South Amer­ica’s top 10 wine­mak­ers

Plenty of can­di­dates for this list, from the globe-trot­ting pioneers build­ing on tra­di­tion, to the younger gen­er­a­tions mov­ing in rad­i­cal new di­rec­tions. Tim Atkin MW had the task of nar­row­ing it down to just the 10 most ex­cit­ing wine­mak­ers in Chile and Ar

Decanter - - DECANTER PROMOTION - Tim Atkin MW is an award-win­ning wine writer and reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to De­can­ter. His 2017 Spe­cial Re­ports on Chile and Ar­gentina are avail­able at

Se­bastián Zuc­cardi

Ar­gentina: Zuc­cardi and Cara Sur ‘I’m an evan­ge­list as much as a wine­maker,’ says Se­bastián Zuc­cardi, star­ing out from the com­pany’s new win­ery to­wards the An­des. ‘Wine­mak­ing isn’t just about science, how­ever im­por­tant that is. Things that aren’t proven still ex­ist.’ You hes­i­tate to use the word spir­i­tual, but Zuc­cardi al­ways seems to see a broader can­vas in his quest to pro­duce ‘An­dean wines with a sense of place’.

Gen­er­a­tional shifts are not al­ways easy in fam­ily-owned winer­ies, but at Zuc­cardi the process has been very har­mo­nious. Se­bastián took over from his fa­ther, José, in 2009 af­ter spend­ing seven vin­tages work­ing over­seas. ‘I’ve never had a guru,’ he says. ‘I’ve been al­lowed to fol­low my own in­stincts.’ The re­sult has been a re­mark­able trans­for­ma­tion in the win­ery’s fo­cus and for­tunes, mov­ing away from its tra­di­tional base in the heat of eastern Mendoza to the cooler Uco Val­ley.

Un­der his lead­er­ship, the Zuc­cardis have made a string of ex­cep­tional, ter­roir-driven wines, most notably un­der the Alu­vional and Piedra In­finita brands. More re­cently, Polí­gonos, sourced from young vine­yards in San Pablo, is very promis­ing too. And then there is another small project, Cara Sur (south face), made with his friend Pan­cho Bu­gallo in up-and-com­ing Bar­real. Zuc­cardi, Piedra In­finita, Paraje Al­tamira, Uco Val­ley, Ar­gentina 2012 98 £70.46-£74.95 Cam­bridge Wine Mer­chants, Davis Bell McCraith, Find Me That Wine, Hail­sham Cel­lars One of the great­est ever Ar­gen­tinian reds, this is from lime­stone soils and is fer­mented with 10% whole bunches. Fo­cused, youth­ful, con­cen­trated, deftly in­te­grated oak. Drink 2017-2026 Alc 15%

David Bonomi

Ar­gentina: Nor­ton and PerSe Friendly, pop­u­lar and charm­ing, David Bonomi never stops smil­ing. And smile he should, given that he’s now taken over the full-time wine­mak­ing po­si­tion at Bodega Nor­ton, where his sin­gle-ter­roir Mal­becs and red blends are ex­em­plary and his whites are get­ting bet­ter with every vin­tage.

But Bonomi has another rea­son to be happy. With Edy del Popolo of Su­sana Balbo Wines, he also has a small, yet in­creas­ingly world-class brand to his name: PerSe. So far, the part­ners

have only made wines from pur­chased grapes in the up­per part of the Uco Val­ley, but the two hectares they have planted in the lime­stone-rich grounds of the Monas­te­rio del Cristo Orante in Gual­tal­lary are enough to make any­one be­lieve in di­vine in­ter­ven­tion. ‘A place like this doesn’t have a price,’ he says. ‘It’s sim­ply mag­i­cal.’

