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The wines emerging from Argentina’s Cordoba

Ask anyone about Argentinian wine and you can be sure to hear about the calibre of the Malbec or the skilled winemaking coming out of Mendoza. But those in-the-know are wise to the fact that Cordoba is now home to some of the most exciting winemaking destinations in all of Argentina.

The province of Cordoba in Argentina is on the precipice of being discovered as one of the most fascinating wine regions in South America. Cordoba has all the benefits of altitudinal influence but without the extreme conditions of mountain sun and wind compared to the vineyards of Mendoza. This means that its wines herald a gentle complexity without too much tannic intensity. Like the people of the province, known for their conviviality, the viticulture mirrors this geniality and ease.

As a wine destination it offers a sense of diversity, storytelling and unparalleled skill across its wineries. But more than that. Truly, there is also all the benefit of rural escapism for those looking to find something new, something exciting and something tangibly wonderful. There is a realness to the people from the province that removes ego and replaces it with a calm sense of humility. Considering this, the wines created here also reflect something more enticing than complexity, but balance, realness and a feeling of ‘coming home’.

At Terra Camiare, winemaker Gaby Campana has become a pioneer within the province and experiments with skin contact as well as inventive trellis techniques to get the best out of his vines, however he rarely gives interviews since he seeks balance in all things – family is as important as the spotlight his winemaking skills afford him. Given some hours in his company, his affability and warmth dazzle as much as his oenological prowess.

Terra Camiare’s older vines, which include Isabella along with what Campana names Pinot Negra (Pinot Noir), are where the winery can help flex Campana’s creative talent for producing balance and complexity. Also, with its Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and Semillon grapes along with a desire to produce well-rounded wines, Campana explains how he used old winemaking techniques but in new ways.

“I want to extract from that contact with the skin more flavour and more complexity and you feel it in the body of the wine – it will be more full bodied too, but without changing the acidity or freshness,” says Campana. This, he explains, amplifies the body and textural quality of the wine without losing any of its freshness and acidity. He says: “We use concrete eggs to get more expression from the white wines” noting how the shape helps by lending the wines “some colour and intensity too,” explaining how “the result is golden”.

Similarly moving things forwards, the agronomist Daniella Mansilla Galdeano works with Campana and Danilo Fantani to create Patente X, a wine venture that began in 2011 between three friends who decided to produce organic grapes and wines on a small scale, with single and limited lots. The 3.5 hectares vineyard, located in Colonia Caroya, Córdoba, has agro-ecological certification granted by the local municipality and grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Isabella, Ancellotta and Syrah.

Mansilla Galdeano says it is important that Patente X is a “neighbourhood wine” because it is based on her experience of rural neighbourhoods in the area. She explains that, with the wine, she “aims to maintain the spirit of community and collaboration” and the result is representative of “supporting and helping each other among neighbours and friends”. To Mansilla Galdeano, this is a symbolic project because its “wines keep their roots alive” and shows how people and meaningfulness are integral to the creativity in Cordoba.

Back in 2003 when Walter Sinay bought land in the Traslasierra Valley, he was initially following his dream of simply climbing mountains with his friends. Winemaking wasn’t on his radar then, at least not for another six years after finding white rocks in the soil he sought the advice of the Italian winemaker Alberto Antonini and hired a professional team headed up by Dr Pedro Parra to find out more about the landscape. Sinay, a former bank lawyer who had abandoned his career of 25 years to establish a landscaping firm, then discovered in 2009 that the land he owned was made from very ancient soil that is mostly composed of bedrock that is not common in South America. The very ancient rock soil was identified as being similar to that in Burgundy and Northern Rhône and was potentially some of the most ancient in the world from the primary era and about 500 million years old.

As Sinay explains: “Here, we have two types of granite – calcareous granite and a pink granite composed of potassium. Most of it is calcareous granite though and, after the scientific studies, we found that this land was very special because it was suitable for high level wines. You can also see chalky rocks with 18-34% of calcium carbonate which is essentially the highest measurement rate in Argentina ” and possibly even some of the highest in the world.

Achala co-owner and brand manager Marcela Giroldi says: “For me, one of the interesting things about this area is that the soils are really different from the ones nearer the Andes. Here, we have bedrock which is antique.”

Sinay, who named the winery Achala after the chief of the Inca tribe that lived in the mountains, says “Achala means marvellous and fantastic in the Inca language” and this is what people will find in the quality of the wines from this area. As a character, his love of life, adventure and storytelling go hand-in-hand with making Achala a novel place to visit.

“Nothing but vines will grow in this kind of ground. Planting began in December 2009 and the first harvest we had was in 2015, We are exploring Sauvignon Blanc. Then, in 2018, I had the first red harvest. It took nine years to have the first harvest of reds because of needing to plant directly into the rocks with iron sticks since we have only 5 cm of soil. But I know I will reach great prizes and great medals with these conditions and terroir and now, 12 years later, I have already reached more than 90 points in international competitions for our wines.” Sinay added: “We really want to make a Grand Cru here. We need 200 years – but we are going in this direction.”

Sinay’s enthusiasm for achieving greatness is infectious and visiting his project offers visitors a glimpse not just into the potential of the province, but also an insider’s view into his many stories about the land that are yet untold and reveals the plan to build a winery with a panoramic view in the upcoming years ahead, adding: “There is more than just wine in these mountains, there’s the promise of many better things to come.”

