“Take a picture of me with the little girl”, instructs my newfound Argentine friend to her husband. I lean in and clink my glass with hers, wondering exactly how old she thinks I am. Then I realise she’s talking about a portrait on the wall right behind me. In fact, it’s just one of a whole smorgasbord of weird memorabilia and kitsch which covers every inch of the rosy pink room. Disentangling myself from the awkward scene, I seek refuge downstairs in a long narrow ballroom with dramatic, lily-strewn walls and an ornate Art Deco bar which bears the enticing inscription, “With Champagne You Forget Everything”. Time to test out the theory with a chilled glass of organic bubbly.
This eccentric building, the Botica del Angel, is the home of the Feria de Vinos Orgánicos or Organic Wine Fair, an event which unites leading members of Argentina’s growing organic wine scene with curious members of the public and wine professionals. Created in the 1970s by the “18 Stone Angel”, who also went by the more conventional name of Eduardo Bergara Leumann, it’s an awe-inspiring and perhaps a little distracting backdrop to some seriously good wines from big names like Domaine Bousquet and smaller projects like Finca Dinamia. Here’s my highlights from one of the weirdest wine fairs I’ve been to:
- Buenalma Malbec Rosé: The colour couldn’t be any louder, but this rosé is surprisingly elegant on the palate. Made according to both organic and biodynamic practices by San Rafael-based Finca Dinamia, this is one of the best Malbec rosés I’ve tried with fresh red cherries and raspberries underpinned by refreshing acidity. Wherever you stand on biodynamic winemaking, this is clear proof exceptional wines come from real passion and attention to detail both vineyard and winery. Somewhat unusually for Argentina, Finca Dinamia also has a strong commitment to sustainability; their thin-walled eco bottles are sealed with certified sustainable corks and packed into recycled cardboard boxes.
- Bodega Krontiras: This biodynamic and organic winery made a real impression with their Doña Silvina line-up. I was blown away by their 2014 Aglianico 2014 and 2014 Malbec/Aglianico Blend. Emblematic of southern Italy, Aglianico is fast becoming a go-to variety for winemakers seeking to innovate and diversify their offerings. Herbal, savoury and deeply earthy, both wines demonstrate the suitability and potential of this grape in a country which is still limited by its global reputation for lively, fruit-forward Malbecs. Add their 2014 Petit Verdot into the mix, and I’m not going anywhere for a while. In fact, I plonked myself down on a comfy seat right by their stand and ravished every wine they had.
- Blumbeÿ: A bit of a cheat since this is actually a flower nectar wine. Made by the dapper young hotshot Gabriel Vivanco, it comes in a dry and a sweet style. I’m a huge sucker for dessert wines, so no surprise I picked the sweet version out on top. An intense, edible perfume, it reminded me of the liqueurs made in monasteries and convents across Europe. In contrast, sipping the dry was like drinking rose water; a vibrant, sensuous nose but very little flavour. Exactly the kind of wine that a whole lot of people will hate. More on these soon when I interview Gabriel, if he ever answers my email…
As if to challenge the stamina of the Argentina’s winos, the same August weekend also played host to Alta Gama Buenos Aires. This wine fair couldn’t be more different from it’s bizarre organic cousin. As Argentines like to say, “no tiene nada que ver”. The only sure thing they have in common is the obligatory copious amounts of wine. Located in the wealthy Recoleta neighbourhood, it typically takes place in a swanky hotel and attracts hordes of fur-coats, dark Italian suits and big flashy cameras.
This year they went for a particularly ugly venue, the Brick Hotel which, as you’ve probably already guessed, was built using an awful lot of bricks. This is meant to be one of Buenos Aires’ big daddy consumer wine fairs, attended by the country’s premium producers. This year’s turnout was strong, mixing heavyweights like Norton, Zuccardi and Mumm along with a few rarities like garage winemaker Laureano Gomez. Also in attendance were several Uruguayan wineries, surprising given imported wines are expensive and difficult to find here in Argentina. Given the focus was on “alta gama” or “high end” wines, there were scores of truly excellent wines which I’ve narrowed down to four points of interest. You can see some of the other wines I loved in the photos.
