My first visit to Argentina was in 1997. I spent 4 days in the Mendoza area, visiting wineries and tasting. My impression then was that this country was a sleeping giant with great potential. The established wineries were expanding, yet Mendoza and the country as a whole lacked basic infrastructure.
I have not been back to Mendoza, but the proliferation of Argentinean wines we taste in the New York office, foreign investment over the past 9 years and reports from people I met during this trip indicate that Mendoza in particular and Argentina in general are experiencing a boom in both infrastructure and wine production.
Bodega del Desierto is a case in point. Armando and Maria Loson, brother and sister, run this new winery that is now introducing its first vintages. In 2001, the Losons planted 185 acres of vineyards in La Pampa province, adding an additional 160 acres in 2003. Since del Desierto is the first and only winery in La Pampa, the Losons were able to create a new appellation: Alto Valle del Rio Colorado.
The area is just what the name implies, a desert. It’s a continental climate, with warm days and cool nights. Just north of Patagonia, the region is dry and windy. It’s cooler than Mendoza and lower in elevation. Drip irrigation is necessary due to the lack of precipitation and well-drained sandy soils. These conditions result in grapes with thick skins and the key to make balanced wines lies in tannin management. For their budding project, the Losons brought in Paul Hobbs as a consultant. Hobbs has plenty of experience in the Mendoza area, including his own label Viña Cobos.
I had dinner with Armando and Maria earlier this week at Nectarine, a jewel of a restaurant in Buenos Aires. We tasted 5 new releases from Bodega del Desierto, matched to courses prepared by Nectarine’s chef and coproprietor Rodrigo Sieiro.
The wines are called 25/5, after the town of 25 de Mayo, where the winery and vineyards are located. We tasted 2 whites and 3 reds, I preferred the Sauvignon Blanc 2006 to the Chardonnay 2005. The Sauvignon Blanc had a touch of grass and grapefruit notes, but more melon flavor, very round and balanced, with a hint of grapefruit peel on the finish. It was fresher and more interesting than the Chardonnay and also a fuller, softer contrast to the crisp, racy Sauvignon Blancs and Torrontes I tasted from other regions.
The Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, all from the 2004 vintage, are aged in 65 percent new French and American oak. These are not fruity, juicy wines, like the versions I tasted from Mendoza this week, but broad and minerally, full-bodied, with salty notes on the finish. Yet, they had character and paired well with the quail breast and truffle sauce, roasted breast of pheasant with quinoa and green chiles and Scottish black-faced lamb respectively.
In fact, the lamb was among the best I have ever had. More on that later. Bodega del Desierto is only one of several new wineries I tasted. Exciting things are happening on the wine scene in Argentina.