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The history of Patagonian wine

The history of Patagonian wine

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.

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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.

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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.

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Unique climate

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”
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Vineyards with the incredible mountain backdrops

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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!

https://www.bodeganoemia.com/

 

 

Rob’s Patagonia Cruise

Rob recently returned from a Patagonia Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia and back to Punta Arenas as part of a wider trip to South America. Here he tells us about his experiences on the cruise, and booking through Swoop…

How was your trip?

Overall I had a great time and the overall enjoyment was greater than I had anticipated before departing.

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of the trip for me was always going to be the landing on Cape Horn, and this was one of the prime reasons for undertaking the trip in the first place. The glaciers, the penguins and the wind and the waves were all part of a fully supportive cast and all played their part in making the whole thing so good.

Did you visit anywhere else in Patagonia?

I didn’t visit anywhere else in Patagonia other than the Cruise, but continued on to visit other areas of South America.

How well did Swoop and our partners do in planning and arranging your trip?

The holiday was planned well and if there were glitches they were not major and were probably because I hadn’t read the itinerary properly.

Is there anything you wish had happened differently?

The cruise itself was excellent in most respects.

I do feel that more care could have been taken by the ship in ensuring that there were at least 3 English speakers out of the six people on each meal table. On the return leg we had five -a Chilean doctor and his wife who could speak Spanish English and some Italian and who was happy to translate in order to be inclusive, and the lovely smiley mother and grandmother of the waiter, who could speak no English. At the mealtimes when the doctor was not present or engaged in doctoring there was a lot of pointing and smiling but not much else! I don’t remember being asked which if any other languages I could speak or understand.

How were the other sections of your trip in South America, organised by our partners?

All of the trips and events around the cruise were good particularly the tour of Santiago. The guide was informative and knowledgeable and obviously loved her job and her city.

I was surprised by the day adventure up into the hills on the turn around day in Ushuaia as I don’t recall that being mentioned. It was enjoyable but came as a bit of a surprise to get a phone call saying that the guide and land rover were outside! I still can’t see it mentioned on the itinerary.

I suppose the one slight problem for me was the transfer from the cruise ship to a rendezvous in a café c 0.5 kms away. My bag was 18 kgs and had no wheels and I struggled somewhat even over that distance (I had earlier in the trip hurt my leg a little bit). I think that someone older than I would have struggled more particularly if it had been raining and /or very windy even over such a short distance. Many travellers were being met with taxis, perhaps to get to the airport, but I think a meet and greet at the ship would be a nice idea.

Apart from these few relatively minor things the trip was thoroughly enjoyable and was helped by the large amount of support out there -it wasn’t just getting you to the airport, it included check in, emigration, customs etc and really took the pressure off.

‘I would have no hesitation in recommending the whole experience to others. Despite the little grumbles it was really a wonderful holiday…Thanks a lot for making it so enjoyable!’