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- LA AGRICOLA, Mendoza
- SANTA JULIA, ZUCCARDI, Mendoza – Organic
- CUATRO MANOS, VINCENT WALLARD, Tupungato – Organic
- AMBYTH ESTATE, PHILLIP MARTY MORWOOD HART, PASO ROBLES– Biodynamic
- CLOS SARON, GIDEON BEINSTOCK, SIERRA FOOTHILLS– Organic
The advantage of having imitators is that at last
they cure you of yourself.
Jorge Luis Borges
Aztecs, Peruvians from the Incas and Argentineans from the
People are fond of quoting the statistic that Argentina is the fourth (or
fifth) largest wine country in the world – akin to saying ‘never mind
the quality feel the width’. At present Argentina does not have the most
dynamic wine culture (try finding a wine bar in Buenos Aires) and the
levels of expertise lag well behind its neighbour, Chile. Yields, for
example, are still ridiculously high. There are, nevertheless, a dozen
wineries or so that are leading the drive for quality and they are
planting a range of grape varieties reflecting Argentina’s rich cultural
heritage: Tempranillo from Spain; Sangiovese, Barbera and Bonarda
from Italy; Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon from South West France;
Syrah from the Rhône. The potential is enormous. If you go to
Mendoza you will see wonderfully healthy vines with beautiful grapes
and perfect growing conditions. Now for the wine-making to catch up
to the raw material.
A recent trip to Mendoza saw us ensconced in
Restaurante Francis Mallmann 1884 looking for
something cool and fuity to go with our bistecca dino-
haunches. So here was a wine list, a panoply of the most
glittering jewels in Argentina, a 70 odd page digest – and
indigest – of wines, mostly Monsignor Malbec’s progeny.
Each wine was listed with its author (sorry, oenologist),
the oak regime, the number of bottles made, with special
mention for the ultra limitada wines. Cue hosannas. We
ordered several bottles, each home to a wine so dark that
people disappeared behind it. And the taste and texture,
whatever the variety, whatever the region, was always the
same – the velvet fist in the chocolate glove.
Not that we didn’t try to stretch the sommelier:
Señor Cañadas: “We want to drink something organic or
biodynamic, something fresh, stainless steel fermented,
and as natural as possible.”
Waiter: “Natural? Well, we try to work more and more
with wineries where the winemaker is not smoking in the
Michel Rolland, he say, “No smoking in the winery.
At Bodegas Cecchin they make truly artisan wines. The
wines have a gentle freshness that one might associate with
south west France or cooler parts of the Languedoc.
Organic methods (they still use horses in the vineyards)
and cement vats rather than oak for vinification help to
make deliciously digestible red wines.
LA AGRICOLA, Mendoza
The Zuccardi family have created an excellent range of commercial wines. Chenin-Torrontes, Villa Vieja,
from vineyards in Mendoza sees Chenin (grape of the Loire) meet Torrontes (grape of northern Spain) to create an intriguing
example of Argentinean fusion. The Torrontes provides plenty of aromatic appeal, distinct floral notes of rose petal, delightful
notes of fresh Muscat grapes and Turkish delight, the Chenin gives weight and a steely balance with its firm acidity. A
delicious summery wine that would complement asparagus or artichokes and simple salads. The Viognier flaunts ample white-
fleshed fruit and manages to avoid the hollowness that cheaper versions from the Languedoc exhibit. It is the El Abasto range
of wines that show best what Argentina is capable of. The relaxed vinification of the reds highlights the excellent quality of the
fruit. The Malbec is punchy, red fruits and tannins in alignment, whilst the Malbec-Bonarda is a brilliant blend with lifted
aromatics and stemmy freshness.
VILLA VIEJA CHENIN-TORRONTES
VILLA VIEJA VIOGNIER
EL ABASTO PINOT GRIGIO
EL ABASTO TORRONTES
VILLA VIEJA SHIRAZ-MALBEC
EL ABASTO MALBEC
EL ABASTO MALBEC-BONARDA
SANTA JULIA, ZUCCARDI, Mendoza – Organic
The Organica range from Zuccardi represents excellent value for money. The wines are remarkably pure with lovely fruit and
fine acidity. The Malbec is rich yet fruity with a nose of sweet violets as well as ripe fruits such as figs and raisins. Also notes
of tobacco, vanilla and chocolate.
SANTA JULIA ORGANICA MALBEC
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Sometimes you taste a wine so rich that you are tempted to tap it on the shouder and ask it for an unsecured loan of $100,000,000
Zimbabwean dollars. Reading an estimable wine organ recently I discovered that there are wines among us that do not merely court
perfection they seek to transcend it. As a mere humble vessel with a shallow palate accustomed to coarse French wines I needed to
understand that greatness can only be critically arbitrated by those whose mouths that can carry a greater weight of wine in them....
