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From Andean Heights to Coastal Delights: A Tale of Two Terroirs

Chile and Argentina

This year, wine enthusiasts from various backgrounds flocked to the Vancouver International Wine Festival to indulge in a wide array of South American wines. While the festival generously provided me with tickets to highly coveted events, I reciprocated by crafting summaries of select trade seminars. Allow me to present a slightly adapted account of a fascinating narrative titled “A Tale of Two Terroirs.”

Stay tuned until the conclusion as I reveal my impressions and tasting notes of the exceptional wines! Alternatively, if you’re eager to delve into the tasting notes right away, you can find them by clicking just below.

Moderators:

Christina Hartigan, Evan Goldstein MS

 

Panelists:

Pablo Aranda, Bodega Argento; Cecilia Carrasco, Zuccardi; Laura Catena, Catena Zapata; Germán Di Césare, Bodega Trivento; Marie-Hélene Dumais, Bodega Piedra Negra; Salome Hopkins, Viña Ventisquero; Carol Anai Koch Gonzalez, Cono Sur Vineyards and Winery; Aurelio Montes, Jr., Montes Wines; Pablo Prieto, Viña Carmen

Soil + Cool Climates

‘A Tale of Two Terroirs’ seminar treated attendees to some remarkable flavours featuring the crème de la crème of Chilean and Argentinean wines.

Yet, as both Chile and Argentina boast vast landscapes, labelling each as a single terroir would be a gross oversimplification. Nevertheless, our group savoured wines that shared a captivating connection. Every single one of these extraordinary wines flourished on the nurturing embrace of rocks, chalk, granite, or clay. Moreover, they all hailed from a region graced with a cooler climate, either through lofty altitudes or refreshing ocean breezes.

For it is in these cooler climates that the most enchanting and aromatic wines are born. Some of the wines we sampled were cultivated at dizzying heights, like the slopes of the dormant volcano, Tupungato, or the prestigious Altamira GI in Argentina’s Uco Valley. Others basked in the gentle caress of oceanic winds, such as the Casablanca Valley in Chile.

High-Altitudes and its Effect on Grapes...

Our moderator, Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein, eloquently pointed out the impact of high-altitude plantations on terroir. “Planting at high altitudes really transfers terroir. The skins of the grapes get thicker and the grapes grow smaller from the increased UV exposure.” And as any wine enthusiast knows, it is in the skins of the grapes where the true essence and flavours of the wine reside.

Perfecting Terroir Takes Time

However, perfecting terroir requires time and dedication. Goldstein further emphasized, “Let’s not forget that when grapes were first planted in Chile and Argentina, vineyards were strategically located near ports because things travelled by horse and buggy.” Thankfully, modern-day growers have the freedom to plant their vines wherever terroir beckons.

In a hilarious revelation, Laura Catena from Catena Zapata shared her father’s secret behind the discovery of the legendary Adrianna Vineyard, home to their renowned White Bones Chardonnay (retail $200+). It was a stroke of sheer luck!

But the Argentines are not content to rest on their laurels. Germán Di Césare from Trivento winery shared their audacious plans of venturing into the extreme south of Patagonia for vineyard planting. They are pushing the boundaries, travelling even further south than the vineyards of New Zealand!

Carmenère's New Terroir

One only needs to look at Chile and its success with the grape Carmenére to see the transformative power that time has on showcasing great terroir.

Carmenére, originally from Bordeaux, fell out of favour there because it needs constant warmth. Yet, the grape adores its new home in Chile.

There was a time when Chilean Carmenére was mistakenly labelled as Merlot. Unfortunately, this caused some confusion among wine professionals. We couldn’t figure out why Chilean Merlot tasted so green – Merlot being a grape that ripens even in marginal climates like those of British Columbia, Canada.

However, as Evan Goldstein MS astutely pointed out, “Growers in Chile always knew the difference—they recognized there was Merlot and then there was ‘Merlot Chileno’ (what we call Carmenère).”

Over time, Chileans have perfected their understanding of terroir, realizing that Carmenère thrives in specific soils and requires very late harvesting. They’ve also discovered the best blending partner for Carmenère is Petit Verdot. Finally, Chilean growers have developed superior strains through Massal Selection, a meticulous process of selecting exceptional plant cuttings for propagation.

 

New Frontiers, Better Grapes

That means Carmenère coming out of Chile no longer has those unripe green pepper notes.

In fact, these new strains are so successful, they’ve now travelled overseas to Ningxia, China replicating Chile’s success.

But that’s not the only grape to look out for from Chile!

Our moderator Christina Hartigan, highly recommends Cinsault as a rising star among Chilean varieties. Its distinctive character, expressive qualities and ability to translate terroir are sure to leave a lasting impression. (See my tasting note on the Viña Carmen Cinsault below).

Better Pest Management

 

Growers not only require time to understand and adapt to their grapes’ needs, but they also need to develop effective strategies to protect their precious vineyards from predators. Pablo Aranda, Director of Exports for Bodega Argento, shared an innovative approach they use on their organic winery to fend off their most persistent foe—the ants.

Without the use of pesticides, Argento strategically plants specific species of flowers in the vineyard. When the ants come into contact with these flowers, they return to their nests and alter the pH of the fungus within. Astonishingly, this gentle intervention prompts the ants to voluntarily depart from the vineyard, ensuring the vines remain undisturbed.

