This year, wine afficionados of all stripes descended on the Vancouver International Wine Festival to sample all things vinous from South America. Whereas the festival plied me with tickets to much sought after events, in return, I wrote seminar recaps of a few trade events. Here is a (slighly repurposed) retelling of a Southern Exposure.
Stick around to the end where I share tasting notes of the outstanding wines!
Evan Goldstein MS
Aurelia Montes Jr, Chief Winemaker at Montes Wines (Chile); Salome Hopkins Export Manager for Viña Ventisquero (Chile), Laura Catena, Managing Director of Bodega Catena Zapata (Argentina), Martin Kaiser, Deputy Director of Viticulture and Enology for Doña Paula (Argentina), Rafael Boscaini, Export Manager for Miolo Group (Brazil), Francisco Roig, Winery Principal and Winemaker of Vinhos 1750 (Bolivia), Marcos Carrau, Production Manager at Bodega Carrau (Uruguay) (got stuck in LA and couldn’t make it).
South America Hosts This Year’s Vancouver Wine Festival
This year’s Vancouver Wine Festival showcased the best of South America, bringing together renowned winemakers and industry experts from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, and Bolivia. As Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein announced, this event brought together the ‘Big Guns’ from across the continent. And as attendees, we were all eager to taste wines from these diverse countries and explore the theme that unites them all.
So what does unite them all?
Football + South America
Perhaps it’s football.
Certainly that would be Dr. Laura Catena’s answer. Catena, a fourth-generation winemaker from Catena Zapata in Argentina proudly proclaimed to everyone, “I just want to let you all know that this year, Argentina is the World Cup Football Champion!”
It was a playful poke at the entire panel. But perhaps mostly directed towards Rafael Boscaini, Export Analyst from Miolo Wine Group in Brazil.
Of course, Brazil is known as being a FIFA boss having won 5 World Cup titles, the most of any team in the world!
But that’s not the only thing to watch out for with Brazil!
Look Out for Brazilian Wines
Moderator Evan Goldstein MS, highlighted Brazil’s Merlot wines as a must-try, along with the abundance of fresh-squeezed grape juice found at wineries.
Furthermore Goldstein pronounced, “All those French varieties that didn’t do well in Europe because of phylloxera – they are killin’ it in Brazil! Think Alicante Bouchet, Marselan, and Petit Manseng.”
[If you’d like to read all about wine touring in Brazil along with foods to try and tasting notes of wines, read this.]
Uruguay's Fight of the Underdog
Yet it was Bodega Carrau from Uruguay who shared their gold speckled Petit Manseng at the trade event.
The Carrau family has been imperative in the development of Uruguay’s wine scene. For example, they introduced virus-free clonal selection criteria for the export market. Marcos Carrau, the 12th generation winemaker from Bodega Carrau, got stuck at the airport in LA and wasn’t able to make our event. But his uncle, Francisco Carrau is credited with unravelling the perfect fermentation conditions for managing Tannat’s high tannin.
Goldstein explained that INAVI, the Viticultural Research Institute of Uruguay “…figured out how to do geo referencing for grapes at 1/10th the cost and then gave it to the world!” Geo referencing allows us to view the different geographical layers of a vineyard. Cheers to Uruguay!
Let’s get back to football!
Did you know that Uruguay’s national team is nicknamed Los Charrúas, after the indigenous peoples of the area? They are said to operate under ‘Garra Charrúa’ or the ‘fight of the underdog’ having taken home 4 recognized FIFA titles with a mere 2.3 million inhabitants.
Chile's Panache for Trade Agreements
And poor little Chile with a much larger population of 20 million hasn’t even won a single World Cup title. Are they perhaps compensating a little with their wines that constantly deliver way above their price point??
According to Goldstein. If there’s one thing Chileans have brought to South America is their panache for “…cutting trade agreements everywhere they go”. In fact, they’ve negotiated no less than 31 trade agreements, ensuring their spot as the ‘Top Dawg’ wine exporter they are today!
Aurelia Montes Jr., the Chief Winemaker of Montes Wines and a custodian of his family’s legacy, exuded an air of quiet confidence as he sat tall and grinned calmly throughout the Vancouver tasting event. Or, was it a subtle smirk, one of absolute confidence in his unwavering belief in the quality of the wine he presented that day?
He did bring the ‘Alpha M’.
Our other host from Chile, Export Manager of Viña Ventisquero, Salome Hopkins, shared a wine blend of 2 grapes Chile does well: Syrah, and Carmenère. Carmenère is a transplant from Bordeaux and if you thought that it always shows notes of green pepper, you’d better try their ‘Vertice’ from Apalto.
“Don’t overlook Pais and the return from random grape varieties in South America,” boomed Goldstein.
And then there’s Bolivia! Bolivia has only qualified for the World Cup once. Oh wait! We’re talking about wine here…
Was Bolivia on anyone’s radar when it comes to wine??
In his book on South American wines, Christopher Fielden stated in 2010 that winemakers of other Latin American countries felt Bolivia had the best wine grapes in the world. It simply lacked experience and equipment.
Well, things change…
And Francisco Roig, Partner and Founder of Vinhos 1750, has achieved precisely that. A native Bolivian, he immigrated to the United States and fell in love with a French woman, an oenophile by blood. Hence, we savoured the most surprising wine of the day.
In fact, Bolivia may now have the highest vineyards in the world. Or is it Argentina?
