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The adventures of a wine hooligan. Part 1 – Argentina and Chile

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

This isn’t a list of tasting notes, the trips were too long ago, rather it is the reliving of the crazy adventures that my wine travels have taken me on.

Starting with an unforgettable trip to Argentina and Chile in 2012: 6 flights, 6 days…bring it on.

We flew into Buenos Aires, exploring the sights before flying up to Mendoza; BA is a vibrant, eclectic city pulsing with energy yet with an unmistakable undercurrent of sadness. Another city, another tortured history.

Mendoza is a breath-taking place sat at 756m above sea level in the shadow of the awe inspiring Andes Mountains. The roads have deep gutters (more like mini canals) for the snow melt to run down into… flipping dangerous when you go running at twilight and nearly end up in one. I guess the lesson there is don’t run in the semi dark. Or maybe just don’t run.

I was in Mendoza to visit Bodega Luigi Bosca, an impressive family owned winery founded in 1901 by Leoncio Arizu, and today in the hands of his great grandchildren. Not simply content to make exceptional wines, the Arizu family are pioneers, not only in viticultural research, but they were instrumental in gaining official ‘Controlled Denomination of Origin’ for the Lujan de Cujo subregion of Mendoza (1000m above sea level – altitude mitigating the heat, extending the ripening period and allowing considerable aromatic complexity to develop while retaining freshness) where the winery is based. Biodiversity and the principles of biodynamics underpin the viticultural philosophy of the winery.

Great wine is about terroir and climate, but it is also about the people and ultimately the pure holistic pleasure that can be conveyed by the wines. The brothers Arizu are utterly charming, kind, humble, thoughtful and thought provoking, and as is so often the case, the wines are a reflection of their character; superbly elegant, svelte and interesting with a long and engaging finish.

I have often found that Malbec can have a flat density to the midpalate, and a dusty character to the tannins but the wines of Luigi Bosca are buzzing with vibrant fruit and fresh acidity. Whether it is the biodynamics at work, or simply the attention to detail, investment in state of the art winemaking technology and careful tannin management of the winemaker, the extensive range are a masterclass in finesse. If you thought Argentina was just about Malbec, Bosca is there to show you their diverse potential – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Tannat, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Torrontes, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, all showing incredibly purity, energy and complexity, there is even a Brut Nature traditional method sparkling wine….this I enjoyed a glass of at 10am in the vineyards with the viticulturalist, yes, they know how to entertain as well!

So vineyard visit and tasting, tasting, tasting was then followed by MEAT. We went to the acclaimed Francis Mullman 1884 restaurant and I was served what can only be described as a T-Rex steak. It was bigger than the plate and the plate was massive. I have no recollection of any sides, or indeed how they managed to leaver me out of my seat at the end of the meal.

One grape variety I have never really fallen in love with is Torrontes… I find that flowery aromatic Muscat-y vibe a little suffocating and it is so tricky to maintain freshness. However, a 3 hour horse ride through the rugged Andes foothills with a suitably taciturn gaucho, (to be fair, he might have been the Argentine Jimmy Fallon, but he spoke no English and I spoke no Spanish) and we arrived, hot, dusty, sweaty and suitably exhilarated high up in the mountains at a huge bonfire cooking… yes, more meat, and a gallon water drum posing as an ice bucket holding bottles and bottles of chilled Luigi Bosca La Linda Torrontes. And of course it is Bosca so it was bright, vibrant and peachy, not at all like pot pourri. I tell you nothing has ever tasted so good!

And so, a hop, skip and a jump over the Andes and we landed in Santiago, followed by a 3 hour drive south to Chile’s Maule Valley. We arrived in darkness to the Mingre estate of Julio Bouchon. Maule is an interesting place, long associated with bulk wine, but now home to the renaissance of quality producers of which Julio Bouchon, a fourth generation family producer is one. Julio junior is at the helm and he has taken the winery from a classic quality producer to a phenomenally exciting producer experimenting with styles, grape varieties, coastal vineyards and old vines.

To give you a taste of Julio, he is a superb skier, a polo player, and extreme mountain biker… an adrenaline junkie, he was never going to sit on his laurels but forge ahead with something new and exciting for the family, for the region and for the country. Suffice to say we arrived at the farmstead in time for dinner, experiencing my first (few) pisco sours and before I could say ‘Chilean renaissance’ I was out in the garden, in a giant hot tub next to a blazing fire with a very well stocked, equally giant ice bucket within easy reach. I like Chile. And I like Chilean hospitality.

This was a visit to Chile that was scheduled to last approx. 18 hours so despite the ungodly hour we went to bed, I was up with the birds and went for a run (apparently I hadn’t learnt my lesson from Mendoza) and back in time to mount up for a horse back tour of the vineyards. There is something about cantering through rows of perfectly maintained vines under an endless blue sky that really frees the soul and connects you to the area. By the time we arrived back at the winery, goofy grin still intact, a range tasting had been set up in the shade of a beautiful old tree.

Knowing that we were hitting the road directly after the tasting for a stop off in Buenos Aires before heading back to London, there was definitely less of the professional spitting, and more of the hedonistic swallowing going on. The wines of Bouchon are a reflection of Julio; vibrant, juicy, energetic and exciting. They glow with varietal identity, complexity and utter moreishness (yes that’s a word).

It turns out our ride back to Santiago wasn’t the land rover, but rather the private plane, and the pilot wasn’t going to be the General Manager (with the pilots licence) but me, distinctly lacking a licence and at least two sheets to the wind. But hey, Bouchon gives you wings! It was an extraordinary flight back, not only as I was in charge of the controls, but to see this slender, mountainous country from above, with the vineyards sprawled below you can see so clearly the influence that both the ocean and its cold Humbolt current, and the Andes have on the vines. And so, following g a rousing rendition of ‘those wonderful men in their flying machines’ (I sing when I am nervous), I was quite happy to hand the controls over for landing. We made it, a sweaty, shaky mess, but alive!

8 years on the excitement and happiness still bubbles up inside me when I think of those epic 6 days in South America. It has been too long, as soon as restrictions are lifted I am heading back to visit my friends at Bosca and Bouchon who made it the most extraordinary adventure.

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