22 Dec 2011

Flagships (Mendoza, Argentina – Day Five)

For my (unfortunately) final day in Mendoza, I visited three wineries; two similar, one different. The first was established back in 1901 (the year of Australia’s federation!) by a Spaniard, who named the winery Bosca. It became Luigi Bosca for reasons I can’t quite fathom, but they had something to do with marketing. I’m not sure how the addition of Luigi helps, considering he was the dud Mario Brother… Anyway, the cellar is very large and historic, combining Mendoza cement fermenters stainless steel, 5,000 barrels for maturing the wines, and a fantastic museum area where the 12 pillars of the cross are reimagined as the life cycle of wine and Luigi Bosca. The winery produces in excess of 8 million litres of wine each year, covering 35 different wines. No mean feat for the consultant winemaker Roberto de la Mota, who you may remember is the winemaker at Mendel.

I was taken through part of the winery and part of the range of wines by Soledad, from the hospitality department. She picked a few wines to show me, and whilst good the wines didn’t impress me. The Gala 3 2009 which retails for about US$40 is a blend of viognier, chardonnay and riesling, and not surprisingly the blend doesn’t work. Very tropical mango and paw paw aromas from the viognier and chardonnay give way to a very rich, textured and hot palate, not in balance with the acids. The De Sangre 2009 suffered from a similar blending problem, being cabernet, merlot and syrah. A wine that is very unique to Luigi Bosca is the Finca Los Nobles Cabernet Bouchet, which is a field blend of cabernet sauvignon and bouchet. According to the sommelier the bouchet is the father grape of cabernet franc, but I seriously doubt this. For US$100 this is possibly the most over-priced wine I have tried in South America, as it is incredibly ripe, juicy, broad and full, lacking any subtlety or structure. The wine also appeared hot for 14% alcohol. I really liked the Malbec D.O.C. 2008, coming from a single vineyard in Lujan de Coyo, as it had nice balance between plum and spice with hints of lavender and earth. Definitely the most balanced, and really good for US$40.

My wonderful host Mariana from Finca Flichman recommended a small winery called Monte Quieto, and even put me in touch with the marketing guy. Not expecting to be leaving Luigi Bosca after only an hour I arrived at the winery about 45 minutes earlier than arranged, but they were good enough to welcome me anyway. Monte Quieto was opened in 2001 by another eccentrically wealthy South Americans, initially to grow and sell fruit, but converting to wine production and sales shortly after. The winemaking philosophy is to blend, except of course to make a malbec which the market needs. The winery is evolving fast, changing the blend and learning more about the three vineyards being sourced from. The newly appointed French winemaker is poised to pull the winery into the upper echelons of Mendoza, and is certainly on the right track with blending varieties. We looked at some components for the 2011 blend, which is blended post tank fermentation and maceration before barrel maturing. We tasted the 2006 wine but it isn’t worth talking about as the style and blend is changing. We spent several hours chatting about wine and life, as he had worked for a year each in New Zealand and Australia, at Leeuwin Estate and the Wine Room in St. Kilda. A fantastic afternoon with two great guys, hopefully we can catch up again in the future.

The final visit in Mendoza was to possibly the most important winery in the region. The Catena family have been growing and producing wine for almost 110 years in Mendoza, surviving economic, political and environmental difficulties along the way. What makes the winery so important is that Nicolas Catena was the first in the country to modernise his winery and aspire to make world-class wines by introducing oak barrels and premium techniques from Europe. As such Catena Zapata was a pioneer in the Argentinian wine industry, and was more recently the first South American winery to receive a score of 90+ points in the American media (Wine Spectator). Points are pretty important to the brand as the welcome video shows. The current winery was built in 2002 to represent South America by being built to resemble a Mayan pyramid. Driving towards the building is a somewhat imposing experience, as is standing in the middle of it and looking up. The hospitality side of the business is the most sophisticated I have seen in South America, but has the benefit of selective visitation. Still family-owned, you can tell the employees love working there, particularly as they are taken care of and given opportunities not always possible in corporate organisations.

Catena Zapata now exports about 80% of their production, significantly higher than the national average of 30%. There are essentially three ranges in the portfolio; the Catena range, the Catena Alta range, and the icon range. In the first two ranges I was shown the chardonnay and malbec for each. The Catena wines were very fresh, vibrant, clean and balanced. The acids were nice and bright, whilst the fruit was not to full or simple. The Malbec 2009 in particular had some nice savoury elements rarely seen in an entry-level wine. The Alta range had distinctively more complexity and structure to them, the Chardonnay 2009 being creamier and richer whilst maintaining balance and subtlety, and the Malbec 2008 having great depth, consistency and texture. We finished with the Nicolas Catena Napata 2007, which is always a blend of Bordeaux varieties (mostly cabernet sauvignon and malbec), and is the icon wine of the brand. This wine has received very high points from the likes of Robert Parker and Wine Spectator, and it is not hard to see why. It is very vibrant and intense, full and velvety with good length. In my personal opinion I found that it lacked subtlety and depth for a wine priced at US$120+, and wonder if it is designed for ageing. The wine is by no means bad, but it suffers a common new-world problem of being hard to see what you are paying for. The new oak does get in the way a bit much.

Click here to see more photos from Mendoza Day Five

No comments:

Post a Comment