Tag Archives: Argentina

Alpamanta : Biodynamic Wines from Mendoza, Argentina

Someone once said that “pleasure can only be derived from personal discovery”. I couldn’t agree more. It is one thing to see pictures of a beautiful wine region and vineyards situated in the most picturesque locales, but another to actually visit them and see the beauty for yourself.

It was this desire for discovery which took me all the way to South America, and more specifically, to a wine region that is currently hot on the international wine scene, Mendoza Argentina. And I couldn’t have chosen a more adventurous way of getting there. A spectacular drive from Santiago, Chile across the Andes mountains to Mendoza, Argentina’s largest and most important wine region.

The vineyard that I chose to visit was Alpamanta, meaning “Love of Earth” in the local native language; a single vineyard estate making exceptional wines from 100% organic and biodynamic vineyard. It is located at an altitude of 950m (3117ft) above sea level, in a picture postcard setting against the backdrop of snow capped Andes mountain, in Ugarteche, Luján de Cujo, 38 kms south of Mendoza city.

Alpamanta, Certified Organic & Biodynamic Vineyard in Ugarteche, Lujan de Cujo, Mendoza, Argentina. All photographs used in this blog post are mine.

I was curious to see how “biodynamics”, an extreme form of “organic viticulture” and the next big trend in grape growing, actually worked. Was it really possible to attune farming to the spiritual forces of the cosmos in general and to lunar rhythms in particular. And all those stories about the use of cow horn manure and other “homeopathic preparations” (involving dandelion, camomile etc) used to dynamize the vineyard; was it just some irrational cult and unscientific mumbo-jumbo, or did it really work.

The visit was a revelation and added tremendously to my knowledge of Biodynamics, a wine-making practice where the vineyard is considered a self-sufficient living organism, co-existing with flora and fauna in a complimentary way.

Incidentally, it was way back in the 1920’s, that this concept started with an Austrian philosopher named Rudolph Steiner, who was against the use of chemicals in agriculture. The aim was to restore harmony between humans and the universe and keep human intervention to a minimum. However, it is only in recent years that people are taking this holistic agricultural practice seriously, as the harmful effects of chemicals are becoming apparent.

While a lot of vineyards across the world are hopping on to the sustainable wagon and converting to biodynamics including high-end wine producers like Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus in Spain, Lalou Bize-Leroy of Domaine Leroy in Burgundy, Michel Chapoutier in Hermitage, DeLoach Vineyards in Sonoma County; the founder of Alpamanta, an Austrian of noble descent, Andrej Razumovsky and his partners Andre Hoffman and Jéréme Delecourt, established this boutique winery in 2005, in a virgin previously untouched site, as an organic and biodynamic project right from the start.

Which in essence means that the 35 hectares of Alpamanta estate has not been exposed to any chemicals in the form of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, commercial yeast or any other artificial ingredients. They practice soil and bug friendly cultivation using home made compost, treating the soil as a living organism.  All activities, including  cellar work, are carried on following a biodynamic calendar. There are root days (for pruning), leaf days (for watering), flower days (leaving the vineyard alone) and fruit days (for harvesting).

With Ignacio Ciancio, Commercial Manager Alpamanta, who took care of my visit.

Setting foot inside the vineyard, the first thing I noticed was an organic herb garden. I was told by Ignacio Ciancio, Commercial Manager Alpamanta Estate, that these herbs were used in a making a “compost preparation” which vitalizes the soil and makes the vines disease resistant. He then pointed to the ground which was teeming with ants. These ants were present on every inch of the vineyard walkways. Ignacio mentioned that all biodynamic vineyards will have colonies of ants and this is the first thing one should look for, if any vineyard makes claims to being biodynamic.

Herb Garden and Compost Pit at Alpamanta Estate, Mendoza Argentina. Ignacio Ciancio holding some compost to show the earthworms.

I saw sheep, horses and hens roaming freely around the property. This is done to allow them to pick off damaging worms and greens and also generate manure.

Poultry is transported to different parts of the property in a mobile hen-house . Chicken eat “cutworm’ while sheep help in weed control.

All vines are covered by a mesh to protect them against hail.IMG_3477

One of the most fascinating areas of the estate was the cellar which stored barrels full of “biodynamic preparations” used for infusing the manure with vitalizing forces to promote vine growth and prevent diseases. These are administered only on specific days in accordance with the biodynamic calendar, based on the phases of moon and its relationship with the 12 constellations. In other words, these are effective only during certain earthly and celestial rhythms.

Ignacio showing the various “biodynamic preparations” and explaining their usage.

The certified organic Alpamanta wines were a bigger revelation. Available in four varietal lines Natal (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, all unoaked, fruity and fresh ), Estate (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Chardonnay, aged in French oak for 10 months) Reserva or Terroir (Malbec, aged in new French barrels for 18 months) and Breva (unfiltered). All wines are made using ambient yeast, very little sulphites and with minimum manipulation, right from harvest to bottling. The packaging too is eco-friendly.

IMG_6096Very elegant, complex, layered and well-balanced, they tasted nothing like the other “organic” wines, I had been previously exposed to. Some of those had left me underwhelmed, while these were simply outstanding. Which just goes to show that better farming practices result in better wines and “going green” is not just a marketing gimmick. If you want to change your perception about organic wines, look for Alpamanta. And if you happen to find yourself in Mendoza, do visit this biodynamic vineyard.

