So, Chile is home to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, right? And Argentina is the land of Malbec and Torrontes? Well, perhaps it’s time for us all to think again.
While our supermarket shelves and the wine lists in our restaurant chains may be full of familiar grape varieties from well-known producers, there are dozens of boutique and artisan wineries on either side of the Andes that are experimenting with lesser-grown varieties to produce some really characterful wines.
A recent tasting in Glasgow under the enticing title of “Pioneers of the Andes” brought Scottish drinkers face-to-face with some of those winemakers, including Roberto Echeverría and Matias Riccitelli from their eponymous wineries and Marco Fernández from Doña Paula.
The mix of Argentinian and Chilean wines made for some interesting comparisons and contrasts. One fact that really stood out for me was the difference in the quality of the Malbecs on offer; while many cheaper bottles can be bland and a bit flabby, without fail the Malbecs on offer at this tasting were full of bright and juicy fruit, with layers of structure that would allow them to sit very well alongside food.
While the Malbecs were certainly of a high quality, what about the other grape varieties on show from the southern hemisphere? Some of these may be a wee bit trickier to find, but Andy Bell and Pete Stuart at Inverarity 121 in Glasgow have said that they are happy to try to help source them.
Riccitelli Vineyard Selection Cabernet Franc, 2012
Often when we see single varietal Cabernet Franc it comes from the cool climate of the Loire Valley in France and it can really divide the audience, with its green and vegetal aromas and flavours often going down badly with some drinkers. Shift the variety to Argentina and winemaker Matias Riccitelli is producing soft and velvety Cabernet Franc that has spent 16 months in French oak barrels, with ripe raspberry and cranberry flavours sitting alongside sweeter chocolatey notes. Half of the grapes come from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, while the other half come from Mendoza’s Luján de Cuyo. Matias is the son of Jorge Riccitelli, winemaker at the renowned Bodegas Norton; instead of shying away from the comparison, one of his ranges is called “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, demonstrating how he embraces his pedigree.
Don David El Esteco Tannat, 2013 (Cornelius Wines, Haddington Wine & Whisky, Valhalla’s Goat)
Tannat is grown in the Madiran area of France, where it’s used to make deep, dark red wines. The variety has found a new lease of life in Uruguay but, across the border in Argentina, the Don David winery is showing that the grape is well suited to the Salta region too. There are all the bramble and roast meat aromas on the nose that you would expect from Tannat, but the fruit is fresh and lively, with plenty of bright acidity. The tannins – the component that makes you suck in your cheeks when you taste a wine – are much softer than many examples from South-West France.
Perez Cruz Cot Limited Edition, 2013
Malbec has become the all-conquering variety in Argentina, but the grape is also one of the classics in South-West France, especially in Cahors, where it is known as Cot and is used to make the historic “black wines”, some of the most deeply-coloured tipples you’ll ever see. The fact that the Perez Cruz boutique winery in Chile has chosen to go with the classic French name is significant – the style of the wine is more Old World than New World, with cinnamon and clove spices on the nose from the French oak barrels and tonnes of generous raspberry and black cherry fruit flavours. The overall effect is a delicious softness, with well integrated tannins.
Perez Cruz Chaski Petit Verdot, 2011
Also from Perez Cruz – and one of my favourite wines from the tasting – comes a Petit Verdot, a variety best known for making up tiny percentages of the blend in red Bordeaux but also for putting in the occasional appearance in the South of France. This Chilean example is deep and rich and warm, with lots of plummy flavours but also some spicier black pepper notes. A soft and velvety treat.
Oveja Negra Single Vineyard Carignan, 2013
Carignan is a firm favourite in hot areas such as the South of France and Spain, requiring a lot of sunshine to get the best out of this sometimes tough old variety. Winemaker Edgard Carter is working wonders with his Carignan in Chile, producing a full-bodied and powerful wine with plenty of blackberry and raspberry fruit flavours. His “black sheep” wines promise “cutting-edge blends and unexpected single vineyard varietals” and he’s right on the money with this Carignan.