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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Argentina, a Wine Country with History, focusing on Wine Producer, Achaval-Ferrer by Philip S. Kampe

                                                       The history of Argentina....

It has been over 500 years since the first vines were planted in northern Argentina, specifically, the area near and around Mendoza.  The wine industry had been slowly developing and not until recently were the wines of Argentina well known internationally.

The history of Argentine wine making starts with the arrival of Italian, French and Spanish immigrants in the 19th century. Intertwined within this group were winemakers, by trade, who carried international and indigenous varieties with them during their long, agonizing journey to Argentina.

This group replaced the Jesuits ‘criollo wines’ with noble varietals, like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Consumption was only domestic for many years until, like magic, the Argentinean wine trade took off in the early 2000’s, due mainly to the economic crash.

There are a number of obvious reasons for the quick spurt of growth, as well: Quality improved, exports increased while local consumption fell, controlled irrigation was established and variations in altitude enabled varieties to be planted at their correct height, favoring slopes at the 3,500 to 6,100 foot range.

In the Mendoza region water is piped in from the melting snow of the Andes.
Mendoza is known for Malbec and Malbec only.

The truth is, many winemakers are making expressive wines and blends focusing on the Bonardo, Tempranillo, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
                                                     Yes, it snows in Mendoza.

Regarding daily high and low temperatures for the vineyards, Mendoza has a distinct advantage. Warm days encourage sugar production and help the grapes develop a nice, thick skin. Cool nights help create high acidity levels.

Today, the winemakers are improving quality by producing fewer grapes per hectare with higher quality characteristics. Add oak barrels for aging and plantings of noble varieties to the game plan and you have a top quality wine.

You can’t talk about the wines of Argentina without noting that the price-to-quality ratio is amazingly low for the consumer.

The economic crash in 2001 turned, once non-competitive wines, into overly competitive wines overnight.

Prices plummeted as quality improved. Argentina was a key player on the world stage, after nearly 500 years of heartaches.

With the economic problems the United States is facing, many Americans are modifying their lifestyles, including the kind of wine they drink and where they travel for vacation.
For those of us who love viticulture and trips abroad, Argentina’s Mendoza region is the answer.

Mendoza, set against the foothills of the Andes mountains is a beautiful town that is visually Spanish oriented versus the European flair that Buenos Aires presents.
The town gathering place is the Plaza Independencia, where craft sellers stalls highlight silver jewelry, leather goods and gourds for the herbal drink Yerba Mate.
Street performers stage shows and lovers kiss on the benches.
                                                   Plaza Independencia in Mendoza

On one side of the square is the elegant Park Hyatt, while the other side of the main square is Sacrimento, where the smell of meat grilling, outdoor cafes and urban outfitters prepare for customers who want to hike and river raft the nearby towering peak of Aconcagua.

Inside the Park Hyatt, you can start your introduction of Argentinean wines at the Vines of Mendoza tasting room, where flights from over 125 wines from the region are offered.

Malbec thrives in Mendoza.

Malbec was brought to Argentina from France, where it was used mainly as a blending grape. Mendoza is blessed with over 300 days a year of sunlight. Add hot days and cool nights to the theory and you have the perfect growing conditions for Malbec.

Malbec is planted at high altitudes, ensuring thick skin development, deep colors and rich and robust flavors.

Malbec wines are usually full-bodied, due in part to the tannins. Tannic wines are generally paired with fattier cuts of meat, like the ones in Argentina.

In fact, growth of Argentinean wine exports to the U.S. grew 23% last year, with sales of 6.9 million cases, creating $271 million dollars in revenue.

If you haven’t experienced ‘Malbec’ wines from Argentina, this is the time to start.

There are over 500,000 acres of vineyards in Argentina, of which over 75,000 acres are planted with the Malbec grape, followed by, possibly the next breakthrough grape, Bonarda (50,000 acres).  Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for 40,000 acres.
                                               Modern wineries exist in Argentina

The flagship white grape is Torrontes, grown specifically in the Salta region, followed by Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Grigio.

Wines made with the Torrontes grape stand out from the pack due to their fragrant aromatics, orange blossoms characteristics and the dry, full tropical fruit flavor on the palate, somewhat like an Alsatian Muscat.
Of the over 1400 wineries in Argentina, 1200 are in Mendoza. Europeans have invested their money in the Mendoza region as well as the emerging region of Patagonia, where numerous state-of-the-art technology wineries exist.

One of my favorite wineries in Mendoza is Achaval-Ferrer, which was founded in 1995 by winemaker Santiago Achaval and his partners. Achaval-Ferrer, according to Argentine wine guru, Nora Favelukes, helped put high end Argentine wine on the map. One of the four partners is Roberto Cipresso, one of the world’s foremost wine consultant and winemaker.

Together with Italian, Tiziano Siviero and Argentine Manuel Ferrer, the team has broken the barrier with exceptional well balanced, complex, concentrated wines that are now world-acclaimed. With low yields and terroir driven wines, Achaval-Ferrer has made a name for themselves in a short period of time.

I sampled the 2013 Malbec Cost: $19.99
Alcohol: 14.5%
Soil: Volcanic and gravel/loom. Sustainably farmed
Aged:  Aged nine months in two-year old oak barrels.