Primus Malbecius Superbius emanates from irony-free vines grown at 3000m high in the Andes whose deep-delved roots are verily
refreshed by the purest glacial melt waters known to man. Cuttings for the vines were sourced from Malbekistan, a tiny lost republic
nestling in the Caucasus Mountains and the undoubted cradle of wine civilisation as we know it. So saturated with ripeness that the
bunches touch the soil, the grapes are individually plucked by trained condors who carry their precious burden back to the winery, a glass
and metal cathedral construction laid out on the lines of an ancient Incan temple. Each barrel in the cuverie is fashioned from 200% new
oak, toasted evenly on both sides by artisan coopers flown over by private jet from their villages in France and after a 60-day maceration
to ensure that no light can escape the wine and pigeage with velvet-coated battering rams, the wine matures to the mellifluous sound of
Bolivian pan-pipes and massed devotional choirs. The first cask samples are tasted by the cowled and hooded Parkeristas, a cabal of
Gauchos, who repeatedly murmur binary incantations of ones and two zeros until the wine is imbued with incontrovertible supranumeral
greatness. It is then given the sacred papal benediction of Rolland who releases nano bubbles of reputation into the wine until it is so
smooth that it begins to drink itself.
BODEGA CECCHIN, Mendoza – Organic
They play rugby and they make wine. Or is it the other way round? The nice thing about this trio of red varietals is that they
possess a tasty angularity that is sometimes absent from other wines in this country.
The company has always been in the hands of the Cecchin family since 1959. Oscar Alberto Cecchin (45 yrs old) is the third
generation. The first members of the family came to Argentina from Italy in 1910 and found work in the local vineyards. In
1959, Jorge and Pedro Cecchin fulfilled their dream of owning some land, acquiring 11 hectares of vineyards and olives,
including the winery dating back from 1901. The crops in all three of the estates that make up Bodega Cecchin have been
certified for organic farming as of 2005. Cecchin’s handling and processing in the winery is also certified as organic from
2005, so its wines are subsequently certified organic. Bodega Cecchin also farms biodynamically, but only in a small portion
of the vineyards (just 2 hectares in each of the three estates). This is because biodynamic farming is too labour-intensive to be
implemented over a larger area of vines. Bodega Cecchin owns not only vineyards planted with a wide range of different
grape varieties, but also peach, fig and apricot orchards, olive, walnut and almond groves. The planting of these different
crops is necessary to comply with the rules stipulated by the organic certifying agency,
The soils throughout the
vineyards are mainly clay and cultivation is still done with
Harvest is manual in small baskets and yields are
Grapes are de-stemmed for the alcoholic (wild yeast) fermentation which takes place in 120 hl cement tanks
coated on the inside with epoxy. This particular size and type of cement tank is used by Bodega Cecchin for many of the stages
of vinification of most of the wines as it keeps the wines at a stable temperature. The wines are lightly filtered, but unfined.
There is no oak. This sets them apart from the vast majority of Argentinean reds. Strict adherence to organic methods in the
vineyard is not undermined by larding on the oak; the intention here is to represent the terroir and capture the essence of the
fruit. The Carignan, a grape variety we associate more readily with the Languedoc-Roussillon is tasty with notes of earth and
leather underneath the blueberry fruit. The Cabernet Sauvignon is sinewy and peppery with flavours of dried herbs. The
Malbec, a grape that Argentina has successfully appropriated, is made without the addition of sulphur and contrasts to the
lavish, extractive, chocolate-cakey numbers that most wineries seem to churn out. Here one notices the acidity of the grape
along with savoury red fruits and liquorice.
MALBEC CLASSIC ORGANIC
MALBEC SIN SULFITO
After living 6 years in Argentina, Vincent Wallard decided to buy grapes and make a Malbec in 2011 with organic grapes
from Bodega Cecchin in Maipu, south of Mendoza. In 2014, he decided to go further south to the higher terroirs with
calcareous soils in Gualtallary at 1500m near Tupungato. He vinfies his wine with respect to terroir and nature, using
indigenous yeasts, low or no sulphites, does not unfilter and uses no wood.