Argentina + High Altitudes
But the attendees of Southern Exposure got to taste not one, but two wines from the foothills of the extinct volcano Tupungato that day. One from Catena Zapata and the other from Doña Paula presented by Martin Kaiser, the Deputy Director of Viticulture and Enology. It’s no small matter that Tim Aitken MW named him ‘Viticulturalist of the Year’ in 2020.
Big guns, indeed!
So what is the one theme that unites all of these countries? Is it football or wine, or is it something else.
We’d say it’s family.
Tasting notes just after this tiny announcement..!
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* Tasted on April 27, 2023
Montes ‘Alpha M’ Apalta, Chile 2020 $96.99
A look into the glass reveals a deep coloured wine with purple hues on the edges. Wowza! Sweet blueberries and blackberries burst forth with pretty purple violet flowers and light whiff of nutmeg from the oak. Mmmm, the scent of fresh Douglas Fir branches.
One sip unleashes a heavyweight wine that fills your mouth with flavour. The weight lasts through the midpalate and has a great length. Refreshing acidity and fine, youthful tannins that playfully pull at your gums. But wait, this wine craves time in a cellar – or, a few pours through a Venturi aerator to truly blossom. Then the wine will score higher. Keep it in the cellar for 5-18 years and prepare for a magical transformation!
Viña Ventisquero, 'Vertice' Carmenère Syrah, Apalta, Chile 2019 $44.95
Some wines are a little shy at first – like this ruby-coloured blend. But it didn’t take long for its true character to shine through, unveiling vibrant blueberries, violets, a mix of red and black plums and a touch of oak-induced spice.
Juicy acidity makes this heavyweight wine perform ballet on your tongue. The slightly chunky medium tannin lead to a long finish that showcases its exceptional quality. With 5 years in the cellar, the Vertice will reward you abundantly.
Catena Zapata Tupungato, Adrianna Vineyard River Malbec, Argentina 2019 $249.99
Get ready for a spring garden party as violets and lilac bushes jump out from the glass. Blueberries and ripe blackberries steal the spotlight. There’s so much concentration in the fruit you just feel a bit of warmth from the high alcohol. Grippy fine tannins and juicy acids signal this one is for the cellar, my friends. It boasts an impressively long length. Give it a proper cellaring of 8-25 years and prepare for a truly remarkable experience.
Note: This wine will head far into the 90’s after some time in the cellar – it’s just a baby right now!
Doña Paula Altitude Series 1350, Tupungato, Argentina 2019 $24.95
50% Cabernet Franc, 45% Malbec 5% Casavecchia (an Italian grape variety)
It has a medium to deep purple hue. The aroma is dominated by pronounced purple flower potpourri, and black cherries, accompanied by scents of sandalwood, Douglas fir, green leafiness, mint, and a subtle hint of green pepper or jalapeno, reminiscent of Chile. The nose evolves into a licorice note towards the end.
The acidity is medium with a juicy character. The body is full, and the alcohol is balanced at 14.4%. The tannins are medium to fine, offering a grippy texture that is slightly coarse. The length of the wine is long.
Miolo Single Vineyard Touriga Naçional, Campanha Meridional. Brazil 2021 $29.95
The wine displays a medium to deep purple colour. It showcases pronounced violet and black fruit aromas, including blackberries, black cherries, along with hints of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove spice. These oak flavors are well-integrated and add an beautiful elegant touch.
As the wine develops, it becomes spicier, with savoury notes and a combination of black pepper and white pepper. The acidity is medium, contributing to a lively character. With a medium-plus body and well-balanced alcohol at 13.5%. The tannins are medium-minus, providing a fine texture.
The length of the wine is medium-plus, with solid complexity. This wine has some aging potential, promising to develop beautifully over 5-7 years time. The finish reveals sour cherries and sour cranberries. So far, this is the most ‘Old World’ tasting wine of the event.
Bodegas Carrau, Juan Carrau Grande Reserva Petit Manseng, Las Violetas, Canelones, Uruguay 2020
The wine has a gorgeous colour of lemon with gold flecks. Already developed, pronounced aromas of beeswax, lemon curd, orange zest, and orange marmalade burst forth. While it lacks the characteristic botrytis funk, it exudes a candied ginger spiciness with notes of almond and yeast, resulting from 10 months of batonnage.
On the palate, the wine is juicy and carries an earthy minerality akin to plasticine. Despite its full body, it maintains a refreshing, juicy character. Even at 14.5% alcohol, it has so much fruit concentration, it is balanced. A long length, leaves a lasting impression on the palate.
1750 Uvairenda, Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Samaipata, Bolivia 2020
This wine was the talk of the festival and has perfect Bordelais structure. It was really difficult for me to place the green note in the wine! I had to ask the owner Francisco, for his take because it was so unique. Grilled green peppers, he suggested. Yup, that describes it perfectly. Please don’t take that note to mean that the wine was unripe. It wasn’t. Here’s my tasting note.
The wine struts in with a medium-plus intensity, teasing your senses with the alluring fragrance of Cabernet Franc (although this is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon) —green stems, leafiness, black cherries, and a touch of mint. It’s like a playful dance of flavors!
On the palate, red currant, black cherries, grilled green pepper and blue spruce trees just delight!
The acidity is medium-plus, adding a lively twist. Brace yourself for a full-bodied experience that’s oh-so-fat throughout the mid-palate—yes, it’s got some curves! The alcohol is perfectly balanced, hitting that happy medium.
The tannins are medium-ripe and smooth, offering a silky texture that glides effortlessly. And the length? It’s long, my friend, with a touch of complexity to keep you intrigued and finishing with cranberries. This wine knows how to make an entrance and leave a lasting impression!
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