No one, yet, has tasted the first vin­tage (2016) pro­duced from this site, but just sam­pling the grapes is a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence. And given what Bonomi and del Popolo have al­ready achieved with their Mal­bec (Vo­lare del Camino) and two Mal­bec-Caber­net Franc blends (Iu­bileus and La Craie), not to men­tion a Sherry-style, non-vin­tage Chardon­nay (Vo­lare de Flor), you know it will be a rev­e­la­tion. PerSe, Vo­lare del Camino, Gual­tal­lary, Uco Val­ley, Ar­gentina 2014 95 £60 Indigo Wine A 100% Mal­bec sourced from a tiny, lime­stone-rich vine­yard at 1,450m, this is a bril­liant first re­lease: fo­cused, taut and very dense with dark berry fruit un­der­pinned by min­er­al­ity and fresh­ness. Drink 2018-2025 Alc 14.5%

David Bonomi (left) ‘A place like this doesn’t have a price. It’s sim­ply mag­i­cal’

Julio Bou­chon

Chile: Bou­chon Trained as a jour­nal­ist rather than an oe­nol­o­gist, Julio Bou­chon says that he’s not re­ally a wine­maker. ‘I’ve only ever worked in my fam­ily’s win­ery, so my CV is very poor, too.’ And yet walk with him around the fam­ily es­tate in Maule and it’s clear that he’s right when he says, ‘wine is flow­ing in my blood’.

Bou­chon has only been run­ning the busi­ness for three years, but is tak­ing it in a rad­i­cal new di­rec­tion. ‘We re­alised that we were Bordeaux-ori­ented, but our place has noth­ing to do with Bordeaux. I de­cided that we needed our own iden­tity.’

The re­sult has been a switch to mostly dry-farmed Semil­lon, Carig­nan, Mal­bec and País, grapes that have a his­tory in Chile’s Se­cano In­te­rior re­gion. País – grown out of ‘con­vic­tion’ rather than be­cause it’s fashionable – is a fo­cus. The vines are wild, more than100 years old, and curl around tree branches in their search for sun­light. To pick the grapes, Bou­chon’s team has to use lad­ders.

Like most of the new gen­er­a­tion of pro­duc­ers, Bou­chon only uses foudres, ce­ment tanks and am­phorae to fer­ment and age his wines. ‘I haven’t bought a new bar­rel yet. I don’t want to copy Bordeaux.’ J Bou­chon, Canto Sur, Maule Val­ley, Chile 2016 91 £ 15 Ban­croft This ce­ment-fer­mented blend of Carmenere with 25% each of Carig­nan and País is flo­ral, juicy and spicy, with rasp­berry and black cherry fruit and sappy, gran­u­lar tan­nins. Won­der­fully quaf­fa­ble. Drink 2017-2021 Alc 13%

Marcelo Re­ta­mal

Chile: De Martino, Viñe­dos de Al­co­huaz Marcelo Re­ta­mal went to see a for­tune teller re­cently, who, be­liev­ing in rein­car­na­tion, told him that he was on the last of his five lives. If that’s true, he hasn’t wasted it. Re­ta­mal is ar­guably the most in­flu­en­tial wine­maker in Chile, a man who has had a rad­i­cal im­pact on the way his coun­try makes wine. Widely trav­elled, as well as an avid con­sumer of wines from other coun­tries, Re­ta­mal is as cre­ative as he is open-minded. He started work­ing at De Martino in 1996 and has trans­formed the

‘I haven’t bought a new bar­rel yet. I don’t want to copy Bordeaux’ Julio Bou­chon (be­low with his fa­ther Julio Sr)

style of the win­ery’s reds and whites, mov­ing them to­wards lower al­co­hol, less ex­trac­tion and lit­tle or no oak. ‘I want to in­ter­vene as lit­tle as pos­si­ble,’ he says. ‘Less is more.’

Re­ta­mal has been one of the key fig­ures in the re­birth of the Itata re­gion, pro­mot­ing the use of am­phorae and tra­di­tional grapes such as Cin­sault and Mus­cat, but he makes ter­roir­driven wines all over Chile. Since 2007, he has also been in­volved with Viñe­dos de Al­co­huaz, a re­mark­able new project high in the An­des on gran­ite soils. The two Mediter­ranean-style blends he makes there, Grus and Rhu, are two of Chile’s most ex­cit­ing reds. De Martino, Vie­jas Ti­na­jas Mus­cat, Itata, Chile

2016 96 £ 16.99 Bedales, Les Caves de Pyrene, Up­ton upon Sev­ern A back to the fu­ture, am­phora-fer­mented and aged white: bak­ing spices, orange zest, rose water and a tan­nic bite and a salty, al­most Sherry-like tang. Quin­tes­sen­tial Itata. Drink 2017-2020 Alc 13%

‘I want to in­ter­vene as lit­tle as pos­si­ble. Less is more’ Marcelo Re­ta­mal (above)

Ale­jan­dro Vigil

Ar­gentina: Bodega Aleanna and Catena Very few wine­mak­ers run a restau­rant from their own back gar­den. But turn up at the Casa El Ene­migo on any given night and the place is packed, with live mu­sic, great food and bot­tles passed from ta­ble to ta­ble.