CUATRO MANOS MALBEC
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LA CLARINE FARM, HANK BECKMEYER, SIERRA NEVADA FOOTHILLS – Organic
La Clarine Farm is located at 2600 feet above sea level in California’s Sierra Nevada Foothills. On their 10 acres (4 Ha) they
grow grapes, raise goats and share their space here with numerous dogs, cats, bees, chickens, birds, gophers, flowers and
The home farm has various red varieties, including Tempranillo, Syrah, Tannat, Grenache, Negroamaro and Cabernet
Sauvignon, the soils, a thin, course sandy loam, are very poor in nutrients and water-holding capacity. La Clarine has a
variety of exposures and elevations, but generally, is located on a ridge top at 2600 feet above sea level. They practise
biodynamics and Hank adheres to the one farm approach. Native herbs, flowers and grasses grow under the vines, and never
use any chemicals or fertilizers. Each variety is harvested when ready, and the various lots are combined in the cellar to
produce a “home vineyard” blend each year. They also purchase grapes from several vineyards that feel conform to the same
ethos – the right grape in the right spot, grown the right way. In the winery Hank works.as naturally as possible, adding no
yeast, sulphur dioxide, oak chips, enzymes or concentrates in the cellar, and no chemicals, fertilizers or tillage in the
vineyard. Fermentation occurs spontaneously, and finishes in its own time (this can take up to six months!). Every vintage has
its own rhythms. He ages in the wine in neutral containers, never in new oak, and let the wine develop without sulphur
additions or excessive racking
The Rosé comprises 89% Syrah from a steep north-east facing hillside, and 11% Mourvedre from a ridgetop at 3000 feet. A
deep-coloured reddish-pink wine full of delicious strawberry-rhubarb flavours backed up by a textured, mineral-laced
structure. The grapes are light foot-trod and allowed to soak for several hours before pressing. The juice was fermented
entirely in tank, and the secondary (malolactic) fermentation was allowed to occur. This gives the wine a slightly rounder feel
on the palate, which is then backed up by wine’s natural acidity in the finish. The wine is aged for seven months on its lees
before racking, adding 25ppm sulphites and bottling unfiltered. This is one of the more structured rosé wines out there, which
helps the wine work with a wide range of foods, from salads to seafood to cheeses to grilled meats and veggies.
Jambalaia comes from a single vineyard on deep volcanic loam soils near the town of Camino. Composed of both red and
white grapes (48% Mourvedre, 37% Grenache, 14% Marsanne and 1% Fiano & Arneis), the wine is both light on its feet yet
firmly structured. It is also really delicious! The grapes were harvested over a several week period in early September. Foot
crushed and whole-cluster fermented each lot, pressing off after 5-7 days on the grape skins. Fermentation was carried out in
open top bins of various sizes, with ambient yeasts and no added sulphites. The wine shows enticing floral aromas, deep red
fruit flavours, and a round and smooth finish with enough tannin and acidity to age for several years.
Josephine Plus Mariposa (70% Grenache and 30% Mourvedre) comes from a knoll-top of brown loam soils sitting over
yellow slate. This vineyard seems to speak its terroir very eloquently. The wine is pretty up-front about itself, showing loads of
earth in its aromatics and finish. For this harvest, they picked in three passes – the first pass was for most of the Grenache,
and the second (about 10 days later) was to finish the Grenache at a slightly higher ripeness level. The last pick was for the
Mourvedre, in mid-September. All three lots ended up being fermented separately, but combined in tank as they were pressed.
All lots were whole cluster fermented and no yeast or sulphur was added. Ageing was in a combination of tank and some large
(158 gallon) neutral oak puncheons. The wine was racked twice, and a small dose of SO2 was added just before bottling. Dark
plum in colour, the wine shows a compelling combo of tea leaf, candle wax and graphite in its aromas. Dark fruits and an
underlying chalky note (Grenache from slate soils!) show up in the finish, along with a refreshing acidity. It’s quite agile on
its feet for a wine this size. Drink it now to experience its virility (give it an hour or so of air first); age it a bit to let the
tannins resolve for a mellower take. It pairs wonderfully now with heartier winter fare.
JAMBALAIA WHITE ~ Viognier, Marsanne, Albarino, Petit Manseng
AL BASC~ Albarino skin contact
JAMBALAIA ROUGE ~ Mourvedre, Marsanne, Grenache, Syrah
ELVIS RED ~ Mourvedre, Grenache
JOSEPHINE PLUS MARIPOSA ~ Grenache, Mourvedre
SYRAH SUMU KAW
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AMBYTH ESTATE, PHILLIP & MARTY MORWOOD HART, PASO ROBLES– Biodynamic
“AmByth has three magical chords that run through our very core and shape our every thought, direction, decision and
action: we are 100% dry-farmed, we are a certified biodynamic farm, and we are natural winemakers.
