Fresh ideas: Argentina’s new style of wine

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1st September, 2020 by Phoebe French

Argentina’s producers are using the country’s unique topography to make fresh, vibrant wines with a focus on new Geographical Indications and a sense of place.

Wapisa’s underwater ageing project

If asked to name five key features of Argentine wine, one would undoubtedly be ‘high altitude’. Argentina contains some of the highest grape growing regions in the world, with vines planted at over 3,000m above sea level in the northern regions of Jujuy and Salta. Further afield, grape vines are regularly planted at 1,000m and above, an altitude considered extreme elsewhere.

The country’s winemakers use this elevation – which creates cooler temperatures and a greater diurnal range – to preserve acidity and control alcohol levels. There is also a trend for earlier picking to create wine with ripe phenolics but a fresh feel to them.

The latest vintage report, published by Wines of Argentina, said that despite an unusually warm growing season in 2019-2020, there was still a discernible freshness in the wines produced.

As an example of the techniques used, Bodega El Porvenir, based in Cafayate, carries out three harvests for its Torrontés, each spaced two weeks apart. Each batch of grapes is fermented separately then blended. This produces wines that are brighter and with more complexity but lower alcohol, according to Lucía Romero, director of El Porvenir.

Matías Riccitelli of Riccitelli Wines, known for his Malbec, which is grown in three vineyards in Luján de Cuyo and the Uco Valley, says the goal is to make wines that are “pure” with “little makeup, and a lot of aromatic intensity, yet fresh and complex at the same time”.

There has been a concerted effort in Argentina to map existing wine regions and understand their key characteristics, such as soil profile and climate. This has led to a renewed interest in the formation of Geographical Indications (GIs), particularly in areas of the country where producers are beginning to notice substantial differences in wine style.

Last year, Argentina’s National Institute of Viticulture approved the creation of two new GIs in the Uco Valley, namely Pampa El Cepillo and San Pablo.

Paraje Altamira was the first of the more recent and smaller GIs established in the valley following a campaign by Bodega Catena Zapata, Terrazas de los Andes and Familia Zuccardi. The GI was approved in 2013 and later expanded in 2016. It has since been joined by Los Chacayes, and there is also a campaign to establish Gualtallary as a designated area.

Laura Principiano, agronomist at Familia Zuccardi, believes the future of wine in the Uco Valley is about its relationship to “the place”.

“It’s about understanding the differences between sub-regions, mapping out the area and finding common characteristics in the wines,” she says. She cites the example of Zuccardi’s Fosil Chardonnay, first produced in 2016.

“The idea was to produce the best white from San Pablo. It could be a blend in the future, but it must always be the best representation of the region,” she adds.

As Phil Crozier, Europe and UK ambassador for Wines of Argentina says, “in Argentina right now, the first directive is plot and rule”. He adds: “With the rapid formation of GIs and subsequent soil exploration, new and old terroirs are being defined. This has only been possible by harvesting grapes earlier, so that the diversity of these regions is evident in the wine.”

Latitude and altitude

Increasingly, latitude as well as altitude has been brought into the equation. Producers are breaking new ground to the south and east of the country, in areas such as Chubut in southern Patagonia and Chapadmalal, Médanos and Sierra de la Ventana in the province of Buenos Aires. Cooler temperatures in these regions mean that varieties such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc thrive, while there is also potential for high quality sparkling wine production.

Otronia, the largest producer in Chubut, is “learning a new way of winemaking”, according to commercial director, Maximo Rocca. The estate is mainly producing wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, making the former with no malolactic fermentation. Ageing is carried out in untoasted foudres, producing wines with vibrancy and freshness.

One Argentine winemaker has taken the concept of ‘ocean influence’ further than most. Patagonian winery Wapisa, owned by Patricia Ortiz, has unveiled an underwater ageing project, described as the “first of its kind” in Argentina. The winery has submerged 1,500 bottles of a Malbec blend in three crates positioned between six metres and 15m off the Atlantic Río Negro coast. The wines will be aged in the ocean for seven months before being tasted alongside their cellar-aged counterparts.

Wapisa’s project is just one example of how the Argentine wine industry is maturing, using new techniques together with knowledge acquired over centuries to produce quality-driven wines.

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