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Decanter in Argentina: Zuccardi, RJ Vinedos, prize bulls and celebrity Ridgebacks

Decanter's publishing director Sarah Kemp and consultant editor Steven Spurrier visit some of Argentina's most renowned fincas, meet some very large bulls and stay up far too late...

Most wine producers can’t wait to get you to their vineyard, not to mention their bottling line, but Dario Werthein of Finca Las Divas had a different destination in mind for our tasting of his new wine Riglos: a trip to his home in the middle of the pampas, surrounded by hundreds of prize-winning bulls.

As we boarded a small plane Steven Spurrier told me that the last time he and I had been on a private plane together was when we were in Seattle for the World Vinifera Conference 14 years ago. I made a mental note: lack of private planes for Decanter staff.

Here we were in the heart of Argentina, flat green grassland as far as the eye can see, dotted with black and red Aberdeen Angus. The Werthein family has been breeding prize cattle for many generations. Dario proudly showed us the latest champions, magnificent black beasts. This was a long way from the Decanter tasting room.

Before our asado we tasted the first vintage of Riglos, a 2005 Malbec made from three-year-old vines, an impressive wine with plenty of fruit and lovely spice, just a little hollow in the middle but a clear indication of what was to come.

Each vintage showed more promise and by the time we got to the 2008 Riglos Gran Corte, a blend of 50% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc, I was really excited. This was a five-star wine, sensual and sleek with richness and complexity. This clearly is a winery to watch very closely.

After lunch we headed to Mendoza, Dario flying the plane. I immediately fell asleep but on waking up an hour later found Spurrier still reading the Financial Times, fresh as could be. He peered over his paper at me. ‘I’m running on Malbec,’ he said.

Dinner that night was with the popular Zuccardi family at their winery restaurant (a must, if you are planning a trip to Mendoza). Jose Alberto Zuccardi explained how he was experimenting with lots of different types of varietals, from Touriga Nacional to Albariño. The Wines of Argentina slogan may be Malbec but clearly the Zuccardis believe Argentina has a lot more to offer than one varietal.

Day Four

Off to R J Vinedos, a winery run by the four Joffre sisters – Maria Fernanda, Jimena, Marisel and Barbara. Their 2007 Bonarda won the Regional Argentine trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards this year.

The winery was refreshingly simple with the original cement tanks being still used, which clearly met with Mr Spurrier’s approval. The wines were however anything but simple. María Fernanda showed us her Joffre E Hijas Chardonnay 2009, the most wonderful expression of pure vineyard fruit, almost Puligny in style. This was followed by the Joffre E Hijas Malbec 2007, rich intensity of black berry fruit, very pure and refined.

Here was terroir, and joy of joys, a winemaker allowing it to express itself rather than manipulating it to a particular style.

Over lunch Maria Fernanda showed us her latest project, the Pasion 4 Torrontes 2010, the winery’s first Torrentes.

I’m not a great Torrontes fan: it’s fine for one glass, but rather like Gewurztraminer, I don’t want more than one. This wine was different: with its enticing floral nose jumping out of the glass it delivered a pure vineyard wine, with purity of fruit and great elegance, the best I’ve tasted to date.

Back at the Park Hyatt Mendoza, our wine fair (sponsored by El Concocedor and Decanter) was gearing up.

Twenty-two producers had stands – Andeluna, Zuccardi, Catena, Caro, Norton to name a few.

In true Argentine fashion, things start late. London wine fairs start at 11am and end at 5pm – here things kick off at 7pm and no-one turns up before 9.

As Estela Perinetti, the winemaker from DBR’s Bodegas Caro put it, ‘7pm is early – for us, it’s the end of a long lunch.’

Upstairs Fabricio Portelli and Steven Spurrier were conducting another masterclass, which seemed to be packed with more winemakers than producers.

One winemaker told me he found it very useful to hear ‘an international view’ of their wines. ‘Here in Mendoza we constantly look at our competitors’ wines but it is always an Argentine view.’

At 9.30 we left the fair to have dinner with Manuel and Norma Mas at Finca La Anita. As we drove up the drive the embers of the asado glowed and the smell of empanadas wafted across the cool night air.

We were greeted by Pedro, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, who Manuel proudly explained was the son of their last dog who had appeared in the Top Dogs slot on the back page of Decanter. It struck me that over the years I’ve had more requests from wineries for their dogs to appear than their wines. Should I be worried?

Dinner was a very relaxed affair. Manuel had asked for the beef to be cooked pink as we were English, a strange request in Argentina where all beef is well done.

This is what wine is all about, I thought, as young and old vintages were tasted and debated, the candles flickering and everyone in fine form. At midnight Manuel brought out a fine Pisco from Peru. Never buy Chilean Pisco, he said, only Peruvian: it’s much better.

Only the hour’s journey back to the hotel stopped us staying longer. Manuel seemed a little sad to see us go, as 1am is positively early to leave a good dinner party in Argentina.

We all nodded off to sleep in the car – except, of course, the inexhaustible Spurrier.

Written by Sarah Kemp

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