4 Apr 2016

WINE: Doña Paula Estate

MARTIN Kaiser and Marcos Fernandez are at the tasting room of Doña Paula’s El Alto vineyard at Ugarteche, Luján de Cuyo, part of the estate’s sustainably-managed, ecologically-inclined holdings which totals 1,737 acres throughout Luján de Cuyo and the Uco Valley, Argentina. Compared to the city of Mendoza, with vintage Cadillacs, Art Deco buildings and tango bar dens 30 miles west, the wood cabin is serene, brushed by fronds in the breeze of a willow, overlooking myriad vines from the cusp of a reservoir. “It’s never hot here, leading to firmer tannins and acidity,” appraises head winemaker, Fernandez.

Although the celebrated Malbec is the Don to Doña Paula, Kaiser and Fernandez are keen to first show another wine crafted in their mission to deliver “the best the Argentinean terroir can offer.” Despite the estimate that less than one percent of Argentina has an ideal climate for white wine production – “even Patagonia is too warm,” says Kaiser – a thirst is building at home and abroad for fresh, mineral styles with volume, acidity and memorable finishes. I taste glass-frosting, orange blossom-fragranced Chardonnay, valued for its “flexibility”, reaped from vines gripping sandy soil some 1,350 meters above sea level, followed by a blend of Estate Malbec and Syrah. It is defined by a vibrant purple edge, ripe, plumb-scented nose and white pepper-pepped palate, speaking of the virtues of the cold climate and the mineral and rocky soils of the Uco.
As afternoon becomes evening, with hunger building, we relocate to the candlelit courtyard of famed restaurant, 1884 Francis Mallman, Mendoza to explore the top level Estate and Parcel series of Malbecs. Kaiser mentions he devoted two years research to mapping soils, while Fernandez conducted numerous mini-fermentations to gain greater understanding and ultimately, improvements in flavour. Of the Parcel Series, being the floral, blueberry-scented Doña Paula Alluvia, dried herb and camphor –scented El Alto, and rare (just 2,000 bottles being made) silky Los Indios, Fernandez confers that it is his vision “to make single vineyard blends related to altitude.”
Finally, with Mallman’s rib eye, which requires stamina, evoking the shape of Argentina, cooked on the custom-made asado, we try the 1100, a sweet briar-like blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from three blocks in the Los Indios Estate at an altitude of 1,100 metres.
What might we hope to see next in the UK, I ask, as final sips and sinews are consumed. “We know more about Malbec today, but we still need to go further with Cabernet Sauvignon,” says Fernandez. Kaiser nods, then smiles broadly. “Vines are my toys and I’m a kid playing with them. Who was the responsible man who gave me 700 hectares to play with?” 
(First published: Harper's)