This is not just any old restau­rant – it’s an eatery, but it’s also a party. In much the same way, its pro­pri­etor Ale­jan­dro Vigil is a wine­maker as well as a per­former.

Vigil’s home base also houses the small win­ery where he makes his ex­ten­sive range of El Ene­migo wines, fo­cus­ing on Bonarda, Caber­net Franc and Mal­bec (es­pe­cially blends of the lat­ter two grapes). This is where he gets to ex­per­i­ment and push the bound­aries of Ar­gen­tinian wine, es­pe­cially with the use of whole-bunch fer­men­ta­tion and old-vine, sin­gle-ter­roir reds.

But that’s only one side of Vigil’s work­ing life. He is also in charge of the ex­ten­sive Catena Group’s port­fo­lio of vine­yards and winer­ies. He’s on a slightly shorter leash here, but the ex­ten­sive re­sources he en­joys – al­lied to his back­ground as a soil sci­en­tist – have en­abled him to make some of Ar­gentina’s best and most am­bi­tious wines: Ni­colás, Adri­anna

Vine­yard’s Mun­dus Bacil­lus and his award­win­ning Chardon­nay, White Bones. Catena Zapata, Ni­colás Catena Zapata,

Mendoza, Ar­gentina 2011 95 £ 55.85-£ 59 Exel, Winedi­rect Com­bin­ing Mal­bec with Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, this is al­ways among the most age­wor­thy reds in Ar­gentina. Cas­sis and plum flavours are com­ple­mented by stylish, aro­matic oak. Drink 2017-2026 Alc 14%

Fran­cisco Baet­tig

Chile: Er­razuriz and Viñedo Chadwick Fran­cisco Baet­tig likes to quote Grou­cho Marx when asked about his wine­mak­ing phi­los­o­phy: ‘If you don’t like it, I’ve got oth­ers.’ What he means is that his ap­proach to his craft is al­ways chang­ing, in­flu­enced by ex­pe­ri­ence and over­seas trips. ‘I’m not swayed by fash­ion or com­mer­cial con­sid­er­a­tions,’ he adds, ‘just my own de­vel­op­ment.’

Widely re­garded as one of the best oe­nol­o­gists in Chile, not least by his peer group, Baet­tig is a quiet, thought­ful pres­ence in the win­ery. Over the years, his style has come to re­sem­ble those of his Euro­pean wine­mak­ing he­roes – Michel La­farge, Alain

Grail­lot, Bernard Baudry, Bar­tolo Mas­carello, Paul Pon­tal­lier, An­dré Per­ret – favour­ing el­e­gance and ter­roir over oak and power: ‘I want peo­ple to drink a sec­ond bot­tle, prefer­ably on the same night as the first one.’

The scary thing for his com­peti­tors is that he’s still im­prov­ing. The Las Pizarras Chardon­nay 2015 is the best ex­am­ple of the grape ever pro­duced in South Amer­ica, shim­mer­ing with Bur­gun­dian-like com­plex­ity, while the 2014 Viñedo Chadwick is ev­ery­thing a great Maipo Caber­net should be. ‘It’s like the Chilean wines of old,’ Baet­tig says, ‘but with a mod­ern touch.’ Er­razuriz, Don Max­imi­ano Founder’s Re­serve, Aconcagua Val­ley, Chile 2014 96 £63.75 Hail­sham Cel­lars, Hasle­mere Wine Mer­chants, The Wine Re­serve A won­der­fully el­e­gant, silky, Caber­net Sauvi­gnon-based cu­vée with flo­ral, fine-boned flavours of graphite, red plum and black­cur­rant, bright acid­ity. Drink 2018-2028 Alc 14%

Matiás Ric­citelli

Ar­gentina: Ric­citelli Wines ‘The Ap­ple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree’ is the name of one of Matías Ric­citelli’s brands, but it’s also a neat sum­mary of his life. His fa­ther, Jorge, is one of the leg­ends of the Ar­gen­tinian wine in­dus­try and the parental in­flu­ence has clearly been im­por­tant. Matías started as a cel­lar hand at Nor­ton at the age of 16, and he and Jorge still make a wine to­gether called Ric­citelli & Fa­ther. ‘I’ve al­ways fol­lowed his ex­am­ple,’ he says. Ric­citelli Ju­nior has been mak­ing his own wines since 2009, first along­side his day job at Fabre Mont­mayou and now at his own win­ery in Lu­ján de Cuyo. His creativ­ity is hard to keep up with – the port­fo­lio now runs to 22 wines,

and in­cludes ev­ery­thing from Tor­rontés to Bonarda, Sauvi­gnon Blanc to Mer­lot.

