… A good intro to Patagonia

Barely an hour on the ground in Buenos Aires and we were headed for Experiencia Del Fin Del Mundo for an overview of Argentina wine with Andrés Rosberg (president of the Argentina Sommeliers Association), before a regional tasting of wines from Patagonia.

The restaurant (owned by the winery of the same name) is leading the charge in Buenos Aires, showcasing Patagonia’s role as an up and coming region. (Hardly new, though, some of Patagonia’s plantings have been around for nigh on 100 years or more, although there are plenty of new wineries, as land is still relatively affordable.) What’s interesting, aside from the excellent food, is that the restaurant also selflessly promotes all Patagonian wines well beyond their own.

This was a great introduction, in part because it wasn’t Mendoza, which tends to get all the attention—and where we’ll be later in the week. Patagonia (which we won’t have time to visit, as it’s too far south) is interesting for its stony soils and big diurnals (the temperature difference between day and night), which often as not results in wines with great acidity and minerality.

There were some good surprises, starting with Humberto Canale Riesling 2011 (doesn’t everything start with Riesling? If it doesn’t, it should … ) through to Familia Shroeder’s Deseado Torrontes sparkler, with which we’re already familiar, but which was a fun match for the almond and praline crumble dessert. (We’re surprised it doesn’t mention Torrontes on the label—which would surely help increase awareness around Argentina’s “own” white wine of choice.)

The Riesling is from Canale’s ‘Old Vineyard’ range, which wowed with its ’09 Merlot, while another show-stopper was Fin Del Mundo  2007 Cabernet Franc … (Tasting notes and more of our our picks coming shortly.)

Here’s a few facts, some that might surprise you…

Prior to 1991 Argentina wine exports totaled just some $5 million annually. Today they they amount to around $1 billion.

…Some good surprises

Argentina itself enjoys a robust and entrenched wine culture. Walk into any restaurant and you’ll find a bottle on almost every table. That’s true, as we found out when we went to La Cabrera, a bustling ‘Parilla’ (steak house) in Palermo district. Every table had a bottle of Malbec and a bottle of Cab Sauv. on special offer for the equivalent of about $40. You get to drink one and take the other bottle home. (In the end they brought us a bottle of Don Niconor Nieto Blend 2010, whose spicy mid-palate turned out to be excellent with the Morcilla-blood sausage.)

Argentina is the seventh largest wine market in the world (the 6th largest producer), with an average annual consumption of 26 litres per person—down from about 85 litres a generation ago. Unlike other countries there’s no national spirit as such, although there’s a disproportionate amount of Fernet Branca and Coke consumed. It’s really all about wine. And beef, of course.

More to come …

UPDATE: 23/09/2012
Here’s the North Shore News story (which somehow ran without a dateline)

Area offers lots of varieties

 BY TIM PAWSEY, SPECIAL TO NORTH SHORE NEWS SEPTEMBER 23, 2012 9:15 AM
 SHORT of heading south, way south in this vast country, the best way to experience Patagonia is to book in at Experiencia Del Fin Del Mundo in the capital’s bustling Palermo district.

The edgy, warm, dark wood-toned restaurant (owned by the winery of the same name) is leading the charge in Buenos Aires, showcasing Patagonia’s role as an up and coming region. (Even though some plantings have been around for nigh on 100 years or more, Argentina’s southernmost wine country is all too often eclipsed by more familiar Mendoza.)

What’s compelling about Experiencia – aside from its truly excellent food – is the restaurant’s selfless promotion of many other Patagonian wines well beyond its own.

The region is renowned for its stony soils and big diurnals (the temperature difference between day and night), which often as not results in wines with great acidity and minerality.

If Mendoza is perceived as being all about Malbec (it is, although there’s plenty more to discover too) then Patagonia can lay claim to a veritable wealth of other varieties that flourish, including Pinot Noir, Merlot and Riesling, not to mention Torrontes and, yes, more Malbec.

Our tasting yielded a wide variety of good finds, starting with citrus and mineral-toned Humberto Canale Riesling 2011 (90 pts; we’re hopeful some might eventually find its way here) to Familia Shroeder’s highly appealing, off-dry Deseado Torrontes sparkler ($26.99), which won third spot in this year’s Vancouver Wine Festival Vintners’ Brunch.

Civil engineer Humberto Canale is credited with breathing life into the barren region when he initiated an early 1900s irrigation project from the Rio Negro that effectively turned the desert into a green and flourishing area suitable for all kinds of agriculture, including viticulture.

Here’s a selection (too small) of Patagonia drops available locally. Given the quality of what we tasted, we can only hope for more to show up soon.

Much more on Argentina in coming weeks .

– Humberto Canale Estate Merlot 2009.

From 45-year-old vines, heady red and black berry aromas, luscious cassis and red currant with vibrant fruit entry and broad mouthfeel with appealing savoury mid-palate. (PWS, $18-$22, 91 pts)

Bodega Fin Del Mundo Special Blend Riserva 2009

Red and black fruits with chocolate and damson on the palate wrapped in silky, supple tannins, spicy notes and a lengthy close. (Specialty, PWS $33.50)

Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Pinot Noir 2009

Raspberry and cherry toned with good varietal expression, well balanced with a savoury edge. Think duck breast and wild mushrooms. (EW $24.99)