Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Patagonia (Argentina) wine region

On Monday of this week I attended a Winemaker's Dinner hosted at its facilities by Italian Wine Merchants and featuring the wines of Bodegas Chacra (Piero Incisa della Rochetta, winemaker) and Fiorano (Alessio Antinori, winemaker).  Bodegas Chacra is located in Patagonia, Argentina, and, as this region may be unfamiliar to my readers, I will provide an overview in this post prior to reporting on the actual tasting.

Patagonia, the southernmost portion of the South American continent, encompasses territory falling on both the Argentinian and Chilean sides of the Andes Mountains.  The climate is continental with lots of sunshine and significant differentials between daytime and nighttime temperatures.  A feature of the region is a 25-mph, warm, dry, pest-dispensing wind (La Zonda) which is generated by the topography and flows down the hillsides.  While providing warmth to the some of the higher altitudes, and also cleansing the area of potential vine disease, the wind has the potential to damage vines by dint of its strength.

Source: patagonia.comuf.com

The wine growing area of Patagonia is divided into two sub-regions: Rio Negro and Neuquén.

Patagonia wine region (Source: winesofargentina.org)

Rio Negro

Lying at latitude 38 degrees south, Rio Negro is the most southerly of the two regions.  Like the broader Patagonia, its climate is continental with temperatures that approach 68℉ in the summertime. Relatively moderate daytime temperatures, coupled with significant day/night temperature differentials, allow the grapes to ripen slowly.  Rainfall averages 7 inches per year.

Approximately 3000 ha of vineyard are planted on the region's chalky soil and slow ripening plus the soil characteristics endow the wines with intense color and flavor to go along with great balance between ripeness and acidity.  Vineyards are sited at elevations that range between 1300 and 1500 feet.

Grape varieties planted in the region include Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Semillon for whites and Merlot, Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon for reds.  An average of 7500 tons of grape are produced annually and the resulting 10.8 million bottles produced from this harvest is split 86:14 between domestic consumption and exports.

Neuquén

This, the youngest of the Argentine wine regions, has been literally carved out of the desert.  The region is surrounded by the Limay and Neuquén Rivers, with most of the vineyards located in an area 50 miles west of Rio Negro's High Valley called San Patricio del Chañar.  This arid area is rendered agriculture-ready thanks to a canal which brings water from the Neuquén River to a 6500-km network of irrigation pipes that are arrayed across the region.

The climate is continental with summertime temperatures ranging between 53 and 59℉ and diurnal temperature variation of as much as 35℉.  The vineyards are located on chalky soils at elevations ranging between 1300 and 1500 feet.

The primary varieties grown in this region are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Malbec and Merlot.  The wines are viewed as being of very good quality with bright acidity and excellent color.



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