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Pioneer Spirit: Bemberg unveils its 2015 vintage

Through her collaboration with Bemberg winemaker Daniel Pi, Madeleine Stenwreth MW has helped to propel Argentina’s viticulture into uncharted territory. She talks to db about how the wines of Argentina have shifted from super, overripe ‘Schwarzenegger’ wines to a more elegant expression. 

Stenwreth’s infatuation with Argentina began in 2001 after she was invited to assist in some blending work at a cooperative in the north of the country. The following year she began studying for the Master of Wine programme, but it was not until 2005 that she took it upon herself to explore Argentina.

“Everywhere I went, the Malbec tasted so different. I thought ‘I’m a buyer, I should know why this is!’” she told db.

She jokes that “nowadays everyone’s digging holes and trying to understand the soil” however instead of looking down, she chose to look up.

“I decided to do my dissertation on the effect of altitude on Malbec in Mendoza.” While undertaking this research she was helped by Daniel Pi, who appreciated Stenwreth’s “international experience”.

It seems appropriate, given that they would both eventually work for the Bemberg Family. Born in Germany, industrialist Otto Peter Bemberg arrived in Argentina in the mid-19th century. In 2010 the family acquired a leading group of wineries.

Stenwreth remarks, tongue-in-cheek, that she thanks “the gods for giving them rain and cold”, suggesting that adverse weather conditions elicited a major shift in attitudes.

“The vintages of ’14, ’15, ’16 and ’17 have moved the whole of Argentina into a totally new mindset, because they were cool and rainy. Before, they were making super, overripe ‘Schwarzenegger’ wines, but now they had to pick earlier and couldn’t use new oak,” she explains.

Bemberg’s flagship Pionero and La Linterna range, retailing for £120.99 and £74.99 respectively, have been curated by Pi and Stenwreth to offer drinks a north to south tour of Argentinian wine. Though Stenwreth points out that she is “not there telling them to stop the press now”, the 2015 wines clearly demonstrate the influence of someone who believes that changing altitudes can change attitudes.

Though single varietal Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2017 Chardonnay are available, Malbec is the dominant berry for Bemberg’s winemaking. The blend of 78% Malbec with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Cabernet Franc which makes up Pionero was harvested from the El Tomillo vineyard, 1,250 m.a.s.l in Gualtallary, northern Valle de Uco.

The single varietal Malbec wines under the La Linterna label showcase the range of possible expressions. Los Chañares in the far north of Argentina is 2,000 m above sea level, the highest altitude represented in Bemberg’s wines. With poetic aptness, Stenwreth notes that the Chañar Punco produced from its grapes “offers the most dramatic personality”.

By contrast, El Milagro, the southernmost vineyard in the range, is only 1,130 m above sea level.. The Plot #15 La Consulta is noted for its “contrasting racy nerve and energizing freshness” due to the area’s marginal climate. Stenwreth suggests that this may be the most commercially appealing to consumers expecting a certain “breadth and richness” from Malbec.

When joining Bemberg, Pi set out to create wines which served as micro-terroir milestones on a journey through Argentina. Though Pionero is named after the forerunning spirit of the Bemberg family, it could easily refer to how Pi and Stenwreth are blazing new trails in Argentinian winemaking.

Bemberg is distributed by Top Selection.

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