• Tasting the Bemberg Estate range with winemaker Daniel Pi

    Argentinian wine icon, Daniel Pi, recently visited London to help launch the new vintages of the luxury Bemberg Estate Wines project. For many years the wine-making guru behind the popular wines coming out of the hugely successful Grupo Peñaflor, Pi has returned to the cellar, this time to take charge of a range of premium Argentine wines under the Bemberg Estate label. We sent The Buyer’s Mike Turner along to meet the man himself for a guided tasting through the new releases.

    Argentinian wine icon, Daniel Pi, recently visited London to help launch the new vintages of the luxury Bemberg Estate Wines project. For many years the wine-making guru behind the popular wines coming out of the hugely successful Grupo Peñaflor, Pi has returned to the cellar, this time to take charge of a range of premium Argentine wines under the Bemberg Estate label. We sent The Buyer’s Mike Turner along to meet the man himself for a guided tasting through the new releases.

    mm By November 29, 2023

    “I get that sommeliers usually will look to carry only one high end Malbec on the list, but we’re here to show that they aren’t all simply the same, there’s real difference of expression in these bottles,” says Bemberg’s Daniel Pi.

    Bemberg
    More emphasis on quality: Daniel-Pi, chief winemaker, Bemberg Estate

    Whenever we think about Argentinian wine, many of us will immediately start thinking about the wines of Catena, Zuccardi or Chakana and the ever more fabulous wines they have been producing and exporting to our shores. But few winemakers in Argentina can rival Bemberg Estate chief winemaker Daniel Pi for the breadth of knowledge and the possibilities of quality up and down this ever-evolving wine country.

    Pi has been at the forefront of the wines of Argentina since joining Grupo Peñaflor in 1992, eventually ending up as the group’s winemaking director between 2010 and 2021. To be at the helm of Argentina’s largest producer of bottled wine, and the world’s largest producer of Malbec, has given Pi an insight like no other into the variety of terroir on offer.

    As well as overseeing the Mendoza-based, flagship winery of Trapiche, his time at Peñaflor also included stints developing the El Esteco winery in the Calchaquíes Valley in Salta and Finca Las Moras in the exciting Pedernal Valley in San Juan. His unparalleled knowledge of the sites and soils from north to south left him ideally positioned to take on his newest challenge; the luxury range of Bemberg Estate Wines.

    Grupo Peñaflor under the Bemberg family

    Bemberg
    Argentina’s incredible and unique landscape

    The Bemberg family is one of Argentina’s most successful dynastic stories of recent years. The tale begins in earnest with the emigration of Otto Peter Bemberg in 1850 to South America, where he eventually settled in Argentina. Along with his son, Otto Sebastián, he would go on to found what would in time become Cervecería Quilmes, one of the largest breweries in the world. Otto’s descendants controlled the brewery up until 2006 when they sold their controlling stake to AmBev (now part of Anheuser-Busch InBev).

    The Bemberg family interests range across industries, from mining to banking, but soon they looked for a project to bring the family back together, “to produce something they could touch” as Pi interjected. In 2010, therefore, they returned to the drinks industry by acquiring Grupo Peñaflor. This was, and remains, Argentina’s largest privately-owned wine company, managing 3,500 hectares and nearly 3,000 employees across Argentina. New ownership brought a new ethos.

    “Peñaflor was producing 12m litres per month,” remembered Pi. “The model has now changed to 4m litres per month, but with more emphasis on quality. My job, and that of those around me became less about EBITDA as we had previously; with the Bemberg family it’s all about adding value.”

    The Bemberg Estate Wines project

    Bemberg
    The Bemberg Wines project

    As the 2010s ticked by, various members of the Bemberg voiced a desire to produce their own wines, in theory only for family and friends, and turned to Pi for guidance. The family subsequently gave him a brief to produce the best wines he could from the group’s vineyards.

    Despite his desire to step back from his role at Grupo Peñaflor in the coming years, this was a chance too good to turn down for a man who had spent many decades intently studying the terroir of the group’s plots.

    “I knew I would eventually retire (which he did in March 2021) from my role as winemaking director for the group,” remembered Pi, “but I couldn’t say no to the family on this enterprise. This has become a passion project for me, producing the best wines I can, aiming for high quality, ageworthy wines, and also helping to establish our wonderful new winery in Gualtallary.”

    The result is not only a stunning, modern boutique winery but, more importantly, a range of eight wines, including seven  single vineyard expressions that aim to take you on a tour of the different terroirs of Argentina. Such was the impressive quality produced by Pi and his team, the family decided in 2016 to release them across the world.

    “Maybe we felt like we were joining the high-end Argentina market 10 years later than most,” admitted Pi, “but we had access to incredible plots. It was a huge nod to the quality we were producing that the family allowed the use of the Bemberg family name for the first time in 160 years.”

    Launched in 2018 (with the 2013 vintage) to great acclaim, the wines soon won placings on the wine lists of restaurants the family themselves loved to frequent.

