume wines. ‘But if you get low yields from good sites you can get very special wines,’ says Sebastian.

‘For many years we thought it was the Bonarda from Italy, but we now know it has no relationship,’ he explains. ‘It’s actually the same as Charbono (or Corbeau), from Savoie in France.’

He adds, ‘it is Argentina’s second most widely grape planted because it is well adapted to the conditions, but for a long time it wasn’t taken seriously.’

‘In the crisis in the 1980s a lot of Malbec was pulled out,’ says Edgardo. ‘At that time there were 16 000 hectares of Bonarda, and 9 000 hectares of Malbec. Now bonarda is still 16 000 ha and malbec is 39 000 ha. Wineries used to make a de-coloured malbac, and in the domestic market there was a big market for white wines.’

‘It is late ripening but can get over-ripe very quickly,’ says Sebastian. ‘Often it moves to the sweetness, so I try to harvest early. Bonarda is also extremely sensitive to oak.’

Chakana Estate Bonarda 2015 Agrelo, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza
Organic, 13% alcohol. 960 metres. Fresh and focused with sweet cherry and blackberry fruit. Supple and bright with lovely pure fruit and a bit of spicy grip on the finish. This is all about the supple, fresh, pure berry fruits and it’s delicious. 90/100

Michelini Bros Etorno Retorno Bonarda 2013 Tupungato, Vale de Uco
14.5% alcohol. 1100m. Pergolo-trained vines aged over 30. Lovely pure, floral black cherry and blackberry fruit, with almost a slight saltiness and lovely liqueur-like fruit quality. There’s really lovely purity here. Fresh, ripe, seductive but not overdone at all. 93/100

Riccitelli The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree Bonarda 2015 Vistalba, Lujan de Cuyo, Argentina
60 year old vines, 14.5% alcohol, oak aged. Sweetly fruited and seductive with a nice sweet fruit profile. Blackberries and cherries, with a bit of chocolatey richness. Rounded, sweet and easy with nice berry fruits. Polished and appealing. 90/100

Emma Zuccardi Bonarda 2015 Valle de Uco, Mendoza
13.5% alcohol. Whole bunch, then vinified in concrete amphoras. Chalky soils at 1100 m. Supple, bright, pure and stony with lovely texture and acidity. This has nice fresh acidity that underpins the fruit. The whole bunch adds a bit of backbone to this wine which shows beautiful black cherry fruit with a stony, salty minerality. Just lovely. 94/100

argentinecabernetfranc

‘Cabernet Franc is very interesting here because we can get ripe Cabernet Franc with good character, says Matias. ‘It is good on its own and it’s also good blended.’

Atamisque Serbal Cabernet Franc 2016 Tupungato, Valle de Uco
13.5% alcohol. Fermented in stainless steel. 1300 m altitude. Sappy, green herbal edge to the fruity nose. The palate is juicy, sappy and a bit green with light, expressive red cherry fruit and some herbal overtones. Very drinkable style. 90/100

Zorzal Wines Eggo Franco 2015 Gualtallary, Tupungato, Valle de Uco
13.8% alcohol, fermented in concrete eggs. 1350 m altitude. Rounded, appealing and sweet with nice juiciness and some fine spicy notes. Quite textured with a green herby hint to the sweet berry fruits. Has some grip on the finish. 90/100

Argento Reserva Cabernet Franc 2014 Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza
14% alcohol. 25% oak aged. Sweetly fruited with some pepper and clove notes, as well as a bit of cedar. Supple with nice sweet berry fruits and a savoury twist to the palate, with a hint of chocolately richness. 88/100

Andeluna Pasionado Cabernet Franc 2013 Gualtallary, Valle de Uco
1300 m, 15.8% alcohol. Smells of Fernet Branca. Minty and intense with structured, spicy black fruits and some roasted oak character. Salty and warm with high alcohol. Finishes cedary and grippy with some dryness. Just a bit overdone. 89/100

  • Find these wines with wine-searcher.com
  • The ill-health of wine writing

    happiness map

    It’s not been a great year for wine writing. Several fellow writers have lost their newspaper columns and regular gigs. It has been particularly tough for those who rely solely on writing for their living; for many like me who have had quite a good year, it has been the lecturing, judging, consulting, presenting and other communication-related activities that has made the difference.

    The big problem is the continued flight of advertising money away from professionally generated content (newspapers, magazines) onto platforms where the content is user generated (facebook, twitter, google). There’s no money left to pay writers.