And yet the grape with which he has made his name has been, ap­pro­pri­ately enough, Mal­bec. In fact, you could ar­gue that with wines like the ‘di­rect, trans­par­ent’ Hey! Mal­bec and Re­pub­lica del Mal­bec, he has in­creased the va­ri­ety’s ap­peal to a younger gen­er­a­tion. Less well known is his old-vine Semil­lon, which has helped to res­ur­rect the rep­u­ta­tion of this his­toric Ar­gen­tinian grape. Ric­citelli, Old Vines Semil­lon, Río Ne­gro, Patag­o­nia, Ar­gentina 2016 95 £ 34.99 Hall­gar­ten Druitt & Novum The sec­ond re­lease from a 70-year-old par­cel in Patag­o­nia is every bit as good as the first: low yields and par­tial bar­rel fer­men­ta­tion have pro­duced a tangy, mealy, beeswaxy stun­ner. Drink 2017-2020 Alc 14%

Ale­jan­dro Se­janovich

Ar­gentina: Bus­cado Vivo o Muerto, Es­tan­cia Los Car­dones, Finca Us­pal­lata, Manos Ne­gras, TeHo and Tin­toNe­gro Known as ‘El Colorado’ be­cause of his red hair, Ale­jan­dro Se­janovich is one of Ar­gentina’s most in­tel­lec­tu­ally gifted wine­mak­ers. Few peo­ple can ex­plain the coun­try’s dif­fer­ent ter­roirs as well – and in three dif­fer­ent lan­guages. Fol­low­ing a year at the pres­ti­gious Ecole Na­tionale Supérieure Agronomique in France, he went on to run the viti­cul­tural re­search and de­vel­op­ment side of Bodega Catena Zapata for 16 years.

In 2010, he left to do his own thing with another Catena em­ployee, Jeff Maus­bach, mak­ing wines from Cafay­ate in Ar­gentina’s north to Patag­o­nia in the south, mostly from pur­chased grapes. Se­janovich’s ex­pe­ri­ence with Catena means that he knows Ar­gentina’s vine­yards in­ti­mately and is able to source the right ma­te­rial to ex­press his dis­tinc­tive range of styles. ‘Great vine­yards are a win­ery’s most im­por­tant as­set,’ he says.

Se­janovich’s wines are at their most pro­found in the Uco Val­ley, es­pe­cially from Tin­toNe­gro’s 1955 vine­yard in La Con­sulta and the four dif­fer­ent soil types of the La Es­cuela vine­yard. But look out for the small lots un­der the Bus­cado Vivo o Muerto la­bel and the Mal­bec from Us­pal­lata, lo­cated at 2,000m in the An­des. Tin­toNe­gro, La Es­cuela Mal­bec, Paraje Al­tamira, Uco Val­ley, Ar­gentina 2012 93 £ 26.50 Ar­mit Named af­ter a ru­ral school that once stood on the prop­erty, this is com­par­a­tively for­ward for a Tin­toNe­gro red, with im­pres­sive wild herb aro­mas, sleek tan­nins, black fruits and a min­eral tang. Drink 2017-2022 Alc 14%

Leo Erazo

Al­tos Las Hormi­gas and Rogue Vine Mak­ing wine on both sides of the An­des isn’t unique in South Amer­ica, but it’s still unusual. Leo Erazo is a Chilean who works at Al­tos Las Hormi­gas in Ar­gentina along­side its Ital­ian owner, the con­sul­tant Al­berto An­tonini, as well as pro­duc­ing his own wines in Chile’s Itata re­gion un­der the Rogue Vine and Leonardo Erazo la­bels.

