As I type this, two of my colleagues are in Mendoza re-tasting the wines that we selected during the last buying trip in November 2016, all of which are now either here or on the water. What a trip that was!
Mendoza airport was closed, so we flew into San Juan from Buenos Aires and arrived in blistering heat. We were met there by the force of nature and extraordinary winemaking talent that is Sebastian Zuccardi, and his lovely wife Marce. These guys would be our hosts for the next couple of days, along with their dear friends and fellow winemakers, husband and wife team Pancho and Nuria Gargiulo. Our destination was Barreal - their beloved Barreal - a truly far-flung outpost of the Argentine wine scene where old vines and old methods reign supreme. Where a vine is typically trained in the time-honoured parral system, with a girth like a tree!
It's bloody hot up here in San Juan Province, but the vines are at very high altitude, higher than almost anywhere in Mendoza at 1500 metres, and the climactic extremes converge to produce grapes of incredible concentration in the right hands. As we drove through the 'town' of Calingasta on the way to the village, the scene was reminiscent of Salta in the far north; reminiscent of the Calchaqui Valley in particular, as here too the river valley plays a big part in shaping the landscape, the climate, and the way of life. But Barreal is even quieter, and it feels even more remote, even though it isn't really, just a mere 4 hour drive down to Mendoza.
We had no idea what to expect, or what wines we might taste, even less of an idea where the wines were being made. To call this operation small is an under-statement; the winery is pretty much a large garage conversion, with one concrete egg, one oak barrel and a selection of demijohns full of wine. Yes, demijohns! Big glass bottles for fermentation and storage, each holding about 10 litres of mysterious juice.
Well, to cut a long and very happy story short, we tasted and simply had to buy their wonderful Moscatel Tinto, Moscatel Blanco and a new, Bonarda based red simply called Cara Sur Tinto. These are obscure wines in every sense, extreme in every sense too, yet sublimely simple. The flavours are honesty itself, the drinkability is off the scale.
Susana Balbo Wines
At Dominio del Plata (home of Susana Balbo Wines) we were treated once more to what is surely one of the most consistently impressive winery visits and tastings in the Argentina. Susana and her team are really leading the field with their amazing new white wines. The 2016s are so perfectly delineated - elegant, lean, even a touch austere, yet so beautifully expressive. A particular highlight was the new Susana Balbo Signature Rosé, a wine that tastes every bit as sexy and sensuous as it looks. Likewise, the humbly priced but toweringly impressive Crios Cabernet Sauvignon. All things considered I felt there and then this was the best Argentine Cabernet I had ever tasted, ever! We had to grab both of these lovely new wines.
We were also delighted to learn that the magnificent Late Harvest Torrontés and Late Harvest Malbec will both be making a much anticipated comeback this Spring - both tasting better than ever, with a tad less oak than previously and much the better for it.
Our old friend Mauricio Lorca never disappoints and here we embraced with gusto his new love affair with Cabernet Franc. At entry level we have taken on the delightfully fresh and aromatic Fantasia Cab Franc, and up top the curvaceous beauty that is Poetico Cab Franc. Both great wines from Mauricio's own vineyards in Vista Flores in the Uco valley. (Well done for finally painting your winery Mauricio!)
In similar vein, after a typically huge, slightly daunting and thoroughly enjoyable tasting at Benegas, amidst all that history and Federico's incredible collection of rare ponchos hanging on the grand walls, we fell to the temptations of Benegas Estate Cab Franc. (Can you see a theme emerging?) Resplendent with ripe red fruits and bursting with a spray of fresh capsicum on the nose.
The Michelini Brothers
Once again, this was a magical mystery tour of a tasting, with new vinous temptations flying in from all corners of a tiny winery that has no corners. Super Uco winery - like a cross between Stonehenge and an alien spacecraft - this is a place where wine fanatics might go to die happy, to flee the mediocrity of life and the sticky residue of all the shitty wine ever made in the world. Breath of fresh air or what?
New wines? Well, yes, of course! Like the mad mental Plop! wines - a Malbec Cab Franc blend and a Cab Franc Rosé. Mouth-puckeringly fresh, full of energy and vitality, awesome. A new cracking value Malbec called Superlogica from Gerardo Michelini. A mind-boggling Sauvignon Blanc from Matias Michelini, made from the skins and aptly called, simply, Piel - weird and truly wonderful. And a few other exciting new toys including: A Merced Malbec de Gualta; Otra Piel Blend (Cab Franc-Cab Sauv-Pinot Noir - it shouldn't work but, boy, does it ever!); and Eterno Retorno Malbec Petit Verdot. Guilty pleasures the lot of them.
And finally, although we didn't get down to Patagonia last November, we did meet Santiago Bernasconi from Bodega Aniello and we tasted his lovely Blanco de Pinot Noir, a sultry, highly irregular, delicious and unique thing that we are now happily selling to the trade here in the UK.
These were some of the highlights from the last trip. I dare say my colleagues will be nodding enthusiastically in Mendoza at this very moment, in total agreement that the sweet shop just got bigger than ever. Happy days!