Meeting your makers

19 September, 2008

This month:

trade personalities pay tribute to the Argentine wine wizards who impress them mos

t

? Julie Buckley, Oddbins buyer 

"My favourite winemaker at the moment has to be José Mario Spisso from O Fournier," says Buckley. "He is a dynamic and exciting winemaker with an exceptional understanding of terroir."

Spisso joined the family-owned O Fournier from Alta Vista, sharing José

Manuel Ortega's ambition of creating one of Argentina's top wineries. The stunning facility in Uco Valley, southern Mendoza, was established in 2000, and offers Spisso a first-rate environment with which to work . It features a mixture of stainless steel and oak vats, gravity feeds and an underground cellar with a capacity of 2,800 barrels. It also

has a micro-vinification plant which allows Spisso and Ortega to experiment with seven tiny tanks, each holding less than 9 h

of liquid.

The grapes come from Fournier's three vineyards and also from local growers, who supply fruit from old, low-yielding vines. Again, Spisso is able to experiment by combining fruit grown from bush

and wire -trained vines, and a choice of irrigation systems.

Spisso's combination of old-vine Tempranillo and high-altitude Malbec has been described as a "masterstroke", producing characterful and often intense wines with superb purity of fruit.

"We tend to agree

that José is one of the most talented winemakers in South America," says Ortega.

O Fournier's Argentine wines are handled in the UK by Seckford Wine Agencies.

? Phil Crozier, sommelier, Gaucho Grill

"I kind of love everybody, because it's my job," says Crozier . "But I'm pretty impressed at the moment with Mauricio Lorca - an amazing winemaker, quite young, who makes the wine for Finca La Celia and is also making his own.

"He's brilliant and for me is one of the rising stars. He likes to make wine without oak ageing from low-yielding vineyards. He's very non-interventionist and very pure, allowing

expression of the fruit and

terroir.

"He did his time a t Luigi Bosca and has now bought his own vineyards. He still makes wines for various people, including us

which makes me feel very honoured."

Working with grapes from high-altitude vineyards in Vista

Flores in the Uco Valley, Lorca has low production levels. His labels include Fantas ía,

Ópalo and Po ético.

Laurie Webster, chief executive of UK agent Las Bodegas, says: "Mauricio is a big character - everything about him is wonderfully ebullient - but his wines have a lightness of touch and a real sensitivity, particularly when it comes to oak. One of his ranges has no oak at all - there's a real purity of fruit and it goes so well with food. He has a real talent for allowing the varietal character to speak for itself."

? Tim Atkin MW

Daniel

Pi is the choice of Observer wine critic and OLN columnist Atkin. "He's equally good at making big -volume wines as he is at making top -end, single vineyard Malbecs," he says. "Pi is an inspirational presence to have at the helm of the country's biggest winery."

That winery, of course, is Trapiche. Pi is widely admired as a true ambassador for Argentina

His mission has long been to express the sheer diversity of what the country is capable of producing from its varied terroir. This can be sensed most keenly in

a

single

vineyard project, which each year identifies the three best Malbecs from exceptional vineyards and vinifies them separately, under the growers' names.

Trapiche dates back well over

a century but Pi has ensured that the company's wines are at the cutting edge of what Argentina is achieving with wine, not simply basking in its heritage. He has consolidated the winemaking and viticultural operations, accentuating the vital link between the vineyard and the winery.

Says Paul Gow, marketing manager of UK agent HBJ: "Daniel deals with such an enormous range with great aplomb, from entry level right up to the single

vineyard specialities. All the wines exhibit a kind of quality, elegance and refinement which is fairly unusual across a big range."

? Matt Pym, Majestic buyer

Pym opts for Susana Balbo, whom he describes as "an inspirational figure".

"She makes my favourite Torrontés, and rich, gutsy, but stylish, Malbecs," he adds. "Look out for the Ben

Marco Malbec 2006 in Majestic stores."

Balbo, with Pedro Marchevsky, started the Dominio del Plata winery but is also a consultant to Gouguenheim, the high-altitude boutique winery in Agrelo, Mendoza. Her own wines are bottled under several labels, including Crios, Benmarco and Susana Balbo.

Having graduated in 1981 with a degree in oenology, Balbo spent nine years as a winemaker in Cafayete, returning to Mendoza in 1990 as an export manager for Catena. In her consultancy role, she has worked across the world, including stints in Australia, France, Italy and Spain.

Balbo's hallmark is an incredible attention to detail, both in the vineyard and

the winery. She is also a keen proponent of sustainable agriculture.

Ben Furst of the Sussex Wine Company in Lewes is another of Balbo's admirers, describing her not just as one of the most respected modern winemakers of Argentina, but the world. "She stands out not for her gender but for her incredible skill, experience and devotion to her trade," he says.

"Susana strives for balance in her wines, with layers of complexity coming from the individually fermented varietals, and wants people to drink her wine and feel that every sip from the glass is as exciting as the first.

"She considers her role as winemaker to be the connection between the past - the vineyards, the present - the winemaking, and the future - the finished wines."

The wines are handled in the UK by Las Bodegas.




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