    Is it a tragedy? No one owes me a living. If the market isn’t there for the service I provide, then shouldn’t I just go and get a new job?

    It’s just that, now, it’s the good ones who are losing their regular gigs. Talented writers who are doing the right thing.

    The wine trade needs to consider who it wants to do the necessary communication about wine. At the moment, there remain some good wine writers without commercial conflicts of interest who talk about interesting wines and want to help the good guys to win.

    Increasingly, there is a blurring of boundaries, and the communicators who survive are part of media organizations who increasingly look to producers to make money; who promise content to producers who pay to play, albeit indirectly. Where content is directed towards regions and organizations who have budget. Who run events where both consumers and producers pay to participate.

    There are relatively few independent voices left. If those in the wine trade who have budget are smart, they will support the sort of people they’d like to do the communication. Traditionally, this has been the case. But if there’s an oversupply of good communicators then the temptation is to get people to work for free.

    Of course, it’s fine to work for free, and I occasionally do gigs for people with zero budget who really need help. But normally I turn down these gigs, and fortunately there are others who do pay.

    But then there are emails like this, which I received yesterday:

    ‘During the day we are planning to do four 45 minute masterclasses and we are looking for some experienced and knowledgeable people to moderate them. At a recent meeting it was decided that we would not pay anyone to participate in the masterclasses, but we would be happy to send you a fantastic 6 pack of top XXXX wine’

    It’s like wine retail. As consumers, we get the wine shops we deserve. If we are always looking to save £1 od £2 on a bottle of wine, going to the cheapest source, then we’ll lose retailers who have good customer service and a carefully curated list. If those in the wine trade are looking to get freelancers to work for free, then they’ll lose the good ones.

    In the meantime, my job is to work hard and make myself indispensable. I have to do such a good job that I’m in demand and there are enough paying gigs to make a living. But I also have to encourage those with budget to do the right thing and support good writers. Otherwise in desperation these writers will end up having to compromise and conflict their interests, or else they’ll just leave wine communication altogether. And wine needs good, impartial communicators. There are stories that need telling.

    Pedogenic lime in arid vineyard soils - how does it affect the flavour of wine?

    pedogenic limestone vineyard soils

    When it comes to vineyard soils, limestone is all the rage. But there’s one source of limestone in vineyard soils that isn’t much talked about. It’s the slow formation of limestone in arid vineyard soils, known as pedogenic lime (and alternatively caliche and calcrete). I first encountered it in Central Otago, and then bumped into it again in Washington State. And this week, I was reintroduced to it in the soils of Mendoza, where it rains very little. Significantly, though, we were able to taste the difference that it makes to the final wine by looking at trial wines from Doña Paula, with viticulturist Martin Kaiser. These were Malbecs made from three different soil types in the Alluvia vineyard in Gualtallary.

    Martin Kaiser, Doña Paula, in a soil pit

    Martin Kaiser, Doña Paula, in a soil pit

    So what is involved in calcification in arid vineyards? The rain absorbs carbon dioxide, producing carbonic acid. In the soil, this then produces calcium carbonate when it encounters calcium, which is almost always present to some degree as a result of the breakdown of parent material.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    In arid areas this calcium carbonate remains in the soil, accumulating rather than being washed out. After a long time – many thousands of years, enough , producing a thick layer. This can form a pan (a firm layer of soil that roots can’t penetrate), and it also makes the soil more alkaline. If there are stones, these become covered on one side by the calcium carbonate. Where the soil is older, you see more of this calcification. If you take soils and squirt a bit of acid on them, you see the ones with calcium carbonate in them fizz. If there’s enough of this limestone material, it has an effect on vine growth and the flavour of the resulting wine, as these wines showed.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    This limestone in the soil is quite different in origin to limestone soils as we commonly think about them, but it’s chemically the same. It’s really interesting that it can affect the flavour of wine. In the video, you can see Martin squirting acid on small piles of soil from different bits of the soil: the older material has some limestone, and fizzes rapidly. The younger material has accumulated less limestone and doesn’t fizz the same way.


     
    2015 Doña Paula Malbec comparison of soils from Alluvia
    Microvinifications with the same protocol. 2 weeks skin maceration, then old barrels for malolactic and then bottled straight afterwards.

    Lot 111
    129 water holding capacity, 36% stone percentage, 1.5% calcium carbonate, sandy without limestone. Fresh, pure black fruits with a slightly salty edge. Fruity and vivid. Hints of cherries and apples. Fresh fruit dominates here. Bright, simple, fruity style, with some floral overtones.