AmByth is the Welsh word meaning ‘forever’. We view it as our legacy: to live and farm to our heart’s content in Templeton
for the remainder of our lives…but also to farm with the future in mind, and the healthy condition of our land being left
AmByth Estate is Paso Robles’ first and only winery to produce Demeter-certified biodynamic wines. They farm this way to
allow their 20 acres of vineyards to express their true character, applying homeopathic doses of naturally occurring plant and
animal materials to their compost pile, the vines and the soil in the vineyards and orchards. Biodynamic farming not only
encourages the elimination of all chemicals used in farming, but encourages the farmer to pay close attention to the forces of
nature influencing his/her farm.
They work naturally in the winery also, allowing the grapes to express themselves into wine without additives, adjustments or
enhancements. Native yeast ferment, foot stomping, ageing and bottling without any added sulphites. Some are aged in barrel,
others in stainless steel tanks, others spend time in terracotta amphorae.
Priscus is a blend of Grenache Blanc 63%, Marsanne 16%, Viognier 14% and Roussanne 7%. This wine aged in an 800 litre
clay vessel which allows the wine to breathe through the ageing process without imparting any extraneous flavours. Priscus,
which is Latin for venerable, has a healthy dose of sediment. It has an intense “orangey” colour and a complex nose of
caramelised apple, dough, citrus, Indian spices and herbs. It is a full-bodied wine with citrus notes still dominant.
Venustus is Sangiovese 79% and Tempranillo 21%. A perfect blend between acid and tannin combining the two grapes,
reminding us of its Italinate origins.
PRISCUS AMPHORA ~ Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier
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CLOS SARON, GIDEON BEINSTOCK, SIERRA FOOTHILLS– Organic
Way up in the northern reaches of the Sierra Foothills, Gideon Beinstock and his wife, Saron Rice, produce small batches of
wines that are unlike anything else coming out of California. Using traditional techniques and strict organic methods both in
the vineyard and the cellar, they make tiny amounts of Pinot Noir from their 2.2 acre home vineyard as well as a variety of
unique blends from 5.5 acres of nearby leased vineyards that they farm as well.
The vineyards are densely planted, about 2500 vines per acre, and are dry farmed in order to keep yields down; ranging from
as low as 1.3 tons per acre and maxing out around 2. Because their area is free of phylloxera, their vines are all “own-
rooted” and many are over 25 years old.
Hand-picked grapes are crushed within 20 minutes of harvesting, followed by fermentation in old open-top oak vats using
only natural yeasts. For the blends, the grape varietals are all co-fermented as Gideon believes the results are more
harmonious. The wines are then aged on lees in 1 to 5 year old French oak barrels for as long as he feels is needed before
being bottled, unfined and unfiltered, by hand. Production is generally around 100 cases or less per wine.
Over the past 30 years, Gideon has been involved in almost every aspect of the wine industry: sales, writing, purchasing,
educating, and a decade-plus long stint as winemaker for Renaissance. It is at Clos Saron, though, where he has tapped into
something rare: wines that are challenging, surprising, and yet instantly gratifying. They happily defy description and
convention without forgetting that, at its core, a wine should be a pleasure to drink.
Varietal blends enable them to reach a better balanced, distinctive expression of terroir, free of winery manipulations like
inoculations, acid corrections, water additions or removal (reverse osmosis), fining/filtration, and so on. By far, most of the
blending is done in the vineyard – they co-ferment as much of the final blend as Nature allows… including white and red
grapes: this tends to improve the texture, mid-palate, and aromatic expression of the reds. And since 2007 they no longer use
any new oak barrels for aging, preferring 1-5 years old barrels, which do not distort or mask the true character of the wine.
The vineyards are characterised by densely planted vines (3‘x6’).
Vine-vigour and crop level are kept to a minimum by dry
farming and precision pruning.
Vinifera vines are grown on their own roots (this area is free of phylloxera).
well-being of the soil and the vines is ensured by a sustainable approach to viticulture combining organic and Bio-dynamic
The vineyard is like a natural reserve: free of herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. To
control mildew, they spray elemental sulphur two to three times per season (compared to 8-15 times of powerful “high-tech”
fungicides in conventional viticulture).
The winemaking is straightforward. No commercial yeast or M/L inoculation, no acid corrections, no SO2 additions during
barrel ageing, no unnecessary racking or pumping, no fining or filtration.
Grapes are crushed within 20 minutes from the time they are harvested. The must ferments in old-fashioned open-top oak
fermenters. The wine is aged on its lees for as long as necessary, often until the day of bottling. It is then bottled manually,
directly from barrel.
of 50% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot and 5% Sauvignon Blanc, Blue Cheer is old vine Cinsault from
vines planted in the 19
century. Out of the Blue is 90% Cinsault (135 years old vines), 5% Syrah, 5% Graciano from fruit
organically grown in Lodi. Finally Heart of Stone is beautiful mineral Syrah with aromatic purity and spice.
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