Sixty competitors, five days, one title; the world’s best sommelier.
Although the immediate thought is ‘football’ when mentioning Argentina and World Cup in the same breath, the world’s fifth-largest wine producer is about to host a very different championship next month: the 15th A.S.I. Concours du Meilleur Sommelier du Monde (Contest of the Best Sommelier of the World).
Few people beyond South American shores realise that Argentina is the fifth biggest wine producer in the world, making myriad varieties from vineyards that stretch from lofty Salta in the North West to the windswept river valleys of Patagonia in the south. From aromatic, spicy Torrontés to supple Pinot Noirs, by way of Viognier, Chardonnay, Cabernets Franc and Sauvingon, plus up-and-coming grapes such as Bonarda and Tempranillo, Argentina’s rich heritage of vines delivers a surprising wealth of styles.
In Mendoza, the grape harvest can start any time from the end of January and continue until mid-May, depending upon the varietal and wine a bodega intends to make. Many wineries used to be located in the city of Mendoza, but over the years they have dispersed in a bid to find new terroir, a move that has seen many wind their way south. I’ve travelled to the province three times since February and have compiled this collage of 2013’s harvest across some of the different vineyard areas of Mendoza.
It was at a 3,457 metre-high pass, somewhere way to the west of Salta city, after four hours on switchback, rubble-strewn dirt ‘roads’, that the extraordinary immensity of the Andean Alto-Plano really sank in. Admittedly the cocoa leaves that my native driver kept feeding me (for medicinal purposes) probably added to the sense of dizzying awe…
Fresh from a recent trip to Mendoza, Andrew Catchpole looks at the innovative Argentine art of microclimatic blending. An amusing and revealing tweet recently did the rounds from a satirical would-be-sommelier tweeter. Hashtagged #LessonsInService, the twittersphere was advised: “When writing wine descriptions on a menu: You can write “crisp, crispy or Malbec” on anything and it will sell.”…
Mendoza has been described as ‘the Napa of the South’ and it’s easy to understand why such parallels are drawn. With both sitting at 33 degrees of latitude there’s a neat symmetry at work for anyone with a smidgeon of interest in how the world’s great vineyards lie. Add to this the regional eminence of both Napa Valley and Mendoza, each celebrated as the most famous quality wine producer in their respective American hemispheres, and such comparisons seem almost inevitable.
Mention Argentina to the average wine drinker and Malbec is the variety that everyone knows. Argentina’s vignerons have managed the neat trick of taking this relatively obscure French variety and, in their high altitude, sun-blessed vineyards, creating a new world-class style of wine.
Chardonnay, the noble grape that reaches such sublime heights in Burgundy, famously fell from grace through a mix of over-exposure (think Bridgett Jones and Footballers Wives) and overblown wannabes from the New World. But good old Chardonnay is poised to make a welcome return. Except this time it’s typically leaner and cleaner, cut from a finer cloth that is more in tune with the subtle sophistication of our palates today.
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.
Millions of years ago the Highlands of Scotland were as high as the Himalayas until steadily worn down by winter snow, ice and rain. Today they peak at a modest 4,409 feet in the shape of Ben Nevis whose summit is a relatively easy climb that does not require oxygen. Still it’s more impressive than Holland’s highest point which is apparently somewhere in the middle of a supermarket car-park. If you live in a comparatively flat country like Britain, it is hard to really imagine the effect of altitude, unless you travel. For me it hit home when back-packing through Bolivia years ago. I will never forget…