    Lot 104
    45 water holding capacity, 70% stones, 1% calcium carbonate, stony without limestone. Rich, quite vivid and chocolatey with some roast coffee hints and sweet, lush black fruits. Seems quite ripe and generous with some meaty richness.

    Lot 102
    31.7 water holding capacity, 74% stones, 4% calcium carbonate, stony with limestone.
    Very bright, direct black cherry and plum fruit with a lovely core of acidity. Lovely focus and brightness here with lovely fruit purity. Really nice with a lovely acid core. Texturally brighter.

    A quick trip to Argentina, with Doña Paula

    flying over the andes

    So we flew. From Santiago, over the Andes, to Mendoza. The two cities are quite close geographically, but very different.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Mendoza, in the far east of Argentina, is mostly desert. It’s a high desert plain, but where there’s water, there are oases (just 3% of the surface area of the province has enough water for agriculture). This water availability, either from rivers or from wells tapping into groundwater, is all because of snow melt from the Andes, and it makes agriculture possible. The vineyards here are all irrigated: traditionally, this was from flood irrigation with small channels directing the water through the vineyard to the vines, but more recently through drip irrigation.

    Doña Paula's Alluvia vineyard in Gualtallary

    Doña Paula’s Alluvia vineyard in Gualtallary

    There are four main stories emerging here in Mendoza. The first, which has been going for a while, is altitude. The lowest vineyards are at 650 m or so, and these are very warm. The highest are at 1400 m, and these are much cooler, and the light intensity is also higher. Over recent decades the hot spot for viticulture has been the Uco Valley, which starts around 1000 m and goes up to 1400 m. There’s been a lot of work looking at exploring different sites and subregions here, and it’s not uncommon to see the altitude indicated on the back label of a wine.

    The second story is soils. Top producers are now realising that their (mostly large) vineyards aren’t homogeneous, but instead have different soil types that in turn result in very different wines. And different sub regions also have different soils. The fixation with climate and altitude has now been tempered by this realisation that soils matter.

    The third story is grape varieties. Back in the 1980s there was a crisis in Argentina. Malbec went from 60 000 hectares to just 9000 as vines were ripped out, because it simply wasn’t economical to farm these vineyards. This left Bondarda, at 16 000 hectares, as the country’s main grape variety. Fortunately, some heroes kept uneconomic Malbec vineyards because they loved them, and since then Malbec has made a resurgence to 39 000 hectares, while Bondarda has stuck at 16 000. Now, though, there is interest in grape varieties other than just Malbec. Bonarda is making a come back. Cabernet Franc is doing well. There’s even some interest in the high-yielding Criollas – old, high-yielding red varieties used to make jug wine. And for whites, Semillon and Chenin Blanc are making waves (albeit in small quantities).

    Los Indios vineyard, Uco Valley

    Los Indios vineyard, Uco Valley

     

    The fourth story is one that is being repeated across the wine world. Winemakers are looking to make wines that better express site. Heavy handed winemaking with lots of new oak, and picking too late resulting in alcoholic, jammy, sweet wines are on the way out. Winemakers are experimenting with methods of elevage other than just small oak. And the results are highly encouraging. The boring, monolithic, alcoholic international-styled red wines are on the way out.

    While there still exist big, rather soupy, overdone examples of Malbec, it’s now possible to get very floral, balanced and utterly delicious examples that are a joy to drink, and can be really affordable.

    Marcus Fernandez of Doña Paula

    Marcus Fernandez of Doña Paula

    A great example is the Doña Paula Estate Malbec 2015. Half of this comes from Tunpungato in the Uco Valley (at 1350 m), and the other half comes from the lower Los Indios vineyard in the Uco Valley. It’s delicious, there’s no new oak, and it’s just £12 or so in the UK. Winemaker Marcus Fernandez says, ‘this style of Malbec is the future, with beautiful sweet soft tannins without jamminess or over-ripeness.’

    Doña Paula Estate Malbec 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
    Beautifully floral nose with black cherries and olives. So pure and vivid with violet and some fine herbs, as well as black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Very fresh and floral, and a bit salty with lovely finesse and purity. 92/100

    Tasting some interesting white wines from Argentina

    argentinewhites

    This was a great chance to taste some diverse white wines from Argentina with three interesting Argentine wine people. There’s Edgardo del Popolo, who works for Susana Balbo and his own project called Per Se; Sebastian Zuccardi who’s doing his own wine projects as well as working with the family winery; and Matías Riccitelli, who has his own winery and also consults.

