A Sense of Place – Bodega Chacra, Pinot Noir & Rio Negro, Argentina
Argentine Malbec from Mendoza. Perhaps no other grape has recently been paired with a region so successfully than the Bordeaux export. Countless examples fill shelves and wine lists – many of them quite good, exuding not only typicity and sense of place but also embracing an emerging winemaking tradition in Argentina. However, Malbec from Mendoza did not interest me over the weekend – Pinot Noir from Rio Negro is what captured my attention.
Rio Negro is the southernmost winemaking area within Argentina. Home to more apple crops than vineyards, the region is still off of the radar for most wine drinkers. Though it’s quite some distance away from the equator, the region is not in fact overly cool for its latitude (after reading up on the Rio Negro, I must correct a statement I recently made on Twitter – the region is in fact not a cool climate region – it’s fairly warm with a long growing season). With a climate more dry than rainy and more dessert than lush, the vineyards of the Rio Negro Valley are often irrigated with melt from Andean snow, though some winemakers in the area dry farm. And compared to other Argentine wine regions, the Rio Negro is situated at a fairly low altitude with the best vineyards planted at around 750 feet above sea level. Some of the vineyards up north can be located at up to 3,000 feet.
Though it’s a fairly arid region, the Rio Negro does experience large diurnal temperature changes as the temperature at night can drop 25-40 degrees from daytime highs. And as the folks as Bodega Chacra note on their website, there are consistent and clearly defined seasons in the Rio Negro. This reliability on the weather patterns to remain true enables winemakers to produce wines that realize their potential in capturing a sense of place.
Like many winemakers in Argentina and Chile, Piero Incisa della Rochetta, is a transplant from Europe. You might recognize his family’s Tuscan label – Tenuta San Guido. Now at home in Rio Negro, della Rochetta sources grapes from vineyards that are up to 80 years in age – with the oldest vines still planted on their own rootstock. The wine I alluded to above was the 2009 Pinot Noir bottled under the Barda label. As is the practice with winemakers across the globe, della Rochetta uses the Barda as a second label which is bottled with grapes not used in their higher end, more precise cuvees. An incredibly aromatic and weighty wine, the ’09 Barda was not too richly textured or dark in color. It had an abundant amount of acidity and had the weight of a Pinot that can be best described as Pommard-esque. Too fruit forward to be confused with Burgundy it certainly had a flavor and textural profile that confused me a bit – not New Zealand, not California but with a couple of toes in a warmer vintage from the Cote d’Or. For me, it’s a wonderful gateway wine to the rest of the lineup produced at Chacra and I hope the single vineyard cuvees soon find their way onto my dinner table.