Argentine Winemaker Reveals The Four Secrets Of The Andes

Food & Drink

When most wine drinkers hear the word Argentina, the first thing that comes to mind is Malbec, and with good reason: From the time that French grapes were first planted here, in 1853, Malbec has far and away been one of the biggest success stories in the entire wine world. Far from its home in France, Argentine Malbec, especially from Mendoza, has become a global phenomenon rivaled by only one other international transplant from its home country, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

While Mendoza Malbec has been popular in the United States and international wine market for at least two decades, there has been a more recent trend for producers to zero in on the subregions within Mendoza that their grapes are grown in, such as Lujan de Cuyo and Valle de Uco. Many are also producing plot-specific wines from within those subzones. While Argentina may never have a formal appellation system as complex as that of France, there is definitely a movement afoot to identify and define the terroir within Mendoza and its subregions.

One of the producers at the forefront of this trend is Luigi Bosca, said to be the Argentina’s oldest family-owned winery. Founded by Don Leonci Arizu in 1901, Luigi Bosca is celebrating the 120th anniversary of its first vintage this year under the guidance of his descendants Alberto Arizu Sr. and Alberto Arizu Jr. The Arizu family was instrumental in establishing Lujan de Cuyo as Argentina’s first appelation in 2005. Working alongside winemaker Pablo Cúneo, who joined the winery in 2017, the father and son team have just released a new line of Luigi Bosca wines, called De Sangre, featuring single vineyard wines. In addition to three site-specific Malbecs, the Luigi Bosca De Sangre collection also includes a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and red and white blends.

Luiga Bosca Winemaking and Vineyard Director Pablo Cúneo has an extensive history within Mendoza, having previously made wine for LVMH at Bodega Terrazas de los Andes and Bodegas Chandon and at Bodega Ruca Malen. A graduate of the University of Cuyo with a degree in agronomy, Cúneo is also secretary at the D.O.C. Luján de Cuyo Council whose mission is to protect and promote the highly acclaimed Mendoza terroir and its high-quality wines and vineyards. When we interviewed him about the future of single vineyard sites in Mendoza, he let us in on the what the calls the “Four Secrets of the Andes.”

World Wine Guys: Why do you think that Malbec has such a different expression in Mendoza than it does back home in France?

Pablo Cúneo: There are two main factors that are responsible for the great expression of Malbec in Mendoza. The first has to do with Malbec history and with genetics. The main surface of Malbec planted in Mendoza comes from pre-phylloxera vines introduced in Mendoza in the mid 19th century. This means that those vineyards come from old Malbecs with a huge genetic diversity. That diversity was lost in France with the phylloxera crisis at the end of the 19th century. Therefore, Mendoza and Argentina have a unique base of genetics of Malbec that had been selected for more than 150 years by our viticulturists and growers…to produce great wines. The centenarian vineyards of Malbec represent a real treasure of Argentinean viticulture. The second factor has to do with the terroir of Mendoza and the exceptional adaptation that Malbec has had to its environment. Argentinean wine regions have a continental weather condition, created by the Andes Mountains that stops all the influence from the Pacific Ocean.

WWG: Can you elaborate on Mendoza and its terroir?

PC: At Luigi Bosca we like to talk about the “Four Secrets of the Andes.” These four secrets are:

The dry weather and sunlight give a large amount of energy to the vines to develop and concentrate color, aromas, and flavors and help to achieve a complete ripeness of tannins. Also, the dry condition offers a natural healthy ambiance, as the vine diseases do not develop so easy. That make our viticulture naturally organic.

The second secret is about our soils, which are very poor in organic matter. Very well drained alluvial soils make the vines grow in balance and limit excessive vigor. This helps to control the yields and obtain very concentrated grapes.

The third secret has to do with the water and irrigation. As the rain regime is so poor, receiving just 200 millimeters (7.9 inches) per year we need to irrigate our vineyards. This represents another tool to control and manage the develop of the vines. We irrigate our vines with pure water coming from the melting snow from the Andes.

