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Much of what we understand here in the Northern Hemisphere about the wines of South America comes from relatively recent developments in big agriculture. In Chile, which in the 20th century radically expanded its agricultural production (much of it destined for winter-time supermarket shelves here in the US), four industrial macroproducers are responsible for 80% of the total volume of Chilean wine produced. Argentina is renowned for its Malbecs, many of which come from some of the world's largest wine producers.
Yet in each of these countries there are wine traditions stretching back centuries to their colonization by the Spanish in the 16th- and 17th- centuries. Increasingly, these winemaking nations are beginning to recognize the historic nature of their extraordinary country wines, and we would like to bring some of the best producers from the Southern Cone to prominence.
Starting in Argentina, today we would like to focus on Cara Sur, a collaboration between two husband-wife duos. High up in the foothills of the Andes, in the San Juan winemaking region (Mendoza's less famous northern neighbor), lies the Valle de Calingasta. Situated at up to 1500 meters above sea level (nearly 5,000 feet), the vines farmed are from 50 to over 80 years old, and trained in traditional Argentine systems: pergola, and parral. The first couple, Sebastian Zuccardi and Marcela Manini, hail from Mendoza, where Sebastian is from the family of Zuccardi, one of Mendoza's most famous producers. The second couple, Nuria Gargiullo and Pancho Burgallo, are avid mountaineers who live in the tiny town of Barreal, in the Calingasta valley, surrounded by these old vines. The name of the winery, "Cara Sur", means "South Face," in honor of the more difficult climbing route to the peak of Cerro Mercedario, a massive, 22,000 foot mountain that looms over the vineyards. Here in the valley where these ancient vines are found these four produce energetic, beautifully sculpted wines with high acidity and remarkable freshness.
In Chile, the wines of the Itata and Bio Bio valleys are a world away from the industrial vineyards of the north. Here, bush-trained vines with remarkable age have been cultivated for production in autochthonous styles for centuries. One of the area's leading producers in the quality revolution is Roberto Henríquez. After graduating with a degree in agronomy from the University of Concepción, Roberto traveled around the world making wine, finally landing a job with René Mosse in the Loire. Mosse greatly influenced Roberto, introducing him to the ideas behind organic and biodynamic vineyard practice. He has carefully selected which vineyards he draws fruit from, and using long-term fermage agreements, he farms all the vineyards himself, with the help only of some farm animals. He ages everything in the traditional manner: large, neutral casks of Rauli beech, a tree endemic to the forests of Chile. Some of these casks can be hundreds of years old. Using ancient farming and winemaking techniques, Roberto makes wines of extraordinary purity, profound simplicity, and ethereal refinement.
In addition to these fantastic producers, we have some other South American wines on offer as well. We hope you enjoy these startling wines, so new to our sensibilities here in New York, though they come from ancient traditions. We hope you enjoy! Andrew Farquhar
This is an bright, fantastic Moscatel Blanco made in an invigorating style using skin contact. Thought of as "old-fashioned" in Argentina, this wine was made with a week of skin maceration. When this is combined with the high altitude of the vineyards (1500m) and the age of the vines (80+ years), this is a powerful, dry, and intense wine. While retaining the classic aromatic character of Muscat on the nose, the palate displays loads of acidity and a bright lemony profile that is set in contradistinction to its grippy tannins. A perfect pairing for lemon-roasted chicken or fillets of large pelagic fish. This wine would be perfect for assorted tapas as well. Drink now, but could age mightily. I'm excited to see how this will develop in bottle. Andrew Farquhar
The Cara Sur Tinto is 70% Bonarda, with the remainder being 20% Barbera and 10% Malbec. The grapes were foot-trodden in concrete before being macerated whole cluster for 40 days. Bonarda, Argentina's second-most planted grape variety, is frequently used to make low-tannin bulk wine, but with this long maceration it achieves quite a beautiful tannic structure. Dark, pretty blackberry fruit is wed to a dense herbal core, with a beautiful acid backbone. A little brighter because of its Barbera, a little more structured because of its Malbec, this is a fantastic wine that is relatively full-bodied, but lighter and juicier than much of Argentina's Malbecs; this is a perfect, thirst-quenching alternative to pair with grass-fed beef! Andrew Farquhar
A blend of Muscat of Alexandria, Corinto (the Chilean name for Chasselas), and Semillon, this wine comes from vines averaging ninety years in age! Soil types are granitic, which is common through the Bio Bio. Open-top spontaneous fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks, with free run juice fermented separately from pressed juice. Whole berry fermentation is done with no stems. This wine stays three months on the skins. The Muscat produces its classic aromatic fireworks, but this is a much more refined a delicate wine on the palate, with a fine steely structure lain over beautiful, peppery musk character. Andrew Farquhar
Eduardo Soler started Ver Sacrum after a visit to the Gredos mountains of Spain, where he fell in love with mountainous styles of Grenache. He decided to make high-altitude, low-alcohol, lighter wines - not what consumers think of when they think of Argentina. This is a pretty, mineral-driven Grenache, still with the classic dense strawberry compote fruit character of the variety, but including a nice minerality and a finish redolent of a fistful of fresh Provençal herbs. This wine has fantastic concentration for being so light, and will pair with all manner of partygoing. Andrew Farquhar
Criolla Chica is the Argentine name for the grape called Pais in Chile, Mission in California and Listan Prieta in the Canary Islands. Mostly known as a light, herbal, blue-fruited grape, this wine is highly atypical. Bursting with tart, intense red-fruit and having electric acidity, this is a bright, refreshing red wine that would work as an apéritif or with red sauces. This wine is truly Italianate in style, and would fit in numerous different pairing situations traditionally reserved for the country wines of the peninsula. This wine comes from one of their oldest vineyards, with pergola-trained vines averaging over 80 years of age. This was fermented partially whole cluster in 2000L concrete vats where it then aged for an additional eight months before bottling. Andrew Farquhar
Upon smelling this wine many of us have had the same reaction: while distinctly a red wine, the aromatic character has just as much of the juicy, honeysuckle smell that we associate with classic white Muscat. That incredible floral nose meshes dynamically with the palate, which has demure red fruit lain beneath delicate earthiness, with notes of hay, linseed oil, and a good bit of salinity. Skin maceration for twenty days gives some much needed grip. Highly recommended for people who are fans of Muscat, or aromatic, juicy reds. Andrew Farquhar
Roberto Henriquez worked with several estates in the natural wine world, including our friends Agnès and René Mosse in the Loire Valley, before returning to Chile to begin his project making wines from abandoned vineyards in the Itata and Bio Bio Valleys. Most of his vineyards have not been treated with chemicals in decades (if ever) and average vine age is about 90 years old. Santa Cruz de Coya is Pais (aka Mission grape), a fresh and thin-skinned grape yielding a bright, juicy, high acid red with a hint of spice and herbs on the palate. Great with a light chill. Andrew Farquhar
Leonardo Erazo saw this small, 4-acre plot of ancient dry-farmed, ungrafted bush vines in the Itata and fell in love. He bought the property and built his house there. Some of these vines are up to 170 years old, grown on granitic bedrock. He uses no pesticides in the steep, dry-farmed, ungrafted bush vineyards common to Itata, and the wine is bottled with minimal sulfur. The juice sees 2-3 hours of skin contact only, lending the slightest tannic character. Aged in concrete vat. This is a beautiful, saline, fresh, elegant, wildly aromatic Muscat that is fermented fully dry. Andrew Farquhar