It was a fascinating and educative visit for which I am grateful to the owner Andrej Razumovsky and to my friend Georgina Fernandez Desrefano, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Argentina, India, who introduced me to Andrej and co-ordinated my programme. A big thank you to Ignacio Ciancio, who showed me around Alpamanta and other parts of Mendoza, like the breathtakingly beautiful Uco Valley.

Though I liked most of Alpamanta wines, my favorite surprisingly, was not Malbec, but the Estate Cabernet Franc.

By : Lavina Kharkwal

Alpamanta is one of the seven certified biodynamic wineries in Argentina. They can be contacted at turismo@alpamnta.comIMG_3562

Trapiche Wines from Sula Selections : Malbecs and more

Argentina for me is the three M’s Maradona, Messi and Malbec. Of course there is much more to this beautiful country but then I am a wine lover and a football addict. So my interest stops right there.

While the birth place of both the legendary footballers is Argentina, not so of the grape varietal Malbec which comes from Bordeaux France. In fact, in the pre-phylloxera Bordeaux wines, Malbec was used more than Merlot, imparting spice and color to the blend. Now Malbec does not figure much in Red Bordeaux even though it is one of the six varietals legally permitted in the blend along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Carmenere.

Malbec is now the superstar of the South American wine industry and the “national varietal” of Argentina. This is where the cépage has found glory and reached its full potential. And when you talk of Malbec and Argentina it is but natural that Trapiche comes to mind. Trapiche is Argentina’s leading wine brand and its oldest and biggest winery. They are also the largest Malbec producers in Argentina making “value wines” suited to every palate and every wallet.

Located in Mendoza at the foothills of Andes Mountains Trapiche Winery (pronounced with the “e” at the end) was established in 1883 and has been running continuously since then. It owns 1,000 ha of its own vineyards, exports 27 million cases to more than 80 countries around the world and has the largest varietal portfolio in South America. Their Single-Vineyard Malbec created by winemaker Daniel Pi is, according to Wine Spectator, “the best wines that Trapiche has ever produced” and the most awarded Malbec from Argentina.

Even though Single Vineyard Malbec is not yet available in India, what we have here are four wines from Trapiche imported by Sula Selections, the import arm of Sula Vineyards; Malbec, Oak Cask Malbec, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.

Trapiche Malbec (Rs 1270) is a bright ruby color wine with violet hints.  A decent wine that you order on a casual night out with friends, it has crème de cassis, plum, pepper and mocha on the palate. It is a great introduction for those who are not familiar with Malbec, a rich fruity jammy style with soft tannins . Though this one is a little one dimensional in terms of structure, it goes well with medium spicy dishes and even pizzas and pastas.

Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec (Rs 1580) aged for 9 months in French & American oak barrels has that intense purple color which makes Malbec so easy to identify in blind tastings. I would call it a great value for money wine. Smooth with velvety tannins you get ripe juicy dark plum, black cherries, blackberry and some lovely vanilla. Oak is present but does not overpower the fruit. It has a spicy finish with a touch of nutmeg, chocolate, leather, mocha and smoke and pairs well with steaks, sizzlers and South Indian Curries especially Chettinad lamb.

It was the Trapiche Pinot Grigio (Rs 1080) which took me by surprise as this is not a varietal that you look for from a country like Argentina. A highly quaffable wine with refreshing acidity and crispness it made a great pairing with the brilliant faux Ferrero Rocher that the three J’s Chef Jatin Mallick, Chef Julia & Chef Jamsheed Bhote had created for the Trapiche wine dinner at Tres at Lodi Colony Market hosted by yours truly and Sula Selections.

Trapiche Wine dinner at Tres at Lodi Colony Market
Trapiche Wine dinner at Tres at Lodi Colony Market

The only slightly disappointing wine for me out of the four Trapiche wines available in India was the Trapiche Sauvignon Blanc (Rs 1270). It felt a little flat in terms of acidity and the nose seemed muted not really conveying what a Sauvignon Blanc stands for. I guess we have all been spoilt by the wonderful aromatic Sauvignon Blancs coming out of New Zealand and Chile if you talk of comparisons within the New World.

It’s good to see Sula Selections expanding its portfolio to include wines from Argentina (Trapiche), Chile (Cono Sur), Australia (Hardys), New Zealand (Mud House), Italy (Ruffino), France (Champagne Piper-Heidsieck) and South Africa (Kumala). It gives customers a great choice, a wine suited for every palate and budget. It doesn’t matter if you are a connoisseur or a novice. “Acche Din” for wine lovers I guess if not for others.

By: Lavina Kharkwal

Trapiche wines are easily available at most liquor and wine retail shops in Delhi in Connaught Place, Defence Colony, Vasant Vihar, Dwarka and in NCR.

Prarrthona Pal Chowdhury of Sula Selections with team Tres at the Trapiche Wine Dinner
Prarrthona Pal Chowdhury of Sula Selections with team Tres at the Trapiche Wine Dinner

To read more about Sula Selections you may click on the following links