In terms of va­ri­eties and cli­mates, the three winer­ies couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. Al­tos is fo­cused on Mal­bec, es­pe­cially Mal­bec grown on lime­stone soils, whereas Rogue Vine and Leonardo Erazo spe­cialise in blended reds

and whites from grapes such as Cin­sault and País, Mus­cat and Semil­lon, grown on unir­ri­gated granitic soils. Yet the ap­proach is re­mark­ably sim­i­lar: old vines (where pos­si­ble), lit­tle or no oak and min­i­mal in­ter­ven­tion.

‘I’m a ter­roirist try­ing to go back to the roots of viti­cul­ture,’ Erazo says.

Erazo did a Masters at Stel­len­bosch in South Africa in 2009 and shares some of the ideas of the new gen­er­a­tion of Cape wine­mak­ers.

‘I have learned from pro­fes­sors, schol­ars, wine­mak­ers and viti­cul­tur­ists, but I’ve come to ap­pre­ci­ate the im­por­tan­ta­nce of in­tu­ition,’ he says. ‘At univer­sity, they teach you a recipe, but in­tu­ition is a vi­tal part of the cre­ative process.’ Rogue Vine, Grand Itata Red, Itata,

Chile 2015 94 £ 20-£ 21 Har­vey Ni­chols, Indigo Wine Who needs oak when you’ve got gran­ite soils? This blend of Cin­sault with 5% País is fresh and beau­ti­fully struc­tured with notes of wild Mediter­ranean herbs, rasp­berry and ginger spice. Drink 2017-2020 Alc 13%

Rafael Ur­re­jola

Chile: Un­dur­raga Rafael Ur­re­jola has one of the great Spo­tify ac­counts. Sit and taste with him at Un­dur­raga, in a room fes­tooned with awards, and mu­sic is in­vari­ably play­ing in the back­ground.

Ur­re­jola’s eclec­tic tastes ex­tend to his wines, too. As tech­ni­cal direc­tor, part of his re­spon­si­bil­ity is to seek out spe­cial parcels of vines for the win­ery’s TH (Ter­roir Hunter) se­ries. There are 16 of th­ese now, made in small 300- to 500-case lots from grapes as di­verse as Carmenere, Chardon­nay, Pinot Noir, Ries­ling, Sauvi­gnon Blanc and Syrah.

The TH line-up is a com­par­a­tively small part of what Ur­re­jola does – Un­dur­raga is among the big­gest winer­ies in Chile – but it’s the one that has pro­pelled him to the front rank of the coun­try’s wine­mak­ers since it be­gan in 2011.

Us­ing grapes from Li­marí in the north to Maule in the Se­cano In­te­rior, he has pro­duced a range of bril­liant, site-spe­cific wines. Nor is this en­tirely down to the qual­ity of the grapes; Ur­re­jola’s wine­mak­ing touch is gen­tle and un­ob­tru­sive, yet still ap­par­ent.

‘Chilean wines are fi­nally be­gin­ning to ex­press our mag­i­cally abrupt ge­og­ra­phy, the An­dean in­flu­ence, the vol­canic sub­soil and the

print of the Pa­cific,’ he says. Un­dur­raga, Ter­roir Hunter Gar­nacha-Car­iñena- Monas­trell, Cauquenes, Chile 2013 94 £ 16 The Wine So­ci­ety This is a dry-farmed blend of mostly Gar­nacha with 25% Car­iñena and 15% Mon­strell, show­ing sub­tle oak, bram­ble and red berry flavours, min­er­ally fresh­ness and clas­sic Cauquenes tan­nins. Drink 2017-2022 Alc 14%

Be­low: Ale­jan­dro Se­janovich trained in France and worked at Catena for 16 years be­fore set­ting up his own ven­ture in 2010

Above: Fran­cisco Baet­tig, chief wine­maker at Chile’s Viña Er­razuriz, Viñedo Chadwick and Seña. Be­low: Matiás Ric­citelli

Above: Ale­jan­dro Vigil takes over­all charge of wine­mak­ing at Catena, also pro­duc­ing his own El Ene­migo la­bel

Above: Marcelo Re­ta­mal among the young vines of the Al­co­huaz vine­yard in Chile’s high Elqui Val­ley

Above right: Se­bastián Zuc­cardi sit­ting in one of the fam­ily’s Mal­bec vine­yards in the Uco Val­ley, Ar­gentina

Above left: Leo Erazo of Al­tos Las Hormi­gas and Rogue Vine. Above right: Rafael Ur­re­jola at Un­dur­ra­gaÕs win­ery near Santiago

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