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Argentina’s ‘white revolution’ moves to newer sites

Published:  24 February, 2023

The slow but steady creep of Argentina’s white wines into new territories has entered a new chapter at Susana Balbo Wines, where the winemaking team has been experimenting with what it believes could be the Uco Valley’s first white-only appellation.

Dubbed the ‘Queen of Torrontés’ thanks to her pioneering work at Sucesión Michel Torino winery in Cafayate, Susana Balbo has form when it comes white winemaking.

Now, the work continues to move that journey onwards with the recent move to San Pablo. Last year, the team at Susana Balbo’s eponymous winery planted around 10ha on the site, which sits by neighbouring Gualtallary.

Read more: Amanda Barnes: Argentina makes its move - Harpers Wine & Spirit Trade News

Harpers took part in a tasting of the broader range at 67 Pall Mall earlier this week, where viticulturalist and general manager, Edgardo aka ‘Edy’ Del Pópolo, led a tasting of both whites and reds.

Those around the table agreed that the wines were a world away from what would have been possible 20 years ago, with – in the case of Torrontés, which played a starring role – precise, clean wines taking the place of oily, more rustic characteristics which were more typical of earlier iterations.

“Argentina has never made the white wines we are making today,” Del Pópolo told Harpers. “Altamira with its fantastic alluvial chalky soils provides the backbone for some of our most sought-after white wines, such as Susana Balbo Signature White Blend and Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontes. Whereas Gualtallary, with its strong personality, is the perfect source for Chardonnay for our BenMarco Sin Limites.”

“San Pablo sits at 1,400m elevation and is extremely cold,” he added. “I have given it the name of ‘land of whites’. San Pablo is an amazing place: both San Pablo and Gualtallary are fascinating places for white wines. But with Gualtallary, you can also have Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Whereas, if you asked me about those varieties in San Pablo, I would probably challenge you.”

In his search to tap into the “hidden potential” of unexplored sites, Del Pópolo revealed his decision to plant in San Pablo last year, alongside a number of other projects.

For example, Del Pópolo also recently came to the rescue of around 1,500, 80-year-old Malbec vines. Pulled up by property developers, Del Pópolo stepped in and transported the load in three large trucks to vineyards in Gualtallary. He then soaked the roots in water and nutrients before replanting, incredibly losing just 50 of the plants in the process. The first wines will be produced next year. 

Elsewhere, the winery has finally completed its journey to convert its vineyards to organic production, while continuing to make wines which aim to show “determined character and personality”, linked to site.

This includes wines like the Susana Balbo Signature White Blend 2022, which is “more about the place, Altamira, rather than its three varieties, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Torrontés”, said Del Pópolo.

Uco Valley, one of Susana Balbo's focus regions, is roughly the size of Burgundy (approximately 29,000ha) and is split between Tupungato, Tunuyán and San Carlos sub-zones.

Gualtallary meanwhile is a crowded winemaking place, with names like Adriana (Catena), Zuccardi and Dona Paula standing shoulder-to-shoulder in vineyards.

Susana Balbo continues to be an exception in Argentina, which is dominated by red production. At her family winery, established in 1999, more than 40% of the wines produced are whites or rosés.

A selection of all three will be available to taste and the upcoming Enotria Portfolio Tastings on Monday 27 February in London and Wednesday 1 March in Edinburgh.