New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – a wine described as a “bungee jump into a gooseberry bush”, celebrates its 25th birthday this year. The country’s most iconic wine managed to kick-start the great Kiwi invasion of the wine shelves and in doing so helped launch a whole new generation of intense, grassy, nettle-scented Sauvignons.
Yet for all its popularity, it is just one style of this mouth-watering wine. For those who have grown tired of nettles and gooseberries, or who simply want to explore what else this versatile grape can offer, a trip to Argentina could well be an eye-opener.
As head of the O Fournier group, José Manuel Ortega produces top quality Sauvignon Blanc on both sides of the Andes and says “they are absolutely different.” He describes the Chilean version as being “closer to the New Zealand style. It’s more expressive on the nose and a bit lighter in the mouth.” By contrast, Argentina’s Sauvignon Blanc is “more restrained, more complex and has a very mineral flavour, with a good body and is probably closer to Bordeaux Sauvignon. It’s not overly ripe with a reasonable level of alcohol and a nice, natural acidity.”
He believes Argentina should stay true to its own terroir (the myriad combination of natural influences that make a particular wine unique), rather than chase after the latest ‘flavour of the month’. It seems others agree for no-one, thank goodness, is trying to produce an Argentina copy of Cloudy Bay. Without the cool ocean breeze of coastal Chile or New Zealand, such a wine would never fool anyone.
But if the Andes block out the maritime influence of the Pacific, they do give Argentina’s winemakers their one great natural advantage – that of altitude. As a rule of thumb, for every 100 metres you ascend, the temperature by day drops 1Cº, and by even more at night. If you climb high enough you can find near perfect conditions to grow cool climate varietals like Sauvignon.
Mendoza’s Uco Valley where altitudes reach up to 1300 meters or more is just such a place according to José Manuel Ortega and Edgardo del Popolo of Doña Paula who have been one of the pioneers of modern Argentina Sauvignon in the last decade. Del Popolo talks of a wine that combines the typical grassy, herbal character of Sauvignon Blanc, combined with a citrus, mineral character and some tropical fruit and peach flavours.
Sebastián San Martín, winemaker at Argento, has a wealth of international experience of the grape from making intensely aromatic Kiwi-style Sauvignon Blancs in Chile to working with Andre Lurton in Pessac-Léognan – the most famous appellation for dry white wine in Bordeaux. Yet he too is a great believer in the Uco Valley as a source of fine Sauvignon, especially between 1100 and 1400 metres. “You can find freshness, fantastic natural acidity and good complexity.”
“Here in Argentina,” he continues, “if you are in a cool region, with good soil and the correct clones [of the grape] you can have wines with a fresh, spicy, slightly tropical character. I think it’s not so easy as in New Zealand, but you can do great things.” As for other Argentina wine regions with good Sauvignon potential, he mentions the Pedernal Valley in San Juan in the north, and the southern district of Bahía Blanca.
Of course Malbec and Torrontes will always be the more famous Argentina wines. As of 2008, plantings of Sauvignon were just under 2000 hectares, a third that of Chardonnay. It is not an easy grape to grow here, and you have to work hard to shield the grape from too much heat and sunshine in order to preserve the wine’s crispness and purity of fruit. But when it works well the results prove that Argentina can offer its own unique style of delicious Sauvignon Blanc.
You can read independent reviews and find local stockists of Argentina Sauvignon Blanc on Snooth. Producers include Doña Paula, Pulenta Estate, Familia Schroeder and of course Argento. Let us know if you’ve tried one recently and what you thought, we’re always happy to hear from fellow Argentina wine lovers!
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