Is Patagonia the Future of Argentine wine?
The massive country has one foot in the Old World and one in the New—and these three bottles prove that's a good thing.
It’s deceptively easy to think of Argentina as a single wine-producing entity that has mastered the delivery of the low-priced, high-quality malbec that the wine-drinking public can’t get enough of. And while there’s no doubt that malbec from Mendoza dominates their exports, a closer inspection uncovers a different story—a massive country with one foot in the Old World and one in the New, and where old vines producing densely concentrated wine of all varietals are available to those who know where to look.
These days smart oenophiles are looking to Patagonia, the huge province (it’s half again the size of all of Chile) that anchors the country’s south. The producers here are clustered around the Rio Negro and are a mix of the old guard, who have been growing fruit and grapes here for generations, and the new, often savvy business people who see the area’s untapped potential to be the next big thing. Perhaps no enterprise is more typical of the latter than Bodegas del Fin del Mundo, a massive concern that in just over a decade has turned a little patch of desert into one of the most acclaimed and productive growing areas in the country. They grow everything—pinot noir grows next to cabernet franc, which grows next to sauvignon blanc. It’s a solidly New World approach, but in no time they’ve become one of the most successful and lauded wineries in the country.
Following more in the Old World tradition is Humberto Canale, where they’ve been growing grapes and fruit since the early 1900s. They likewise grow a broad range of grapes, but it’s their Estate Pinot Noir ($18) that may hold the future for the region: it’s fruit-forward with cherries and dark plums, but there’s some depth that belies its sub-$20 price tag.
Amping it up a notch are a pair of wineries with some deep Continental roots. Bodega Noemia’s proprietor is Noemi Cinzano (yes, that Cinzano, and she’s a countess if you want to get right down to it), who came to Patagonia not to plant from scratch, but to source out some of the country’s most ancient malbec vines. With winemaker and partner Hans Vinding-Diers she crafts one of the hallmarks of malbec, the enticing, classy A Lisa ($30)—a lingering antidote to those who think all Argentine malbec is cut from the same cloth. Not far away, another European scion of vines, Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, whose grandfather makes Italy’s Sassicaia, is knee-deep in the same old vines experiment, with pinot noir under the label Bodega Chacra. Conventional wisdom would hold that the daytime temperatures are too hot here to grow pinot with any depth, but the combination of the gnarled vines, large temperature swings from day to night and presumably a little bit of wine-making genius have turned Chacra into the country’s most acclaimed pinot in only a handful of vintages. Barda ($30 ) is their entry-level wine, and it is a mix of dusty and earthy takes on light red fruits with a long finish that seems more Beaune than Russian River. WL