Viarago winery, located in the small town of Las Rosas, began thanks to Franco Tomaselli who named it after the small town of Viarago in northern Italy where his immigrant grandparents once lived before they settled in the Traslasierra Valley. Here, they planted two hectares of vines for the family winery and yet it wasn’t until 2001 when Nicolás Jascalevich, settled in San Javier and started a biodynamic vineyard named Noble de San Javier, that it captured the attention of Tomaselli who started planting vines under the guidance of Jascalevich.

At Viarago, the reputation of the roadside location, means that happenstance plays a role in people showing up to the shop to taste and discover wines. Added to this, the ethos at Viarago is to treat the customer and give them a personal experience since people often visit for the summer and never used to identify this region for its wines and wineries, whereas now they are beginning to see Cordoba as a wine tourism destination.

Pamela Alaniz, who has a degree in tourism and is currently studying oenology and viticulture, heads up the site at Viarago and offers tastings. Many people stop by to hear her speak and learn more about the wine and Alaniz admits that their point of difference is “how we treat the customer” noting that “we give them a personal experience tasting the wines and they notice. It is a match between the story you tell and what you taste in the wine.”

Alaniz identifies that, from what she is seeing from the visitors to Viarago, “wine is no longer for just older people, because the people who now come here are in their twenties and they are not coming just to drink, but to listen and to understand the process and to learn,” adding that in Cordoba “there is a new generation of discovery” and drinking wine is all about “enjoying the moment”.

Jascalevich’s other initial boutique biodynamic winery, Bodega Noble has just three hectares of vineyards in San Javier, Cordoba and specialises in biodynamic wines with plantings of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. The wines, inspired by European wineries, are balanced and refreshingly complex. But it is his winery that offers more than the average vineyard tour – because wandering around beneath the roots and hanging tendrils of the winery’s green roof, you can see the human touch everywhere. His young daughter, Micaela’s drawings of hands and mermaids adorn the stainless steel tanks as if to hint at this being a family residence and a place where hard work and dedication co-exist alongside a genuine sense of fun and creative honesty rarely seen in the wine world. As a result, each element of Bodega Noble feels meaningful and yet what is in the glass is even more compelling because Jascalevich’s exemplary wine making skills shine through.

For art and nature fans, taking a tour or staying in the grounds of Aráoz de Lamadrid winery – a family-run estate nearby in the valley is something of a treat. The destination, which began as the family holiday home of Ana Jordan and Goyo Aráoz de Lamadrid who had previously lived in Buenos Aires, but used to visit Cordoba on holiday and loved it. This led to them firstly deciding to have a house for the weekend in the area before ultimately settling here and always feeling it was the perfect atmosphere for art.

Aráoz de Lamadrid’s perspective on creating something from the land is breathtakingly novel. It includes the removal of what anyone thinks they should be striving for and, in doing so, uncovering true art and uniqueness and to never imitate, but to discover the terroir and put that into a bottle. Aráoz de Lamadrid’s idea of creating something without the controlling hand of guidance is refreshing and the winery, which specialises in young wines, favours the Montessori perspective on learning. While there, visitors can enjoy botanical gardens not dissimilar to a fairy glen in all their other-worldliness.

The space, which is also home to more than 4,000 cacti, is also one of the most beautiful in the area, boasting landscaped gardens and sweeping plots containing Malbec, Syrah, Tannat, Petit Verdot, Ancelotta, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Monastrell, Garnacha; along with Chardonnay, and Viognier.

Not far from there is also another contender for one of the best wineries operating out of Cordoba – the organic, biodynamic winery and farm of La Matilde which also has 10 rooms available at the bodega. Its owner Pablo Asef, who runs La Matilde and co-owns it with his two childhood friends Luis Varela and Raúl Mare, set out to create somewhere that evoked the nostalgia of their shared childhoods spent in the countryside with Matilde, one of the partner’s grandmothers.

Matilde, it is clear, was the grandma who represented comfort and fondness as well as nurtured a love and respect for the land. The nostalgic elements of La Matilde are evident in all things surrounding it. From the weight of the furniture and the eiderdowns, right through to the scent of the soap made on site – there is a sense of ‘granny’s house’ about it all, from its gastronomy right through to the way the wine envelops your palate.

“We started with the project in 2009 and were convinced that we wanted to develop something organic and biodynamic,” said Asef. With plans to put the land and its surroundings and natural beauty first, La Matilde creates its own compost along with seven different biodynamic preparations that are used in its vineyard and on its farm. It also generates its own solar power too.

Asef says the team has studied the influence of the sun and astrology on all living things to create a place that will “produce 14,000 bottles per year” without compromising the planet.

Grape varieties playing a starring role here include: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc, each of them showing exactly what it means to reside in an area that already has the benefit of a great terroir alongside many hours of sunlight.

As for Matilde, her legacy is here for visitors to admire. As Asef reveals: “She taught us how to ride horses and now I teach my grandchildren how to ride here. This place means something.”

For visitors to Argentina, stopping at each wine destination along the mountains and valleys is so much more than a simple drive-by to discover a one-kind-of-winery showcasing Malbec. Instead, it is an unexpected tour de force for the senses. The interplay between fine wine cultivation, storytelling and a love of the landscape is evident. Cordoba needs to become as highly regarded upon wine labels and maps of Argentina as it is among its local audience, because, until it does, the world is missing out.

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