Palate:  Silky tannins, floral with raspberry and blackberry. Noticeable minerality with a long, lingering finish.
Nose: Aromatics of violets and white peach.
Yield: 17,000 12 bottle cases
2013 Cabernet Sauvignon
Cost: $19.99
Alcohol: 14.5%
Soil: Limestone, sand and clay
Aged: Oak
Palate: Old world charm, pepper, dusty tannins, red fruit and somewhat barnyard.

Nose: Truffles and dirt overpower the senses.
Yield: 2,500 12 bottle cases

As you can readily see, the wines from Achaval-Ferrer are low yield wines that express the varietal  personalities. Each bottle portrays a different expression of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, Considered by critics as a winery that focuses on the production of wines that are superior in quality, Achaval-Ferrer uses the best mix of soil and vine stock paired with up-to-date technology to produce quality wines,

Achaval-Ferrer leads the way in red wine production in Argentina.


Philip S. Kampe

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Douro region of Portugal, the Eighth Wonder of The World by Maria Reveley

                             The beauty of the Douro Valley with its magical vineyards

The first time I saw the Douro Region of Portugal, I gasped at the beauty.  I will never forget the impact of seeing such majestic mountains, with the Douro River running through them.  It reminded me of the first time I saw the Alps.  These mountains, however, were softer, rounder and covered with vineyards.  What a discovery!

The Douro Region of Portugal, on the northeast border of Portugal adjacent to Spain, was the first demarcated and regulated wine region in the world, named in 1756. This valley, with the graceful and winding Douro River pacing its way through it, is amazingly beautiful.  High mountains have been terraced over many generations, by hand, to create vineyards that produce the famous Port, excellent DOC Douro wine, sparkling wine and Muscat.
                                                          The Douro Valley

This impressive landscape was considered World Heritage by UNESCO in 2001 as a living evolving cultural landscape and called the Douro Valley.  There is a harmonious interaction in this area between Man and Nature, as they coexist with one another.  The Douro River flows from the Spanish border to the east of Porto and depending on the time of year, its slopes may be decorated with almond trees, cherry blossoms or vines rich with grapes and ready for harvest.

For visitors, this is a beautiful region to explore. In addition to visiting vineyards, there are many National Parks, of Douro International, of Alvao and the Geopark of Arouca.
Located in the Upper Douro, Vila Nova de Foz Coa has had a recent discovery of its Paleolithic open air Rock Art.  This is considered World Heritage by UNESCO, and is one of the biggest archeological centers, showing man lived in this period outside of caves.  The art on the rocks are often viewed at night with flashlights to better see the forms and shapes, all 1,000 of them!


                                                             Casa de Mateus


                                          An amazing cedar tree at Casa de Mateus

In Vila Real, you can visit the Casa de Mateus Foundation, a magnificent building owned by the Mateus family.  This building, with its reflecting pool on entrance, has beautiful architecture, and a magnficient huge cedar tree planted in 1870, which opens its arms to all visitors.  You can tour this building and its lovely gardens, which include a labyrinth of hedges, rose bushes, and trees.
                                                 Mesao-Frio vineyards in Belmont


                                              Mesao-Frio vineyards in Belmont
                            In Belmont, you can stay in a hotel that is a converted convent and walk out your door to see the terraced vineyards surrounding you. In Belmont is a Jewish Museum, one of the best 50 small museums in Europe.  Here you will see that a small number of Jews kept themselves hidden for generations! The Inquisition in Portugal, starting in the 16th century killed 40,000 Jews until the 19th century.  So the few who were left hid, and managed to celebrate their rituals in hiding. In Belmont, the Quintos dos Termos vineyard, with 25 wines in its portfolio, earned votes for the number one wine in Portugal with the Fonte Cal grape.  A visit to the vineyard can be arranged, and some visitors choose to participate in the harvesting.


                                          The monument to freedom in Almeida

                                                   The fortress protecting Almeida

                                                  Almeida Military Museum
In Almeida, there are two of twelve historical villages in Portugal that are World Heritage sites. In Almeida you will find ancient villages restored for use.  There is a Fortress, a Military Museum, a riding ring and a Monument to Freedom, denoting the change from a dictatorship to freedom in 1974. There are annual reenactments of these events the last weekend of August.
         Alvaro Martinho Lopes, the guru of Quinta Companhia Vehla, is also a folk singer


                                A breathtaking view from Quinta Companhia Vehla

If you visit the Quinta Companhia Vehla nearby, try to meet its passionate keeper of the vines, Alvaro Martinho Lopes. He will explain how there are mini-climates within the altitude of each mountain, and that the weather, the land and the altitude all contribute to the nature of the grapes, and therefore the wines they produce. All work continues to be done by hand in this region, as it has been done for hundreds of years. The work is hard, but the beauty and landscape, and the quality of life, make up for the exhaustion!  Near here, one can also visit the Douro Museum in Regua, with a boat sitting in front to remind visitors of the slow trip down the river the barrels used to take to reach Porto, the capital of the Douro region!

This region is truly a gem – a place where you can get lost in the beauty and the friendliness of the people. You can travel by train in the Douro Valley, take a River Cruise, or drive.  You can dine in restaurants that serve fresh local food, and in quintas and drink excellent wines produced in the area. You can visit museums, ride horses, go swimming, go rafting and or just relax and take in this gorgeous scenery.
Whatever one chooses to do, a visitor will leave the Douro with fond memories and a longing to return.