- Zuccardi olive oils: Miguel Zuccardi of Familia Zuccardi fame hosted an intimate tasting of his family’s olive oils, the part of the business which he heads up. Argentina isn’t really known at all for its olive oils, and in the country typically prices are high and consumption low. Zuccardi is leading the charge with the Arauco, Changlot and Frantoio varieties. Miguel combined his talk with a fascinating olive oil tasting, using traditional blue glasses to avoid the taster from being prejudiced by the colour which is not related to the quality of the oil. Although the three were all made from the same variety, Arauco, there were clear differences in the aromas; the first was dominated by freshly cut grass, the second sliced tomato and rocket, and the prize-winning final oil exuded green apple and a surprising complexity.
- Rosell Boher: Three champion sparklers set this stand apart in a room awash with great wine. Rosell Boher’s limited edition Grand Cuvée which spends an impressive 70 months on the lees sadly wasn’t on offer, for understandable reasons. Luckily, their second-best, the Grande Cuvée Millésimée, was on hand to prove the winery’s bubbly prowess. With 40 months on the lees, this endlessly complex wine compares very favourably to fine Champagnes. Shoring up the ticket were their Brut and 100% Pinot Noir Rosé which both spend 30 months on the lees. An authentic taste of Argentina’s potential to make world class bubbly.
- Susana Balbo White Blend: The Queen of the Argentine wine scene, Susana has a deep, instinctive understanding of winemaking as both an art form and a celebration of life itself. Composed of Torrontés, Argentina’s flagship white grape, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, this blend is fermented with wild yeasts and aged for four months on the lees with use of battonage to intensify the creamy flavours and texture. Thanks to the high altitude Uco Valley vineyards there’s a mouthwatering acidity which combines harmoniously with aromas of tropical fruit and white flowers as well as a distinctive, salty minerality.
- Bodega Garzón: Located across the pond, in neighbouring Uruguay, the winery had a small selection on show. Particularly impressive was Bodega Garzón‘s 2013 Tannat Reserve and a tongue-tingling Albariño forged by the fresh ocean breezes and cool summer nights of Uruguay’s Atlantic coast.
Pulling in a much younger, louder and sweatier crowd, earlier in the month Palermo Hollywood’s swanky Trova wine bar presented Copar, an extravaganza of their brightest and best bottles. Attended by several friendly winemakers keen to share their wares, this 100-wine fest is a great relaxed opportunity to try bottles you wouldn’t normally buy.
- Los Noques Cabernet Franc 2013: Another Uco Valley wine, this time from the Gualtallary region of Tupungato, this classy Franc overflows with fresh mint, dark berries and black pepper. A well-crafted and easygoing example of the variety.
- Pulenta Estate Gran Reserva Cabernet Franc: Ok, another Franc, so what? How about 18 months in new French oak, incredibly smooth tannins and intense aromas of roasted pepper and eucalyptus? Seriously, for people who love Cab Franc as much as I do, drinking this is like sinking your toes into a soft, fluffy sheepskin rug. Fanciful imagery aside, it must be good ‘cos the Guardian says so.
- Aniello Blanco de Pinot Noir: Another of those “the only one in Argentina” bottles, this white Pinot Noir displays high acidity and delicate red fruits typical of the variety. The Aniello winery is based in the Upper Río Negro Valley of Patagonia, and they also make a marvellous red Pinot which was given 93 points by James Suckling (2015 vintage).
- RD Sauvignon Blanc: Bodega Tacuil only makes some 10,000 bottles a year, but every one of them’s a stunner. Their high elevation vineyards sit at a dizzy 2597 metres above sea level (enough to give me altitude sickness, I’m sure) up in the northern province of Salta which is renowned for its floral white Torrontés and spicy reds. This means a high thermal amplitude with nice cool nights helping the grapes retain acidity. Brain-freezingly fresh with a distinct minerality and very subtle herbaceous hints, it offers incredible value for money.
Phew! That’s enough wine f0r one post; I’m starting run out of decent adjectives! If you’re ever planning a trip to Argentina, I highly recommend visiting in August when you can coincide your dates with one of these events. All of these fairs showcase many of the country’s very best wines, and they make a perfect introduction to the increasingly complex Argentine wine scene. Use the opportunity to get up close and personal with top wines and winemakers before planning winery visits in the wine regions of Mendoza, Patagonia or Cafayate.
Have you been to any amazing wine fairs recently? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’ve enjoyed the read, why not join us here at The Wine Culturist by simply clicking the follow button at the bottom of the page… We always love making new winelover friends!