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wine Features
Wines from the End of the World
Patagonia wine regions:
*Neuquén
*Río Negro

Recommended Wines:
Bodega del Fin del Mundo:
Newen Merlot 2003
Malbec Reserva del Fin del Mundo 2003
Special Blend del Fin del Mundo 2003

Familia Schroeder:
Saurus Patagonia Select Pinot Noir 2003
Saurus Patagonia Select Malbec 2003

Humberto Canale:
Canale Black River Reserve Pinot Noir 2002
Canale Black River Torrontes 2004

Bodegas y Viñedos Estepa:
Tierras del Viento Malbec 2002
Tierras del Viento Merlot 2002

Infinitus:
Infinitus Merlot 2001
Infinitus Chardonnay 2003

Bodega Noemía de Patagonia:
Noemia Malbec 2002

By Jim Clarke

“The word ‘Patagonia’, like Mandalay or Timbuktu, lodged itself in the Western imagination as a metaphor for The Ultimate, the point beyond which one could not go.” - Bruce Chatwin

Some people will go to the end of the earth for the right wine, and other people will go to the end of the earth to make it. Patagonia is emerging as Argentina’s up-and-coming source of premium wines. In fact, the government has diverted some of the income from the area’s substantial oil and natural gas reserves to create what could be called a wine homesteading program. The primary beneficiary and investor, Grupo La Inversora, has planted over 3,700 acres of vineyards near the Neuquén River, south of Argentina’s most famous wine region, Mendoza.

Properly speaking, the Neuquén region in northern Patagonia is a desert, so a lot of groundwork had to be laid before vines were planted. The temperatures are good for winegrowing, with hot days but cool nights (diurnal temperature variation averages 35º F), which help the grapes mature evenly with intense, balanced flavors and acidity. But deserts, by definition, lack water, and each acre needed what amounts to a mile’s worth of irrigation piping if vines were to survive. They also planted a number of poplars to break the region’s strong winds. Wind helps keep the vines dry and disease-free, but too much could damage the vines.

While the company kept a large chunk of the vineyards for themselves and their own winery, Bodega del Fin del Mundo, much of the now irrigated and planted land is being sold in 223 acre lots, complete with a house, a shed, and a tractor. For an added fee they’ll put in your own winery. It beats trying to buy land on the Napa Valley floor.

If you made the trek south, what sort of wines would you make? Many have cited Patagonia as the place in South America with the best potential for Merlot, sparkling wines, and Pinot Noir, but successful wines are being made from other varietals as well, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Argentina’s signature grape, Malbec. 85% of the vines planted are red grapes, but some Chardonnay and other whites have been planted.

Neuquén

Within Patagonia, the Neuquén region has enjoyed most of the attention so far. Bodega del Fin del Mundo is the leading producer, and with their extensive investment and plantings they produce a wide variety of wines. The Malbec Reserva del Fin del Mundo and the Special Blend del Fin del Mundo are their twin flagship wines at $19 and $25, respectively. The Malbec is especially good. They produce three brands: Postales del Fin del Mundo (Postcards from the End of the World), Newen, and Bodega del Fin el Mundo.

There are other, quality producers in Neuquén that haven’t yet found importers; for example, Fin del Mundo’s neighbor Familia Schroeder has been seeking U.S. representation for its Saurus brand, which includes a noteworthy Pinot Noir as well as several other good wines (They named the brand “Saurus” after the fossilized bones they discovered in the course of building their winery).

Río Negro

The other Patagonian wine region, Rio Negro, has not received the financial push that Neuquén has, but is still making some remarkable wines. Bodega Humberto Canale may be the best known producer. They make the usual Bordeaux varietal reds, but their white wines, including Semillon, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Torrontes (Argentina’s signature white), are where they really shine. The Canale Black River Reserve Pinot Noir leads the way in demonstrating that fickle grape’s potential in Patagonia.

Nearby Bodegas y Viñedos Estepa is a smaller operation, with two estates. The “La Antigua” estate is an older group of vineyards and lies in a greener, more fertile area north of the river. The younger estate, “La Agreste,” is harsher and more arid. Estepa blends their wines from the two estates to balance their wines and create more complex, interesting final products. While they, too, make several different lines, at the moment only two Malbecs, a Merlot, and a Merlot-Malbec blend are available here in the U.S.

While Río Negro may not have as much government money coming in, it doesn’t lack for outside investors. Infinitus is the southern extension of Domaine Vistalba (aka Fabre Montmayou) in Mendoza. Since they grown a lot of Malbec and Merlot there, they concentrate on Merlot, sparkling wine, and Chardonnay in Rio Negro. The non-vintage sparkling wine is a work in progress, but shows signs of improvement; while the favor profile is sound, the wine’s texture is still rough. The Merlot and Chardonnay are top-notch, so it’s probably only a matter of time before they master the difficulties of Champagne-method bubbly.

Bodega Noemía de Patagonia is another Río Negro winery, a collaboration between Danish winemaker Hans Vinding-Diers and Countess Noemi Marone Cinzano, who is maybe better known as the owner of the Brunello di Montalcino producer Argiano. The discovery of a small plot – 3.7 acres – of old vine, pre-phylloxera Malbec in the Río Negro Valley marked the birth of their Argentinian collaboration. Everything at the winery is done by hand, and they only make one wine. It is a blockbuster, however, full, rich, and round, with tons of black fruit and spice. It is also one of the country’s most expensive, generally retailing for about $150.

More to Come

More wines are sure to come, especially as Neuquén’s investment strategies begin to bear fruit. Argentinian producers rarely give their white wines the attention they deserve, but that seems likely to change. Patagonia may rally behind their whites for two reasons: their climate suits the grapes, and it may help them to differentiate their wines from the other wine-producing regions of the country. White or red, as in Mendoza, there are still a number of great values to be had, so why go to the end of the world if it’s willing to come to you?

 

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       Published: November 2005
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