More on this thread, Cono Sur Vineyards adopts a truly collaborative approach to pest management. They engage the children to catch the troublesome bugs! Additionally, they exhibit their commitment to sustainability by re-purposing the leftover fermentation materials. They turn them into valuable compost for future vineyard nourishment.

 

Summary

With each step forward, Argentine and Chilean producers continue to push boundaries, embrace innovation, and nurture their vineyards with unwavering passion. The world eagerly awaits the exceptional wines that will emerge from this tireless pursuit of excellence. Cheers to the future of these two terroirs!

Tasting notes

* Tasted April 28, 2023

Cono Sur Vineyards & Winery 'Single Vineyard' Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile 2021 $23.99

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red clay

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On the nose, you’ll be greeted with medium intensity aromas of earth, zesty lemon juice, pear, grilled pineapple and creamy lemon custard that tickles your senses. Keep exploring, and you’ll discover almonds and a toasty surprise from light handling of oak ageing. But wait, there’s more!

As you take another sip, the medium-plus acidity adds a refreshing zing. The adventure continues on your palate with the delightful essence of tropical fruits like papaya and pineapple. And just when you think the journey is over, a final squeeze of lemon juice bids you a playful farewell.

 

89 points

Catena Zapata 'Adrianna Vineyard White Bones' Chardonnay, Tupungato, Argentina 2020 $154.99

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rocky, chalky

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If you’re still not sure what ‘mineral’ aromas in a wine are, you should fork over some money for this beauty.

The first thing that leaps out of the glass is chalk! Followed by lemon juice, just barely ripe lemons, pear, dust and toast. Then comes the alluring aroma of hazelnuts and almonds.

It’s absolutely a mouthwatering wine served in a mid-weight frame with a long elegant finish. This is the second time I’ve been spoiled with this wine. Yay, me!

95 points

Viña Ventisquero, 'Tara' Chardonnay, Huasco Valley, Chile 2020 $49.99

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alluvial, chalky

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This cloudy delight is a non-interventionist gem, unfiltered and full of character.

The nose dances with ripe peach, nectarine, dragonfruit, and papaya, accompanied by a touch of mineral, chalk, and grilled pineapple as it warms. It’s a pretty sight, adorned with dried and fresh white flowers.

The high acidity delivers a juicy punch, finishing with a zing of lemon juice. And oh, the length! It lingers, inviting you to savour every moment.

 

93 points

Viña Carmen 'Loma Seca' Cinsault Itata Valley, Chile 2021 $38.99

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granite + clay

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This gorgeous nose starts out super floral – picture lilac bushes, violets and forget-me-nots. Oh, and there’s roses too! Then comes a dusty minerality and bursts of red fruits: red plums, and red cherries. Keep sniffing and a slight undercurrent of medicinal aromas and light spice is revealed. 

This wine is plush with just soft tannins, all in a moderate plus frame. Solid length to it too.

89 points

Zuccardi 'Concreto' Malbec Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Paraje Altamira, Argentina 2020 $45.99

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rocks + chalk

 

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Let’s celebrate as minerality is obviously the wine theme of the day and this wine is no exception!
 
A bright purple rim entices you in. One whiff of this high altitude wine reveals chalk followed purple flowers. The floral aromas are at the centerpiece but they are backed by juicy red cherries and sweet black cherries. This wine is unoaked; being aged in concrete (concreto) but there’s still a light spice to the wine.
 
Mouthwatering, balanced and all in a heavyweight frame. Great length finishing with juicy red fruits
 

94 points

Bodega Argento 'Single Block' Organic Malbec, Finca Altamira, Argentina 2019 $40.99

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rocks + chalk

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It’s Malbec therefore, purple hue. One sniff reveals an earthy funk and really ripe cherries and blueberries. Don’t be deterred by the funk descriptor. Yes, it’s because 65% of the grapes for this are organic; it’s a soft complexity.

It’s a heavyweight wine on the palate. The moderate plus tannins are youthful and drying so drink this with food or cellar for a while. Red cherries, red plums, slight mint and earth carry us through to a long finish.

89 right now but will move into 90’s after ageing, Cellar 3-15 years.

89 points

Bodega Trivento ‘Eolo' Malbec, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina 2019 $137.99

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alluvial with sand, gravel + clay

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It’s another opaque purple blockbuster! Brace yourself as black cherries and cherry pie filling jump out of the glass with minty, meaty and a slight funk complexity to it. Violets and crushed rocks add a touch of intrigue. Then there’s the oak barrel enhancement of nutmeg and cinnamon adding to the mix.

The alcohol is balanced by all that gorgeous fruit concentration. It’s backed by moderate plus juicy acidity and chalky, ripe tannin. Prepare for a grand finale as the wine lingers on the palate, leaving a lasting impression of sour cherry and red cherries.

This wine will improve with age. Cellar for up to 20 years or more!

92 points

Montes 'Purple Angel', Colchagua Valley, Chile 2020 $99.99

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granitic clay

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92% Carmenere; 8% Petit Verdot

 

Here’s another wine for those who don’t know what crushed rocks smell like. It’s the first thing that leaps out of the glass! Followed by ripe red berries, cherries, ripe pomegranite, black raspberries. There is just a whiff of green pepper but it’s a delightful complexity.

It’s a full-bodied frame with medium chalky tannins and everything is where is should be in terms of structure. The palate brings out more red cherries, and black raspberries finishing with those pretty light green notes. Although the wine is plush, it’s juicy and elegant. Me likes!

92 points

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SommWine | From Andean Heights to Coastal Delights: A Tale of Two Terroirs

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