21 Jun 2011

An Argentinian Wine Tasting with Gaucho's director of wine Phil Crozier

This was a great event at Gaucho's Leeds restaurant, not just because of the wines, but also thanks to the knowledge and enthusiasm of our host, Phil Crozier. He has that great combination of being extremely knowledgeable and passionate about a subject but with an ability to speak about it without pretentiousness.

He's an interesting character: having started out as a musician and then going into sound engineering, he sort of drifted into the wine trade. He modestly says a lot of it was down to being in the right place at the right time: it was the mid-90s and Argentinian wine exports were just taking off, enabling him to transform Gaucho's wine list. Phil says he essentially worked through a list of wine importers, going from A-Z, and ended up with a room packed full of sample bottles to work through all on his own. Not knowing much about wine at the time didn't stop him: the best way to learn was to taste, taste and taste again. Here he is now as a successful restaurant chain's head of wine and a leading authority on Argentinian wine.

On to the wine. This tasting was all about showing what Argentina can do aside from Malbec. Not because there's anything wrong with the country's Malbec, far from it, but to show that the country isn't a one-trick pony and to highlight a growing appreciation in Argentina that different grape varieties can thrive in different areas.

We tasted five wines, one white and four reds, and my two favourites were a Cabernet Franc and a Tannat. Two varieties that are less common than Malbec on the supermarket shelves - certainly in the Argentina section - but I think they showed really encouraging signs that there is a hell of a lot more to come from Argentinian wine.

Catena Cabernet Franc 2008, from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, shows the kind of elegance that Argentinian wines can achieve: sprigs of mint and eucalyptus on top of fresh red fruit, creating a really fresh, balanced mouthful. No surprise the 2009 vintage won gold at the recent Decanter World Wine Awards.

Probeta Tannat 2010, from fruit grown at an altitude of 1,750 metres up in the region of Salta, is a beguiling wine with herbal aromas you can't quite put your finger on - rosemary and thyme and sage, perhaps, with some blueberry fruit. The mouthfeel is a touch firm - Phil pointed out you get a sense of green tea on the finish due to the tannin - so this could soften into an even more impressive wine in a couple of years. He also points out that in Salta you have perhaps 50 days extra ripening compared to Bordeaux, giving this tough, temperamental grape more time to ripen into something beautiful. He believes Tannat may well represent the future for the north of Argentina, and with this one I can see why. Really, really good.

The other three grape varieties we sampled were Torrontes, Petit Verdot and Bonarda. Seleccion G Michel Torino Torrontes 2010 was a bit too richly perfumed for my personal taste, but many will love the freshness and floral flavours of elderflower and slightly sweet lime marmalade. Emma Zuccardi Bonarda, another Decanter 2011 medal winner, smelt quite big and alcoholic in the glass, with a menthol aroma too. In the mouth it was packed with jammy fruit that was a touch sweet for my taste but nevertheless a good example of what this originally Italian grape, the second most planted in Argentina, can create. Finally the Pinca Decero Petit Verdot 2006 was a big dark wine with stocky legs that stuck to the inside of the glass when you gave it a swirl - a real winter warmer. When speaking about the aroma, Phil evoked childhood memories of pencil shavings in the classroom, and he was spot on.

It was a really inspiring, enjoyable tasting.

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