The fourth secret is the altitude. As we have a continental condition, the altitude is the only way to differentiate areas with special microclimates. Each 100 meters (328 feet) of elevation means about 1°C (1.8° F) less in the average temperature. It is also a way of compensating the latitude effect. In Mendoza we have vineyards planted from 700 meters to 1,700 meters of elevation, which causes a diverse range of weather going from a very cold climate to warm climate. Therefore, these continental conditions are perfect for Malbec because Malbec vines love the sun and dry weather that helps to develop all its potential and character. That is why I always think that we did not choose Malbec, Malbec chose us.

WWG: Do you believe that subzones and single vineyards affect the flavor of the wine?

PC: Diversity is a characteristic of our wine regions, depending on the altitude, that defines the temperature regime, the different kind of soils, and the different places that can be expressed by the wines in a very clear and transparent way. Malbec is a very plastic variety which is planted from north to south of Argentina shows the peculiar effect of each area in the wines. I think this a good way to show and communicate the virtues of Argentinean wines. Malbec is not only one kind of wine, but it can also offer different expressions depending on its origin. At Luigi Bosca we transmit this message through De Sangre wines, a wine collection where we offer the pure expression of the grapes and the terroir in each wine. It is composed by seven wines, three Malbecs, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cabernet Franc, a red blend and a white blend.

WWG: What are the differences between the sites in your new Luigi Bosca De Sangre Malbecs? How do those differences affect the taste profile of your wine?

PC: The De Sangre Collection includes three different Malbecs through which you can discover Mendoza wine regions. These wines are: De Sangre Malbec D.O.C Luján de Cuyo, De Sangre Valle de Uco and De Sangre “Especial Edition” Paraje Altamira.

Lujan de Cuyo is the oldest vineyard area planted in Mendoza. It is placed in the highest areas irrigated by Mendoza River, between 1,000 to 1,100 meters of elevation. In comparison with Uco Valley it has the protection of the pre-Andes mountains which creates a slightly warmer condition to produce fruit forward wines, with ripe character, sweet tannins, and great elegance and softness.

Uco Valley is a high-altitude valley, facing directly to the front of the Andes. The cold conditions produce wines with intense color, fresh and floral aromas, and vibrant texture created by the fruit, tannins and acidity.

Paraje Altamira is in the south of Uco Valley between 1,000 and 1,100 meters of elevation. It is a cold area where the Malbec expresses an intense floral and violet aroma, full of sweetness and freshness in the palate.

WWG: What are the “selling points” of Mendoza wine that is not Malbec, such as your Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and red and white blends?

PC: The winery has a very long history of working and investigating in other varieties outside Malbec. Since 1963, Alberto Arizu began ushering in an unprecedented era of innovation including terroir analysis, genetic material selection, and the application of various grape varieties in new vine growing areas in Mendoza. Mendoza as a wine region offers different conditions depending on the areas. The coldest areas at the highest altitudes are special for white wines such as Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. The cold days and nights benefit the concentration of fruit, citrus and floral aromas and fresh acidity in the palate. Regarding Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, the length of ripening cycle plus the amount of energy produces a complete ripeness of the typical black and red fruit of these two varieties and help to avoid the green pepper aromas. Instead of those green characters, Argentinean Cabernet wines show a nose full of fruit and spices like black and white pepper. In the palate, the tannins ripen completely, giving a sweet texture to the wines.

WWG: As Secretary of the D.O.C. Lujan de Cuyo Council, what do you see as the most important issues of the region right now?

PC: The main objectives of the D.O.C. Luján de Cuyo are to maintain the value of and care for the old Malbec vineyards in the appellation and help to certify the quality and [publicize] the wines of Luján de Cuyo. We are also working on characterizing the sub-areas within Luján de Cuyo and leading a continued process of investigating and deepening knowledge of the uniqueness of this terroir. At Luigi Bosca, sustainability is a huge topic where we are focused overall regarding the use of water, of soils, and the training of our people.

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