There is probably not a wine list in the land that does not have an Argentine Malbec on it such is the demand for this king variety from Argentina. But there was so much more to discover at the inaugural Argentina Alternativa tasting to get a wider choice of Argentine wines on UK wine lists.
Who better to kick off a day to celebrate alternative wines from Argentina than none other than Phil Crozier, director of wine at Gaucho Restaurants, who has been on a personal mission to introduce the country, its culture, its food, but most of all its wines to UK diners for years.
For starters he has boasted a 100% Argentine wine list at Gaucho since as far back as 1999 and since 2007, he and Gaucho have been making their own wine from their own Argentine vineyard (first harvest in 2008). So he literally knows the wines inside and out.
“Argentina has enjoyed a faster growth rate than any other country,” he claimed. Pointing to only the success and rise in popularity of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough as being comparable to the success that Argentine Malbec has enjoyed in the UK.
Perhaps it’s my age, but I also can’t think of any other styles or countries that have had such a consistent grip on the UK on and off-trade markets for such a long time. Yes, we have the circular fashion roundabout of Chardonnay and Provence rosé’s dipping in and out of the spotlight, but can you think of a time in recent memory when Malbec wasn’t a household name in the UK?
That’s not to say the battle for Malbec is won, warned Crozier.
“I have noticed sommeliers are starting to roll their eyes at the very notion of Malbec,” he said an almost paternal, disappointed manor. “Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc [from New Zealand] are the styles that drive this market.”
I couldn’t agree more. Malbec and Kiwi Sav’ are the gateway wines to further, deeper understanding of wine basics.
Without these, there would be no foundations to build upon. With such fundamentals in place, we can only hope to start selling the more exotic varietals such as, Torrontes, Malagousia, or Cabernet Sauvignon from Oregon, for example. But if restaurants don’t do the basics properly, then what’s the point.
Many people talk about the pioneering efforts of exciting winemakers, but at the end of the day, figures like Phil Crozier, are the pivotal pioneers in providing the building blocks for growth, service, learning and awareness in the UK.
When Crozier was asked by one producer what the best approach was to develop a relationship with the UK market, he said: ‘The best supplier-producer relationships are those that are consistent, and built over a period of time. We are now moving into a mature market in the UK, the second wave of opportunity comes to the more boutique, small producers.”
He also said it was important to invest and spend some time in the market in order to better understand the demands of buyers and build relationships with them by having feet on the ground. This again poses another set of challenges for small producers. For having a physical presence in the UK is not cheap.
Going under the radar
The inaugural Alternativa tasting looked to go under the radar and give some exposure to a select number of wineries from Argentina, many who were seeking representation in the UK. Below are a couple of the wines that caught my eye that would have a good opportunity in the UK.
La Guarda Wines, El Guardado, Syrah, San Juan, 2014
San Juan, is about 200km north of Mendoza. Most of Argentina’s classic, red varieties are cultivated in this region, however it was Syrah, for me that stole the show. At only 13% La Guarda seem to have harnessed the recent demand for lower alcohol in a big wine. The result – along with a seriously cool set of labels is impressive. Their 2014 expression of Syrah sucks the nose right into a seductive, deep, dark fruit set that left me salivating before I even considered the palate.
This is a wine with plenty of grip – but not too much – and is really well integrated tannins harmonize a ripe, medium to full bodied palate with a sweet, coffee, mocha finish that has persistence in abundance. A really good wine inside and outside of the bottle.
Familia Mayol, Garnacha Blanca, Vista Flores, Uco Valley, 2017
Inspired from his time in California, in particular the increase in white Grenache planted in Santa Barbara, the winemaker at Familia Mayol has produced the first of its kind in Argentina. A floral nose of white peach and blossom. The palate is medium bodied with a waxy texture. An interesting wine for sure. Given this is the only expression of Garnacha Blanca in Argentina, it’s a rare find, but well worth a try if you ever come across it.
Mauricio Lorca, ‘Poetico’ Cabernet Franc, Uco Valley, Mendoza, 2014
Mauricio Lorca is one of Argentina’s most acclaimed winemakers of recent years and it was good to see someone of his reputation having a go at a Cabernet Franc wine, a variety that Crozier said he is “pinning a lot of [his] hope on for the future of Argentina”.
This wine has a complex nose of green pepper, parsnip and fresh, dark fruit. The mouth feel is precise, with a wonderful tannic tension through the centre of the palate. A beautiful marriage of power, austerity and structure.
Bodega Domiciano, ‘Cosecha Nocturna’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Barrancas, Mendoza, 2016
Another gem from Barrancas, a particularly favourite sub-region of Mendoza for me and home to some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the country.
Good fruit on the nose, a familiar touch of band-aid and liquorices. The wine delivers the structure you expect from a Cab. Opulent and rich across the palate with an espresso shot of mocha to finish. Big thumbs up!
Hopefully in a few years time, a couple of these producers will not be so under the radar. We all know that the UK market is notoriously hard to crack.
With the growing demand for more alternative, exciting and less ‘traditional’ wines, there is always hope for those championing the likes of Syrah and Cabernet Franc. Overall Argentina Alternativa was a really positive day, a couple of gems (both in and outside the realm of Malbec) and some great insight from Mr. Argentina himself.
Special thanks to Sophie Jump for organising such an important event.
- Harry Crowther is formerly of Hedonism and was most recently manager of the M Wine Store. He now runs his own wine consultancy business working with restaurants, bars and introducing them to relevant wine producers. He also writes his own blog at Grape Times and you can follow him at @harryjcrowther.