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Land and soil take centre stage at Argentina’s Barullo

Published:  20 October, 2017

Wines of Argentina broke away from Chile last year to trial its own format with Barullo. Now in its second year, the event is committed to showing this New World innovation train hasn’t run out of steam, and is on a mission to maintain cutting edge.

Alongside New Zealand, Argentina showed the biggest sales growth out of all countries of origin in the UK off-trade last year, with sales of 27 million bottles marking a 32% volume rise against 2015 (WSTA figures).

Driven largely by Malbec, value sales also rose 31% for the same period to £155 million.

As the figures show, Argentina has staged something of a commercial coup in the nation’s supermarkets, with the success of innovative producers representing the “new Argentina” in the on-trade and the independents providing a springboard for Malbec to become a major hit in the large-scale retailers.

Showcasing this innovation is behind the Barullo concept – as is the desire to prove that Argentina can maintain the Malbec momentum by now exploring Argentina’s versatile terroir and myriad soil types in more depth.

Back to the numbers again, Wines of Argentina MD Andrew Maidment reports an additional 20% growth so far this year.

This is down to a number of things, including a certain amount of “positivity” in the market for Argentina.

“This is good news,” he told Harpers.

“But I’m really aware that we need to keep innovating, on the image side but also the wine. The wine side is moving incredibly fast. While the New World is sustaining its growth, the real competition at the moment is coming from places like France: the Loire, Jura and Savoie. Now more than ever Argentina has got to assert its individually and continue to be seen as dynamic country on the move.”

He draws comparisons to the Loire in particular in terms of the ways in which Argentina is driving experimentation, and now says winemakers are placing more emphasis on regional typicity.

“We found our voice through Malbec, as Burgundy did through Pinot Noir. We must now focus on regional specificity to show what our land can do,” he said.

Now, the focus should be on those winemakers who drove the interest in the first place, he said - winemakers like Matias Riccitelli, who attracted a lot of attention at yesterday’s event with his great range of “whites with aging potential” made from French blends, particularly his Blanca de la Casa 2016 (a blend of Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay with zero oak) from the Uco Valley.

Starting with whites in 2015, Riccitelli said slowly winemakers are realising Argentina “can do beautiful whites with the diversity of the soil”.

Diversity of the soil is also a major focus for winemaker Sebastián Zuccardi in the Altamira region of the Uco Valley.

Zuccardi’s newest facility was built specifically around the idea of producing wines that are transparent as possible in terms of showcasing the specificity of the soil, including their top end single site Malbec range, Aluvional.

James MacKenzie, head of UK marketing at importer Alliance Wine, explained: “Aluvional is named after the effect of melt water coming down from the Andes which brought rocks and silt and created pockets of different soil types.”

The producer put significant investment into investigating different aspects of production relating to terroir, cultivation and processing.

Such a focus on expressing the differences in the soil marks a shift, MacKenzie said, from focusing on the elevation, which is the “traditional way in Argentina.”

Also notable is Zuccardi's heavy use of rather large concrete eggs, around which the facility was actually built.

These eggs can contain 2,000 litres of wine, and have a number of benefits for allowing expression of individual soil types.

According to regional export manager Nicolás Angelini, they “increase thermal stability, both in fermentation and in storage. There are no sudden changes and there is no need to cool and heat constantly to control the temperature, as with stainless steel. The concrete also allows micro oxygenation through the pores, which gives us more stable wines over time”.

Zuccardi has also introduced troncocónicas pools with different capacities: 5000, 7000 and 10000 liters, which help a more “natural movement of wine” into the vessel with less human intervention.

As a region known for its famous new wave winemakers putting modern names and faces to New World production, much of the emphasis at Barullo was removed from the winemaker and the wines but to the land.

Sebastián Zuccardi is “not looking for perfect wines, but wines that express the place and the region”.

Maidment makes the same observation.

“It all starts with understanding of your land, and that going up by rocket ship at the moment. Winemakers are realising that the wine isn’t the star, the land is the star,” he said.