Argentinian winemakers have always loved heights, but now – as the latest IWSC results show – their wines are very much in the mainstream. By Adam Lechmere
The ultimate malbec trophy at the IWSC this year goes to the Viniterra Single Vineyard Malbec 2015, from vineyards 1000m above sea level in Mendoza, Argentina.
The judges described it as “packed with ripe raspberry and wild berries, well held by firm structure and fine grained tannins…warm, dry and elegant… with some way to go to yield its full potential.”
The vineyards are in Lujan de Cuyo in the foothills of the Andes, a region with a dry, desert-like climate and poor alluvial soils. This is perfect winegrowing country, where stressed vines produce small quantities of thick-skinned, intensely-flavoured berries.
Fruit flavours develop slowly during the long, hot days, and – crucially – the cold nights allow grapes to retain their acidity. The resulting wines are fresh, clean, with bright fruit and piercing acidity.
Winemakers in South America have long recognised the value of altitude. In the last few years, as the wine-drinking world’s appetite for freshness has increased, the popularity of these regions has increased.
Argentina’s Uco Valley is one of the country’s prime wine regions. Wild and remote, it sits between 1000m and 1500m and is home to some of the country’s finest wineries – names like Catena, Zuccardi, O Fournier, Achaval Ferrer, Trapiche and Finca Sophenia.
There were over 40 entries from the Uco Valley in this year’s International Wine & Spirit Competition, 20 of which won silver medals, three Silver Outstanding and one gold.
The gold medal is the Viñalba Reservado de la Familia Malbec 2016 from Bodegas Fabre, which delighted the judges with its “bright lifted fruity nose, mulberry, sugarplum and bramble fruits” and “sumptuous” texture.
That was only one of many top award winners from the higher altitudes. Silver Outstanding medals went to a Cabernet Sauvignon from Uco Valley, the Ad Astra 2015 (“expansive…luxuriant…velvety finesse”), as well as a series of wines from Lujan de Cuyo, including a malbec blend from Cheval des Andes.
This is the joint venture between Château Cheval Blanc in St Emilion, and Terrazas de los Andes in Mendoza, which are both owned by the luxury empire LVMH. Due to its aristocratic parentage, Cheval des Andes has always been described as a “new world grand cru”.
Other important high-altitude winners from Argentina are the gold-winning Fincas Notables Tannat 2015 by El Esteco, from grapes grown at 1,800m in the Calchaqui Valley; and Finca Las Moras from the San Juan Valley, 1,350m high.