Gone for Grapes

It was an extremely surreal experience for me to come from the Northern hemisphere where the grapevines are currently dormant and land among the vines of South America right in the middle of the harvest. It was time for me to eradicate the association of May with bud break and September with harvest and realize the possibility of ‘spring’ winemaking.

Brittany, future oenologist and viticulturist, doing some professional development in the Casablanca Valley

If there is one word I could choose to describe the feeling among the winemakers, restaurateurs, and consumers throughout Casablanca and Mendoza towards their wine, it would be ‘Pride’. Their pride is reflected through the sheer brilliance of the wineries, the enthusiasm of the employees, and the exquisite quality of their final products. Like many European cultures wine seems to be an essential part of everyday life and is built in to the Chilean and Argentinean lifestyle. Not only are they wine lovers, but I was also extremely impressed with the education and knowledge of even our taxi drivers, who explained concepts that I was only able to fully grasp after one year of my masters degree.

We had the incredible opportunity to visit two regions that specialized in the production of different wine types. The Casablanca region was the first on our travels and is situated within miles of the Pacific Ocean. The unique wines coming from this region are a result of the ocean breezes that can dramatically decrease the average temperature of the region as well as create great disparity in temperatures from day to night. Due to the overall cooler temperatures, Casablanca has become a very famous region for its production of early ripening white wine varietals, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay, as well as fresh Pinot Noirs.

Argentina was once a country where the production of vast quantities of wine rivaled over quality. The most famous grape variety produced in Mendoza is Malbec. The name of the Malbec grape, originally from France, can be translated to mean ‘bad mouth’. In France, it was a variety associated with strong tannins and unfavorable flavor. Malbec however, has put Argentina on the map since the grape produces extremely desirable and unique wines under the influences of the Argentinean terroir (soil, climate and human influence).

Fine Argentinean wines aging in the cellar of Familia Bonfanti winery

Brittany concentrating on her tasting notes

After touring two regions and eleven wineries, the standout wine for me was Carmello Patti Gran Assemblage 2003. Not only was the tasting experience extremely unique and definitely ‘no-frills’, but Carmelo’s enthusiasm for his wine was intoxicating.

The Gran Assemblage is a wine blended from four different varietals grown in the Lujan de Cuyo region: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc. The wine had undergone nearly six years of bottle aging that contributed to the ‘brick’ color and aromas reminiscent of fruitcake, fig, and prune. The wine also exhibited soft aromas of vanilla and dark chocolate in the mouth and had velvet-like tannins and a fresh acidity. To make the tasting experience even more memorable, Carmello offered the 2009 vintage of the same wine, hot off the bottling line for us to compare. Although young, the wine still had the great complexity of its “big brother”, and like many things in life will only improve with age.

Falling in love with the 2003 Gran Assemblage at Carmelo Patti

If I was to offer one piece of advice for touring throughout Chile and Argentina, I would suggest to come with a healthy liver, open mind and whatever you do, do not drive.