Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Alta Vista - French Winemaking in Mendoza, Argentina

Argentina’s wine industry is booming. In the first quarter of 2011, exports rose by 8% to 62.9 million litres, helped by resurgent demand in the United States and an undervalued peso. Although exports to Asia represent a small fraction of this, it is a segment that is rapidly growing, especially in China, which overtook Japan last year to become the biggest consumer of Argentinian wine in Asia.
Patrick d’Aulan, owner of Alta Vista, recognised the potential of Argentina early on. In 1998, Patrick along with the late winemaker Jean-Michel Arcaute set up Alta Vista in Mendoza, located on the far west side of the country. Bordered by the magnificent Andes mountain range and surrounded by a scorching desert, viticulture is made possible only through the use of an advanced irrigation system, which supplies crystal clear, pure water from snowmelt in the mountains.   
Alta Vista owns 205 ha of vineyards in Mendoza, planted primarily with red varietals, while their 1200 ha holdings in Cafayete are planted with the local Torrontés. Patrick describes the uniqueness of Alta Vista as being a combination of “the respect for the tradition and soils of Argentina with the winemaking of France.” The workforce composition seems to reflect this belief, as both winemakers Philippe Rolet and Matthieu Grassin are from France while the vineyard manager is from Argentina.
Export Manager Philippe Meurant (left) with Patrick d'Aulan
Patrick has leveraged his considerable financial resources to ensure that only the finest grapes go into the premium Alta Vista wines. In the vineyard, sophisticated satellite imaging (photos are taken every two days) show which plots are ripe enough for picking. As in the best vineyards of France, manual harvesting and table sorting is done to select only healthy fruit. An interesting point in the winemaking is that Alta Vista makes extensive use of small cement tanks rather than stainless steel tanks to ferment their top red wines. Also used by Château Pétrus, cement tanks are said to help maximise the fruit character while providing better aeration than stainless steel tanks.  
I was impressed with the quality of the reds, which were rich and concentrated without being jammy, and balanced with nervy acidity. Especially at the top tiers, these wines showed a stunning degree of complexity. The Torrontés was interesting, with clear varietal notes that make it quite different from other wines. People looking for an alternative to Gewurtztraminer or Sauvignon Blanc should try this wine. 
Alta Vista Classic Torrontés 2009 – A crossing between Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica, Torrontés is known for making Argentina’s top white wines. This example was enticingly aromatic, with notes of rose, white pear and talc. Suggestively sweet, but on the palate it is bone dry. A fresh, medium bodied palate with slight bitterness and steely notes. Ready to drink.
Alta Vista Premium Chardonnay 2009 – Fermented in stainless steel tanks with temperature control. 30% of the wine was aged in oak barrels for 6 months with bâtonnage (lees stirring) to add body to the wine. Clear pale lemon appearance with vanilla and lemon aromas. Pineapple, lemon and vanilla notes on the palate, with rather disjointed acidity although Patrick mentions that the 2010 is showing better.
Alta Vista Classic Malbec 2008 – Deep purple. A youthful, spry nose with notes of pencil shavings, black fruit, spice and plums. Full bodied with upfront fruit character.
Alta Vista Premium Malbec 2009 – A complex aroma of subtle red fruits with a hint of mint and floral notes, developing into mocha after about half an hour. Medium+ acidity, fine grained and soft tannins with savoury fruit, plum and toast. A structured and balanced wine.
Alta Vista Terroir Selection 2007 – Made from a blend of fruit from four vineyards, although the majority (75%) is from the Albaneve Vineyard in Campo de los Andes located 1100m above sea level. The grapes were hand-picked and fermented in small 110 hl cement tanks. A deep purple colour with aromas of black fruit, black plums and a touch of dusty oak. A rich, rounded palate, displaying black plums and chocolate notes, backed with fresh acids.  
Alta Vista Single Vineyard “Serenade” 2007 – Deep ruby robe. Pronounced intensity nose of black plums, ripe black cherries and fruitcake. Rich and concentrated fruit with chewy tannins. A wine for aging.
Alta Vista Alto 2006 – The Alto is Alta Vista’s top wine, made from a blend of 70% Malbec and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep purple with a fine layer of sediment. Developing, broody nose with notes of earth and black fruit. A structured, elegant wine with resolved tannins, high acidity and a medium+ finish.
Alta Vista is distributed in Singapore by Beam Global Asia Pte Ltd.

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