“Against the backdrop of the majestic Andes mountains, I explored vineyards in Mendoza and its sub-regions, learned about the extreme conditions of high-altitude viticulture in Salta and ate more asados (think fire, grill and lots of meat) than you would ever imagine possible. After crossing the Andes mountains to Chile, I then explored cool-climate coastal vineyards as well as steep, free-draining vineyards in the Aconcagua and Colchagua Valleys. The winemakers I spoke with in both countries shared one common goal: to make wines with a strong identity which celebrate the land on which the vines are grown. One of the ways they are looking to achieve this is through sustainable practices in the vineyard and the winery. The result is a collection of wines which offers not only great diversity, quality and value, but also a real sense of place. I hope you enjoy them. Salud!”
This traditional method sparkling wine is made exclusively from grapes grown in the Gualtallary sub-region of the Uco Valley, which is widely regarded as the Grand Cru appellation of Mendoza. 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay make up the blend, and as it is one of the highest parts of Mendoza at 1,400 metres above sea level, the grapes retain great levels of acidity and aromatics. Following secondary fermentation in bottle, the wine then spends two years on its lees before disgorgement. The result is a wine with fresh green apple, citrus and pear characters with supporting notes of brioche and toast.
Amalaya means ‘hope for a miracle’, a phrase which captures in a nutshell the extreme winemaking conditions in Cafayate, where very poor soils, desert-like conditions and huge diurnal ranges make the cultivation of anything other than vines almost impossible. Silky on the palate with pronounced tropical and floral aromas of grapefruit, rose petals and honey blossom, the 15% Riesling in the blend brings great freshness and citrus notes. It’s a great accompaniment to spicy Asian dishes as well as ceviche.
The Alpha range helped establish Montes as one of the most respected premium wine producers in Chile back in the 1980s. I really enjoyed tasting their newly released 2016 Alpha Casablanca Chardonnay. A quarter of the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation and a third of the wine is aged in second and third use French oak for 12 months. The toastiness from the oak ageing is beautifully balanced by the aromatics and freshness of the stone fruit characters. This wine offers exceptional value and is also available in wooden boxes.
Less is more for winemakers Alberto Antonini and Leo Erazo. All the Altos wines exude elegance and purity so it’s hard to pick one, but I particularly love the newly-released 2017 Malbec Clasico. Biodynamic principles are adopted in both the vineyard and winery. For Alberto and Leo, it’s about working with nature to produce a true expression of variety and site. Each parcel of wine is vinified separately using indigenous yeasts in order to express the character of each of the selected vineyards in Luján de Cuyo (Mendoza’s traditional quality winemaking region) and the Uco Valley. The unoaked Malbec Clasico is a versatile and charming wine bursting with red fruits which are complemented by herbal and floral nuances.
A favourite of winemaker Rogelio Rabino, this wine demonstrates there is much more to Mendoza than Malbec. From the renowned Vistalba region in Luján de Cuyo, all the fruit is sourced from an 80-year-old vineyard with gravelly soils, which is managed according to biodynamic principles. The old vines produce very low yields of concentrated fruit, resulting in a wine which is full bodied, rich and bursting with black cherry fruit, spices and tobacco.