20 Nov 2012

Wine: José Galante

CONSIDERED one of South America’s most influential winemakers, José ‘Pepe’ Galante is head winemaker at Bodegas Salentein. He has undertaken 37 harvests in Argentina, including 34 at Bodega Catena Zapata. Between visits to Asia and the Ukraine, Douglas Blyde catches up with him at Salentein’s headquarters – a sixteenth century castle in the Netherlands which gave the brand its name...
Is your first love, Malbec?
Yes, and I am not alone. Not only is domestic consumption high, but exports have grown rapidly (by 927% from 1995 to 2005). In Europe, the UK is our most significant market, followed by Holland. I’m driven to make an aromatic expression of the grape.
Aside from steak, what food matches Malbec?
Although far from a major wine-producing country, I particularly like the challenge of matching the sweetness of tannin in our reds with Peruvian cuisine, which is becoming increasingly important all over South America. You can find over 100 types of potato in its canon, including the sweet potato, and over 30 types of corn. Seafood is abundant. Dishes often reflect a Japanese influence, as well as influences from Spain, China, Italy and West Africa.
Describe your growing climate?
At the West, the Andes, which is the world’s longest continental mountain range, cancels out the Pacific’s influence. Any effect of the open sea would therefore come from 1000kms to the East. Our climate is continental with blissfully low humidity and low rain (equating to just 200mms per year). It is the pure melt water from the Andes which makes grape growing possible, therefore.
What is your attitude to altitude?
Working with the Agro Biotech Center of DICTUC, I’ve investigated how Malbec behaves at three different altitudes, from 1050 to 1350 metres above sea level. Our results suggest that at lower altitude wine can be volatile, with fleeting herbaceous aromas and less acidity (particularly malic acid), while at higher altitude wine is more stable with sweeter tannins and what I would term more exciting flavours (citrus, minerality). 
Every increase of 100 metres above sea level gives an average temperature decrease of one degree Celsius, while the temperature difference in day-to-night increases, yielding higher quality grapes. It is impossible to make Pinot Noir unless you are at high altitude. Salentein’s vineyards rise 1050 to 1700 metres above sea level. We own over 2,100 hectares in the upper Uco Valley over the Eastern slopes of the Andes, covering 25 microclimates.
What is Argentina’s most exciting vine-growing region?
While I’ve worked with vineyards all over Mendoza, I can confidently say that the Uco Valley, which edges the Tunuyán River South-West of Mendoza, is our best new winegrowing region. Salentein were pioneers: the first winery in the territory to build facilities. Originally the state-of-the-art, gravity-fed winery lacked a road to its door – but foreign investment, including Lays crisps, which set up nearby made one possible, thankfully!
What about new markets?
We recently established an office in Shanghai, a city of 23 million people. In advance, I visited China and Japan for my first time this year. It shocked me. Every day something changes. Cities swell in a matter of years. The time is ripe to teach the very curious Chinese and be prepared for the ever increasing demand of middle class drinkers moving from very strong spirits like ‘bai jiu’ to wine. I thought it amusing, incidentally, that Chinese shoot wine at banquets, putting a little in their glass so as not to get too drunk!
What bottles slumber in your personal cellar?
I keep lots of bottles of high altitude Malbec and Chardonnay from all over the world.
Who was your mentor?
I studied at the University of Juan Agustin Maza under Francisco Oreglia, one of the new generation of Argentine oenologists and author of the first books to focus specifically on winemaking in Argentina. He inspired me to teach winemaking at the University of Mendoza for 15 years, specialising in high altitude winemaking.
What is your philosophy?
To fully preserve the full spectrum of fruit aromas and flavours through a smooth, gentle winemaking process and leading-edge technology.
What do you do to relax?
I spend time with my wife and three children and play golf - living each day to the fullest.