Argentina: Climbing The Quality Ladder
Having proven that they can make quality – and not just cheap – wines, and having shown that there’s more to the country’s wine scene than, “all Malbec; all the time,” Argentina’s vintners and growers are now aiming to raise the bar to the next level by upping the complexity and finesse levels of their wines. And they seem to be well on their way if those of Finca Flichman are any indication.
Recently in Toronto for a quick stopover were winery Vice President & CEO Ricardo Rebelo, and Chief Winemaker Germán Berra; a stopover which included a dinner tasting at The Miller Tavern uptown.
While Canadians are probably most familiar with Finca Flichman for its Misterio line of wallet-friendly varietals, Rebelo and Berra were here to show off some of their higher end numbers from the Paisaje de Tupungato, Paisaje de Barrancas, Expresiones, and Dedicado lines.
We kicked things off with the Paisaje de Tupungato Chardonnay 2012. Berra explained that the wine was a blend of 10 small batches of Chardonnay, each of which had been elaborated slightly differently. Opening with some mild, tropical fruit notes, the aroma broadened to include lemon pie, vanilla, butter, and a hint of smoky oak. Beautifully balanced in the mouth with flavours of baked apple, mild spice, and a kiss of vanilla, all held in check by lively acidity. An elegant Chardonnay and a far cry from the fruit/oak bombs of old. And it matched well with the round of largely seafood appetizers that were soon to arrive.
By all accounts, Syrah (and I’m still not quite sure why those outside of Australia persist in calling it Shiraz) is doing very well in Argentina, and you can thank the Finca Flichman people for introducing it to the country in the 1930s. The Expresiones Reserve Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is a 60/40 blend of the two respective grapes. Dark berries and plum on the nose, with additional notes of smoke, tar, and herbs. In the mouth it was ripe and chewy, with dense black cherry and toasty/smoky notes.
Up next were a pair of Paisaje de Barrancas of the 2010 and 2011 vintages (both quite good years). A blend of 55 per cent Shiraz, 35 per cent Malbec and 10 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon (though the blend varies slightly from year to year, the Paisaje de Barrancas and the Paisaje de Tupungato wines are crafted to best express the “terroir” in which they are grown, and are matured both in French oak and in bottle prior to release.
Where the 2010 showed bright cherry fruit aromas with undertones of tobacco leaf, eucalyptus, slate, and pepper; the 2011 was a tad more brooding, with black raspberry, a slight earthiness, leather, sandalwood, and a smoky intensity. The flavour profiles differed slightly as well, with the 2010 coming off as slightly lighter and elegant (but still showing enough tannin to develop further); the 2011, more robust, dense, and smoky, with some dried herb and mild spice nuances.
We finished off (and dined with) the Dedicado 2011. This is Finca Flichman’s “icon wine,” and is only made in very good years and in limited quantities using a blend of (mostly) Malbec, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz. Very ripe and concentrated with aromas leaning toward dark plum, wet slate, smoked meat, tar, dried herbs, and mild spice. Dense and mouth filling, it was loaded with intense, ripe berry, cocoa, and mineral overtones.
Though these are Finca Flichman’s upper end wines, they are still very affordable, starting at around $16.
Argentina 2014 Harvest Report
Finca Flichman Chief Winemaker Germán Berra on Argentina’s Unusual 2014 Harvest
“Checking the weather records of the 2014 harvest and the behavior of the grapes, I think that it has been quite different to an average season in Mendoza, but with nice surprises in quality indeed.
“Early on, the season was marked by high snows during the winter of 2013, followed by some “late frost” (down to 15°F) in the spring that affected the buds of white varieties, and thus their yield. The summer was very hot, and showed some of the highest rainfalls in the region, which is usually very dry, considering that the average rainfall in Mendoza is 250 mm per year, and we had about 300 mm January and February alone. These unusual conditions caused some problems for growers that are not used to dealing with rot and mildew; diseases that have been a nightmare for many wineries. As a preventive strategy at Finca Flichman, we practised “leaf removal,” and lowered irrigation levels to avoid high humidity and excessive vigor in the vines. In addition, we harvested the whites and the entry level red grapes earlier than average, with healthy grapes and good results in terms of quality so far. Wines are showing fresh fruit character, and a more subtle structure.
“Those adverse conditions changed to a very fresh late summer and fall (March), which is unusual too, but I consider excellent for grape quality. The technical explanation is that during this month, ripeness happens inside the grape berries (reds), and the synthesis and evolution of tannins, color and flavor compounds is much better if you have a large variance between day and night temperatures. This scientific explanation is better explained by the Bioclimatic Quality Index of Fregoni, which I personally consider the best research about climate and wine quality.
“To summarize, although weather conditions have been very unusual (frost, a heat wave in January, and rain in February) they were a challenge for grapegrowers and winemakers at the beginning of the harvest (February), then as the season has been quite fresh, the ripeness of the higher quality red grapes will be outstanding…I hope!”
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