Light and shade! Heat and cold! And the silhouette of a gaucho on horseback against a deep blue sky. These are the memories I have of an evening in the Uco Valley, a sub-region of the Mendoza wine region of Argentina. I really felt I was at the other end of the earth.
In blistering heat all afternoon, we strolled or rode horses through the vineyards. I strolled, others rode, after two terrifying horses decided to try to throw me! In a mutual decision with the cowboys, we decided a third try might be futile!
We wondered if the locals had gone “un poco loco” as we saw them stoking massive barbecue fires as the sun dipped rapidly behind the Andes, which rose dramatically and vertically a few hundred metres from the ranch.
Suddenly, we were literally running to the pick-up trucks we had arrived in to grab sweaters as temperatures plunged from near 40 degrees to about 10 in as many minutes. The etched cowboy on the Eastern skyline turned from a colourful mirage to what resembled the Sandeman Man, a black silhouette against the fading light.
This is the Uco Valley with dramatic climate conditions that produce beautifully structured, elegant wines. Bathed in sunshine all day, the ripening grapes sit back and rest during the cold fresh nights. This hiatus leads to longer hang times and a build up of quality that vignerons in other climes could barely dream about.
The Falasco family started producing wine in 1939 in the Chacabuco vineyards in the Mendoza region of Western Argentina. From around 700 metres altitude, and very warm temperatures in San Martin, not far from Mendoza city, on the Panamerican highway, they subsequently spread to ever higher vineyards, in the Valle Norte, then the Valle Sur. This culminates the loftiest plots up to 1500m in the La Consulta, part of the Valle de Uco. This is where their Los Haroldos Reserva de Familia Malbec emanates. Here are also the grapes for their prestige heredados wines, a Malbec and a blend are produced.
At least two hours south of Mendoza City, Uco is the epitome of “the back of beyond”. And yet it can produce wines of such complexity and breed they can grace the tables of top restaurants in the most sophisticated Metropolis.
Malbec, of course, is the jewel in the crown of Argentine viticulture. Although emanating from Bordeaux, it travelled with the Conquistadores to South America, and Argentina has adopted it as its indigenous grape and made it its own.
Malbec is currently very much in fashion worldwide and there is no better partner for a juicy steak. Deep, brooding dark fruit with fine sinewy tannins and an excellent balance of fruit and acidity are redolent of autumn berries such as blackberries , blueberries and sloes, with a vein of minerality which culminates in a complex. This is a firm and robust wine which is, at the same time smooth and satisfyingly savoury.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay succeed in this region. However, the supple, fruity Bonarda is another grape variety that flourishes in the warmer Valle Sur and Valle Norte, making very approachable, round and juicy wines. It is difficult therefore, to fathom why such an aromatic, delicate white, the Torrontes, should thrive in the same conditions, but it does. It is a pity that so little Torrontes is seen in Europe because this unusual wine pairs beautifully with Asian and Fusion dishes.
The Falasco family are one of the top five producers in Argentina, and the wines are dedicated to three generations of the family who are still very involved in the estates. Each wine and variety is matched to the character and personality of each of the brothers, Franco and Jorge, a lion and a dragon, and the top wines, the Hermandad labels, are dedicated to their father Haroldo and their late brother, their “Angel”.
These exciting wines have just arrived, in time for the big Ireland v. Argentina rugby match in November, having been held up on their voyage by the recent storms! They will be much appreciated over the cold winter months, with beef and game and strong hard cheeses, but also with Italian and Spanish style dishes, reflecting their heritage!
Familia Falasco Website: http://www.familiafalasco.com/en/bodega/los-haroldos/
By Monica Murphy