Santiago Mayorga, winemaker for Nieto Senetiner and Cadus Winery, was in London for a masterclass to explain his new style of Argentinian Malbec that is more modern, aimed at what the American customer now wants and is also made to be drunk with food – in this case a lot of steak. A sommelier-friendly Chardonnay and 100% Petit Verdot were also wines to watch out for.
Santiago Mayorga demonstrates how he is reining in the new oak of his Malbecs and concentrating on freshness, fruit and softness instead.
Cricket and winemaking have long been happy bedfellows.
From winemaker Geoff Merill’s partnership (13 years not out) with England cricket stars Ian Botham and Bob Willis under the BMW umbrella, to Aussie winemaker Jim Barry’s well-known and delicious Cover Drive Cabernet, they have long gone hand-in-hand.
But have you ever met a winemaker that looks like a cricketer?
All the wines for the two Argentinean wineries are made by Santiago Mayorga, a charming, erudite guy who’s a dead ringer for England seam bower Steven Finn. Suffice to say he’d never heard of Finn, but that didn’t detract from his insightful masterclass.
Mayorga is a trained oenologist and follows in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps – both grew grapes and made wine in Mendoza. Outside of Argentina he has made wine in Cahors, France, where he learned about the history of Malbec and how it’s produced in its birthplace.
This in-depth knowledge of Malbec as well as his passion for innovation in the vineyard and winery informs much of his winemaking.
Tasting the wines it is obvious that there’s a very modern approach to how they’re made – particularly those from Cadus – and the winemaking team has listened to the demands of the market and responded.
Gone are the ‘blocky’ red wines made for the American market and exported elsewhere too – now Mayorga is reining in the new oak and concentrating on freshness, fruit and softness instead. This was made very clear in a pairing of two single vineyard Malbecs, one from 2011 and one from 2013.
Aside from the Malbecs (of the eight wines tasted, five were Malbecs!), there were two completely different but attractive whites and a charming Petit Verdot that is so very young but holds much promise.
Here’s what we tasted, and it’s worth noting that many of the reds were tasted on their own first and then with food (steak, steak and more steak – we were at the Gaucho Grill after all) where they really came alive.
Nieto Senetiner Semillon 2014
We’re told that Nieto Senetiner’s wines are personality-driven and focus not only on varietal individuality and flair but also on specific regions and sites. This is clear from the off as the first wine tasted is a distinct and lively Semillon from Mendoza’s Uco Valley.
It’s waxy and vibrant with a lime kick and lingering spice on the palate. Great texture comes from the delicate use of French oak. “Argentina has an opportunity to make Semillon its own,” says Gaucho’s Phil Crozier.
If it’s all as good as this, then why not?
Nieto Senetiner Chardonnay 2014
“I wanted an approachable wine – with natural character and tension,” says Mayorga. The key to achieving this is to harvest 80% of the fruit before it is fully ripe and the remaining 20% when ripe. Then blend. An Argentinean take on the system used in Amarone of sorts, but without the appassimento.
The result is a spritely Chardonnay with tropical, toasty characters and balanced acidity. The nose is so clean and enticing – as sommelier-friendly as Chardonnay comes.
Cadus Winery ‘Gualtallary Appellation’ Malbec 2013
Food-friendliness is at the forefront when this wine is being made – because it must work in restaurants it cannot be over-extracted or overblown.
It’s a very modern take on Malbec moving away from the ‘raisin and oak’ style which made the grape so popular and concentrating rather on less-ripe fruit characters (raspberry, black cherry) and floral/herbaceous notes (violet, mint, dried flowers). There’s a smokiness too and just a whiff of vanilla.
Don Nicanor ‘Barrel Select Malbec 2014
This Malbec really stood out, and not just because it comes in a thick Burgundy-shaped bottle. It’s so fresh, and lighter, more elegant than the Gualtallary Appellation Malbec. Like a velvet glove on the palate, it’s all redcurrant and raspberry fruit shot through with secondary oak characters. A long and classy finish completes the picture.
Don Nicanor Single Vineyard ‘Villa Blanca’ Malbec 2013
The vines this wine is made from are 116-years-old and un-grafted. Not something you find every day.
They produce a wine with an earthy, savoury, soy edge with great sweetness of fruit and a nod to childhood favourite penny sweet the Blackjack. There’s real fruit too, plums and blackcurrant and integrated tannins.
A chewy wine which benefitted hugely when sipped alongside a rare steak.
Cadus Winery ‘Single Vineyard’ Malbec 2013 & Cadus Winery Single Vineyard ‘Finca :Las Torcazas’ Malbec 2011
These two wines were tasted side-by-side to show how the winery is changing its approach to Malbec to chime with the demands of the modern non-American consumer. A canny move, in terms of actual style and also in marketing terms.
The 2013 is soft and aromatic with plenty of red fruit and just a hint of bonfire smoke, while the 2011 is chunky, rich and bold (thanks in part to 24 months in new oak). The difference is incredible and it’s safe to say that most at the tasting preferred the modern approach.
Cadus Winery Petit Verdot 2015
This 100% Petit Verdot from vineyards some 1,200 metres above sea level was a great way to finish the tasting.
It has such a vibrancy of colour and a glowing purple hue that it came as a relief when Santiago Mayorga explained that it was only bottled ‘one week ago’. It was certainly young and fighty (a little rough around the edges with a nose reminiscent of a winery tank sample), but that was part of its charm.
The knowledge that this aromatic, floral nose with just hints of fruit would development into a full-blooded fruit-driven wine as it aged and settled down in bottle was somehow reassuring. As it was, its grippy tannins and redcurrant profile were the perfect match for the red meat on offer.
A wine to watch.
Nieto Senetiner and Cadus Winery wines are imported and distributed by Boutinot.