    In the past, I’ve been unimpressed by Argentina’s white wines. I asked Edgardo why Argentina has struggled a bit with whites. ‘First of all because of the climate: it is warm. But with new places we think we can do things better. When you are at 700 m there aren’t good conditions to grow white varieties properly.’

    Sebastian Zuccardi thinks that one of the problems is that in the past everyone was more focused on reds: the market in Argentina is still 70% red wine. ‘In the last 3 years our attention has changed and we have been challenged to making whites. Semillon is coming back strongly.’

    ‘It’s very interesting what has happened with Semillon,’ says Sebastien, ‘because it is part of our history. We are looking back to what happened in the 1930s to the 1950s. Now we have to rediscover this.’

    ‘We lost many hectares and it’s a shame,’ says Matías, ‘but these wines are trying to keep this heritage.’

    Bodegas Argento Pinot Grigio 2016 Argentina
    Fresh, bright, simple and quite stony with lively citrus fruit. Tight and dry with good acidity. 86/100

    Michelini Bros Ji Ji Ji Chenin Blanc 2016 Villa Seca, Uco Valley, Mendoza
    10.5% alcohol. From a parral (high trellis). Named after a very famous local song, and fermented in concrete eggs. Yields of 10 tons/hectare, harvested very early, looking for acidity and freshness. Cloudy. Fresh, vivid and lemony with good acidity. Very linear and stony with lovely detail and notes of herbs and cheese. Very fine and expressive with lovely acidity and freshness. So distinctive and beautiful. 94/100

    Roberto de la Mota La Primera Revancha Chenin Blanc 2016 Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza
    13.8% alcohol, 20% new oak. Roberta worked for Chandon and was the founder o Terrazas. He first made Chenin Blanc with his father, who worked at the Weinert winery. This was back in 1985 from a historical vineyard in Agrelo. Last year he found the old plantation of Chenin Blanc that he’d used back in 1985, and this ferments in a mix of stainless steel and barrel. Lovely purity here: fresh and delicious with good acidity and nice citrus and pear fruit, with a hint of apple. There’s some ripeness, but also freshness. Has lovely fruit expression here with great balance and detail. 93/100

    Michelini Bros Via Revolucionaria Semillon Hulk 2016 Uco Valley, Argentina
    10% alcohol. Lightly grassy, citrussy nose leads to a lean, bright, fresh palate with lemons, herbs and fine spices. Very lean and pure with crisp lemony fruit the core signature. Some fine herbs, too, in a very light style. 90/100

    Mendel Semillon 2015 Mendoza, Argentina
    13.2% alcohol, from Roberto de la Mota. 60 year old vines, 1000 m altitude. Distinctive, slightly nutty and waxy with lovely textured citrus and apple fruit. This has nice freshness and a stony minerality under the dense, textural fruit. Very attractive stuff. 92/100

    Riccitelli Semillon 2016 Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina
    Semillon is great in Patagonia, says winemaker Matías Riccitelli, who says that low yields are important or else botrytis is a huge risk. When he started with this Semillon he spoke with the owner, and said he wanted to pay a good price to keep this old vineyard (at the time, Semillon wasn’t highly regarded). 13% alcohol. 50% concrete egg, 50% used French barrels. This has lovely precision to the taut citrus fruit. Lovely concentration of flavour with good intensity to the lemon, grapefruit and orange peel flavours. There’s a slight mineral smokiness, too. Lovely wine with good acidity. 93/100

    Susana Balbo White Blend 2015 Altamira, Vale de Uco, Mendoza
    Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Torrontes. 60% new oak. Such a distinctive floral, herbal nose. Very distinctive with some grapefruit, lemons, tangerines and ripe grapes. Detailed, fresh and quite mineral with some herbal notes. Very distinctive and bright with a touch of mint on the finish. 90/100

    Viticultores de Gualtallary Volare de Flor NV Mendoza, Argentina
    Edgardo del Pópolo and David Bonomi (winemaker). Kept for 10 years in a barrel. It’s a Chardonnay under flor that David started making in 2000. He started in demijohn and then with enough volume racked it to barrels. Had three barrels with different kinds of flor. So distinctive, spicy and intense with ripe apples, spice and cheese. Very tangy and lively with a hint of marmalade and lovely acidity. So pretty and detailed with real finesse and beauty. 94/100

    Find these wines with wine-searcher.com