Swoop Guest Blog: Richard Power @thewineoceros
My good friend and wine-lover Rich Power has kindly shared some background on Patagonian wine. The main region he refers to lies about 5 hours to the north east of Bariloche and a visit to the vineyards here could be integrated into a visit to the north Patagonian Andes.
History of Patagonian wine:
When confronted by one of the world’s most remote yet beautiful landscapes, or exploring mountain rivers and lakes etched from glaciers with rugged terrain that seems hijacked from another planet, it is easy to get the sense of awe that the early explorers felt when they came to South America. What is not so easy to comprehend is how this country could come to produce such incredible wines given the climate and terrain.
Heading back to the 16th Century, the Americas was unchartered territory, which meant that explorers keen to claim the world for their own would be plentiful. The Europeans – from Spain, Portugal, Britain and the Netherlands, all had designs on new places, and like any good expedition into the unknown, the Europeans liked to bring with them a decent shipment of religion and vines. And so it was that vines came to South America. I am sure that Alfred Dreyfus was one French export that didn’t enjoy being sent to South America, but Malbec clearly has had other ideas, and has flourished like no other grape.
Within the last 100 years wine is now being produced in many parts of South America, and often to an extremely high standard. I have to admit that it was not until relatively recently that I chanced upon Patagonian wine, and discovered to my surprise the variety and pleasure to be had with the wines from this region. I was eager to learn more…
I, like the original explorers, have been awed by the diverse terrain of Patagonia, and was more than a little surprised to discover the incredible work being done by some of the talented vignerons, putting Patagonian wines squarely on the map.
Rio Negro South of Mendoza is home to superb Patagonian wines
Competition is hotting up
If Mendoza Malbec is Argentina’s superstar pin up boy at present then Patagonian wine represents the young, slightly more refined, upstart – daring to try something a bit different in order to get recognised. Whilst Mendoza wines can be characterised by their power, fruit and macho qualities, Patagonian wines offer a bit of a twist on the style with cooler minerality and a bracing streak of acidity, perfect for more delicate dishes.
So what should you look out for?
In general, the wines here are usually low production, boutique wines, which has really allowed the wine makers an opportunity to try out new things, with the style and expression of their vineyards. The main quality wine producing areas are:
Rio Negro plateau – 700km South of Mendoza, predominantly Malbec, but with a typicity and sense of place, that other parts of South America struggle to emulate.
Neqúena (1300ft above sea level) – Old vines planted in the 1950s, which create complex wines full of bite, expression and rich in acidity and freshness.
Viedma (on the Pacific coast). At over 1000 km South of Buenos Aires, Viedma is extremely Southern for a wine growing region. It is well worth a visit in October to witness the mass movements of the potbellied silversides as they swim up river in the annual spawning ritual. Locals prepare the fish by simply breading and frying lightly in oil, and of course washing down with a glass or two of the local wines next to where they were caught see below.
What makes Patagonian wine so unique and capable is the cooling winds that keep the sun at bay on the Rio Negro plateau. It also keeps the nights cool, helping the grapes ripen more evenly. Inventive winemakers have also mastered the use of altitude, which goes some way to creating the bracing acidity and crisp fruit flavours, not really achieved elsewhere in South America. While Malbec is understandably king in this part of the world, there are a number of growers using other varieties that add further interest to these wines. Don’t be surprised to come across Pinot Noir, Cabernet or Semillon on your travels – and of course they make a wonderful accompaniment to the local cuisines.
“Altitude and attitude – get both right and the wines speak for themselves”
Vineyards with the incredible mountain backdrops
Traditionally clad horseman can still be found working the vineyard
If like me you are a sucker for incredible vineyards (I could quite happily spend days in them), and you also like seeking out new wines from unusual regions, then you should certainly look into the wines from this area. In much the same way those early explorers found the land to be diverse, full of character and ripe for exploring, you will find the wines exhibit similar qualities. You can usually find a bottle or two at a good independent wine merchant (you may have to try a few off the beaten track) but it is certainly worth making the effort and seeking out. Equally if you are lucky enough to be visiting the region, be sure to look up a few of the wineries in the area, who will no doubt extend a warm welcome and a glass or two of their charming wines!