Cutting edge S America

Trinity House tastingWhat are your expectations of medium to high end Chilean, Argentine and Uruguayan wines?  The tick list would probably include: powerful fruit expression, high level of ripeness, high alcohol and a devotion to new French oak barriques.  From a very select group of South American producers, the Institute of Masters of Wine’s Cutting Edge South American wines tasting confounded all these expectations. The hall marks here were: 


  • unusual and unfashionable grape varieties: Albariño and Viognier from Uruguay’s Gàrzon, Cinsaut from  Altos Las Hornigas and a high quality Bonarda to boot 
  • the importance of soils pits: top soil is not important, it’s what lies beneath that makes a difference to drainage, the ability of vines to send the roots deep
  • searching for new areas, not just altitude: the days of simply making bulk wine on fertile flat land are numbered, the search is on for both altitude and, latterly, for decomposed granitic soils and the holy grail of limestone for vibrant wines with vitality and tension.  The super elegant Altos Las Hornigas, Malbec, Appellation Gualtallary, 2013 was a fine example.  
  • moderate levels of alcohol: old vine Carignan at 13% and Viognier in an elegant style with 12.9%
  • making the most of vine age: Rogue Vine’s Grand Itata Bianco, Chile, is a blend of Moscatel and Riesling planted in 1922
  • the flight from stainless steel (‘no life, no vitality’) and barriques, especially new ones. Under the influence of ‘less is more’ Tuscan consultant, Alberto Antonini, the new vogue is for fermenting in rough concrete fermentation vessels and ageing wines in either the same or in large, untoasted casks. This is classic old fashioned Tuscan wine making – as practiced, for example, at Montevertine in Radda – now applied in new places.  What this approach shows is both the inherent quality of the fruit and real terroir difference. 
  • Antonini is an apostle for the superiority of cane pruned vines over spurred cordons on the grounds of better fruit spread and better quality and increase longevity for the vines. 

In summary, moderator Tim Atkin MW’s view is that the perception of South American wines is 10 years behind the quality now being achieved.  This tasting showed that there is a genuinely new style of wine being made in key South American countries with drinkability and lively balance (based on earlier-picked unoaked fruit and high acidity) as its key features.  

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