The next big thing

27 June, 2008

Mendoza Malbec is firmly established - but what else could be big news for Argentina in the near future? Here's a heads-up ...

? San Juan Shiraz

San Juan has been compared by some to the Barossa in terms of its landscape and terroir, so it should be no surprise that Shiraz thrives in this dry, sun-kissed climate. Although it's not quite on the scale of mighty Mendoza, the region is large (its three valleys have just under 50,000ha under vine) and some of Argentina's big UK sellers originate here.

These include Tesco Finest San Juan Shiraz, produced by Bodega Callia and sourced through D&D Wines. This is the biggest-selling Argentine wine in the UK right now, selling 100,000 cases a year.

San Juan is also the home of Bodegas Graffigna, the Pernod Ricard-owned winery which has done so much to introduce Argentina to a global commercial audience. According to Graffigna, Shiraz "is San Juan's variety par excellence".

Berry Bros & Rudd has recently started importing Don Domenico Syrah which, with its "excellent integrated tannins", has some cellaring potential. "Don Domenico is justly celebrated for its Syrah," the company says. "The fruit is bright and focused, with notes of blackberry and spice and a hint of sous-bois which would not be out of place in the Rhône."

Buyer Simon Field adds: "We wanted to look beyond Mendoza and I had thought the climate, although it's only about 100 miles north, would be too hot for Syrah. We were

really impressed by this

wine and the purity of the fruit.

"Syrah, along with Bonarda, is a grape that is really taking off and it's quite an exciting development in Argentina. This wine is obviously New World but it's not overblown, and with the name 'Syrah' there's a deliberate association with the European style."

Another to try:

Finca Las Moras (owned by Penaflor and distributed in the UK by Chalié Richards - it's the biggest selling Argentine range in the UK)

? Salta Torrontés

It's an open secret that the finest Torrontés comes from Salta Province - it's the altitude, you see.

The award-winning Bodega Colomé, situated in the Calchaqui Valley and represented in the UK by Enotria, has a strong following in the on-trade as well as among off-trade specialists. It has a vineyard a mind-boggling 3,100m above sea level.

New World wine buyer Daniel Hart says: "It really comes down to altitude, that's the main thing. But you've also got a winemaking history that goes back to the Conquistadors in that area. Some of the vineyards [red varietals] are planted from original cuttings from Bordeaux and are 100 years old.

"The Torrontés does very unusual things in the altitude. You're closer to the sun and closer to the equator as well, and that increase in UV makes the skins of the Torrontés go really quite thick. When you make the wine from it you get a bigger ratio of skin to juice, which gives powerful characteristics. It's a unique situation."

At Cafayaté and Calchaqui, winemakers have got plenty of old vine fruit to play with, and have hit perfection in the vineyard, particularly in terms of canopy management. The wines they produce have the perfect amount of tension, and display ripe, tropical fruit flavours with citrus crunch. In terms of aroma, expect to find exotic honeysuckle, white peach and lemon blossom notes.

As one online reviewer puts it, Salta Torrontés can be "dainty and ticklish" as well as "charming and alarming". (The "alarming" is a reference to the alcohol content, which can be deceptively high.)

Many Mendoza wineries are sourcing fruit and making Torrontés in Salta, such as Dominio del Plata with Crios. Winemakers are also pushing the boundaries by trying out new styles of dessert wines and experimenting with part-barrel fermentation and extended skin contact for deeper flavour.

Others to try:

El Porvenir de Los Andes, Cafayaté (Hispa Merchants)

Michel Torino, Cafayaté (Hallgarten)

Felix Lavaque, Cafayaté (Vinoceros/ Berkmann),

Etchart (Pernod Ricard, distributor Matthew Clark)

? Patagonia Pinot Noir

An exotic, cinematic location and the world's most capricious grape variety ... it's a spellbinding combination. Of course, lots of countries and regions have jumped aboard the Pinot Noir bandwagon, but Patagonia has been nurturing the variety for many decades.

In fact, the Rio Negro region is the only place in the world, outside of Burgundy, where you will find truly old-vine Pinot.

Humberto Canale, represented by HwCg, was founded a century ago, and makes well-received Pinot: critic Tom Cannavan praises its "lovely, silky, sumptuous depth of exotic spices and earthy, coffee-touched strawberry fruit". Another producer to watch out for is Bodegas Chacra, owned by Pieri Incisa.

Burgundy specialist Graham Gardner, of Folly Wines, has explored part of the region and was impressed by what he found.

"Vines need enough time to really work with the soil and to create their own terroir," he declares. "It's about the relationship between a particular plant and that particular soil. Old vines to me are fairly crucial if you want serious quality and that has therefore limited, to a large extent, my interest in the New World.

"I looked at Pinot Noir in Patagonia planted in 1932 and 1955. When you find ancient vineyards that have been kept alive and young people who really care about the land and the soil, it's going to give you something very interesting.

"You've got a lot of sunshine and not a lot of water so that makes it fairly different to Burgundy. There are New World characteristics, I suppose, but there is a depth and richness and a vibrancy that partly comes from working biodynamically, that I haven't really come across in the New World. There is an elegance to the wines."

Neuquen, meanwhile, has been described as "the only genuine 21st century wine region in the world" and produces Pinot that seems to get better with each vintage. Early indications are that this could be something special.

Others to try:

Bodega del Fin del Mudo

(10 International)

Bodega NQN (Hispa Merchants)

Valle Perdido (Ellis of Richmond)

Familia Schroeder (Moreno)

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