Quick geography lesson. You know Mendoza? Officially, it’s a desert. But, thanks to the fact that the region receives an abundance of water from Andes snowmelt, canny agronomists grow vines – and grow them spectacularly well – in this barren land.
Cafayate in the province of Salta is also dry, climate wise. But even though it’s positioned 1,700 metres above sea level, it also has an abundance of water (the very name Cafayate means ‘water box’ in Quechua) from underground springs. As for the point of this geo class? A dry climate means grapes don’t attract the F word – fungi – so grapes rarely rot, evil ‘powdery mildew’ is never mentioned in the same breath as ‘successful harvest’ and there’s little need to use fungicides (or any -cides for that matter). The word is this: It’s relatively pain free to produce organic vino in Argentina. The fact is there’s more Argentine O wine – helped along by natural goodies like goat pooh and tea tree oil – kicking about than you imagined.
Let’s talk the big O
Several private, international organizations classify wine (and food products) as organic in Argentina. SENASA food agency undertakes the same mission for the government, and it’s easier than you think. Mike Barrow, owner of Costaflores Finca Orgánica in Perdriel, Mendoza, explains.
“Being organic means I can’t use pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or insecticides, and I can only take preventative measures. For example, I can use pheromones to distract insects, or copper and sulfur mixtures as well as tea tree oil to prevent fungus but I can’t use a herbicide to get kill off weeds. Synthetic fertilizers are also a no no – it has to come from a natural source of nitrogen such as cow or goat manure.
I planted my vines in 2003 and 2004 and I‘ve never used herbicides or anything so my vineyard has been organic from from day one. It takes two or three years to get certified and I receive twice yearly inspections from the Organización Internacional Agropecuaria (OIA).
Fortunately, growing grapes in Argentina is quite easy as most of the pests you get in Europe, the US and Australia don’t exist here. That said, a moth was accidentally introduced into Mendoza a few years ago by a harvesting machine that came in from France that hadn’t been cleaned properly. I’ve had to work out how to prevent that from affecting my vines.”
O yes #1
Mike produces two wines: Mike Tango Bravo MTB Torrontés 2013 and Mike Tango Bravo MTB 2012, a red blend made from Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon (both AR$ 120 from Kalimnos). Given that he’s an avid spice fan, both have been created to pair with dishes that would make the Scoville Index skyrocket.
I’m not usually a fan of older Torrontés – ‘12 months and you’re dead to me’ is my usual motto for this white – and while the nose is fresh and floral with tropical fruit, its mouth isn’t so perky. Until it’s paired with chicken tikka made by Indian chef Nishant Choubey and a good friend of Mike’s. The spice hits on the passion fruit and the duo starts hotfooting together around my mouth, a saucy and organic dance that basically ended up in bed with me watching on the sidelines.
Unless Mr. Choubey has amended his travel plans, there’s no way in hell you’ll ever get to try this pairing. Unless of course you find yourself in New Delhi and happen to have an MTB Torrontés tucked into your purse.
O yes #2
Costaflores is a relatively small project producing around 20,000 bottles a year, but there are plenty of other organic options on the market. If you’re visiting Cafayate, one winery must is Nanni, a family-run bodega that’s been in the game for almost 120 years. After celebrating their first centenary in 1997, these guys decided to go organic – and the rest is history. Tannat, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon among others are certified as ‘fully organic’ by SENASA, but the vedette is the fresh and fragrant Torrontés, a delightful example of Argentina’s only native white grape. The good news is Nanni has just started distributing to Capital Federal: order a case of six bottles for around 550 pesos including delivery. Email Josefina Andrieu for more details.
O yes #3
Staying in the region, Colomé and sister winery Amalaya also produce the organic goodness. When Hess Family Estates took over the winery (which was founded in 1831) in 1996, they took it biodynamic, a whole different kettle of fish beyond organic in terms of being environmentally friendly, a holistic farming method invented by Rudolf Steiner in 1924. That proved too hard to maintain as there’s a bit of an ant problem at Colomé, so now both wineries are organic. I particularly enjoy Amalaya Brut Nature (AR$ 150), uniquely refreshing bubbles as 85% is Riesling, giving it a very distinctive fruity and floral nose.
O yes #4 and #5
Back in Mendoza, there are several organic lines to look out. Chakana Estate Selection Chardonnay 2014 (AR$ 180), which sports a tiny 3% of Viognier, comes from Altamira in the Uco Valley and a classy white it is if ever there was one. Its pineapple nose teams up with a little vanilla thanks to a small portion – 15% of the wine – ageing for 10 months in French oak. Rounded in the mouth, this organic Chardo has great acidity, with pineapple making a welcome return and battling for space with banana and clove. Hit it up with pescado a la parrilla such as sea bass and slap some fresh salsa criolla on top. Also look out for the 2014 Malbec: it might have a shy nose but its mouth is intense and velvety, featuring blueberry and just-ripe plum. Bonus track: buy direct from the winery and receive 300 pesos off your first order.
O yes #6
Staying in Uco Valley, Domaine Bousquet offers up a wide range of organic wares. While I’m not a fan of their Pinot Noir, I am into their Gaia Red Blend 2013 (AR$ 230) in a major way. Named after the Greek mother goddess of all gods, Gaia packs a punch only a momma bear Greek goddess can when she’s been bottled up for a while. With 50% Malbec, 45% Syrah and a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon plus some 10 months in French oak, the nose is red fruit and berries with some cedar, then displays intense ripe red fruit in the mouth. Devour this with short ribs immediately.
O yes #7
Bargain hunters and cheapskates will adore Quinde 2015, a 60% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Bonarda red blend from La Paz, an eastern department in Mendoza. A budget organic gem from the house of Vinecol that’s also Fairtrade, there’s plenty of fresh plum as well as fruits of the forest whipping up a frenzy here. It’s pretty voluptuous in the mouth for a young wine, with the Cab Sauv giving valuable structure, along with slightly sour cherry and plum putting in appearances. Snap it up from Vino Tinto for 100 pesos.
O yes #8
One of my fave labels is Animal from Ernesto Catena Vineyards. They just released and have almost sold out of Animal L’orange dammit (AR$ 120 for 500ml), a fun Semillon Chardonnay co-fermented white blend that proves there are more colors in the wine rainbow than red, white and pink.
O yes #9 and #10
Fizz and Malbec alert. Jasmine Monet sparkling wines – Gold Extra Brut, Pink and White Limited – come in a gift box adorned with leopard print that will enamour the toughest of Argentine suegras with a green conscience. Upping the biodynamic game is Luján de Cuyo’s Bodega Krontiras whose Doña Silvina Malbec Reserve 2005 is, as I Instagrammed in March, ‘as fresh as a daisy’, even with 11 years under its bottle belt. A quick #funfact: it was the winery’s first such reserve varietal made with grapes sourced from faithful and fruitful 120-year-old vines.
Save the date
Still craving organic wine? Wine writer Pancho Barreiro organizes the annual Fería de Vinos Orgánicos wine fair, and though it’s a fair way off, you can block off the 18th through 20th of August now.