    “These are wines designed for top restaurants and quality independent merchants,” remarked Pi. “It’s something both myself and the family feel is very important that these wines are enjoyed and we can show off the quality that can be reached across Argentina.” These are also perfect wines for collectors across the globe, keen to get their hands on some of the mere 5,000 bottles of each label produced each vintage.

    The Bemberg Estate wines

    Bemberg
    The Bemberg Estate range

    “I already knew in 2010 which plots I wanted to start with,” beamed an animated Pi. He revisited the northern Salta region’s Calchaqui Valley for a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Malbec, as well as returning to his old stomping ground in the Pedernal Valley in San Juan for a Malbec from there. Two wines are made in Gualtallary, a Malbec and a Chardonnay just a stone’s throw from the winery in the Uco Valley’s northern department of Tupungato. The seven-wine line-up of the La Linterna single vineyard range of so-called ‘micro-terroir wines’ is completed by a final Malbec from La Consulta in the southern Uco Valley, and a Pinot Noir from Los Árboles in Tunuyán.

    “Some of the family live in Burgundy, so we had to have a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir,’ joked Pi. “I also love the potential for Cab in Salta, the soils in Gualtallary are so different from plot to plot, and then the Pedernal Valley is just so different to everywhere else. I’m really pleased with the current range.”

    Some might question the decision to produce four high-end Malbecs, which are arguably competing with each other for space on wine lists, but this is half the point, revealed Pi. “The plots for the four Malbecs cover a range of 1200km from the most northerly to the most southerly, as well as over 1000m of altitude in difference,” explained the winemaker. “I get that sommeliers usually will look to carry only one high end Malbec on the list, but we’re here to show that they aren’t all simply the same, there’s real difference of expression in these bottles.”

    The full Bemberg Estate range is completed by an eighth wine, Pionero. This is a luxurious blend of pre-phylloxera Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grown on deep sandy soils and an homage to the original Bordeaux styles from which these plantings were originally taken. Pi revealed it’s already proving a big hit with private collectors in Argentina, Japan and the USA.

    As we talked, Pi took me through a selection of the range, including the two most distinct Malbecs on show. Here’s how I got on…

    Bemberg

    La Linterna Chardonnay 2018

    Plot #1, Finca El Tomillo, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza

    A plot sitting at around 1200m above sea level, successive soil studies have revealed three distinct layers, all offering perfect plots for different varietals. This Chardonnay, planted in Plot #1, is on the shallower part of sandy loam brought in by the strong and drying Zonda wind. The fermented wine receives 10-11 months of ageing on the fine lees in an equal mix of concrete, new barriques, and foudre. The resultant wine has an incredibly rich and pronounced nose of clean, crisp stone fruits, lemons and blossom, with a stone-y minerality and warming smoke notes. Although full of the high-altitude acidity, the mineral bite, creamy texture and full flavour is perfectly balanced.

    La Linterna, Finca Las Piedras Pinot Noir 2016

    Plot #12, Finca Las Piedras, Los Arboles, Tunuyán, Uco Valley, Mendoza

    “Gualtallary is an amphitheatre,” noted Pi. “If you go 20 kms to the south you’ll hit the mountains. That’s where Los Arboles is.” The region has noticeably higher rainfall than its surroundings, with these Pinot vines dry farmed since planting. 20% whole cluster fermentation to bring out more aromatics, followed by 12 months in new French pieces, racking and finally 6 months of settling in foudre. The wine is packed with succulent cherries, raspberries and red plums with a forest floor, earthy quality followed by herbal notes and nutmeg. Again, oodles of acidity as you’d expect, but again perfectly balanced by the flavour concentration and fine-grained tannins.

    La Linterna, Finca Los Chañares Malbec 2016

    Plot #73, Finca Los Chañares, Chañar Punco, Calchaqui Valley, Catamarca

    The most northerly expression of Malbec in the line-up, grown at nearly 2000m above sea level in the rocky, limestone soils of Chañar Punco. Vibrant black, blue and red fruits are complemented by liquorice notes and deep violet petal. There’s a definite green, herbal tinge that gives everything a fabulous lift into the finish. Powerful and full bodied, loved it now, but would love to try again with 10 years in bottle.

    Bemberg

    La Linterna, Finca El Milagro Malbec 2016

    Plot #15, Finca El Milagro, La Consulta, San Carlos, Uco Valley, Mendoza

    Following up with the most southerly Malbec, in La Consulta. Much lower in latitude at 1100m, but also much further south and on a bed of limestone, allowing for vibrant, ripe but soft, red and dark plums, raspberry, smoke, violet petal, smoke, fennel, nutmeg and pencil shavings. The tannins are really crisp, grippy, but somehow perfectly smooth on the finish. This one was showing very well, but again could age for a decade or more.

    La Linterna, Finca Las Mercedes Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

    Plot #19, Finca Las Mercedes, Cafayate Valley, Salta

    Moving on to the high altitude (1650m) and low latitude Cab from the Cafayate Valley. 65-year-old vines planted on poor alluvial soils produce a classic Cab of fresh blackcurrants and blackberries, green bell pepper, mint and liquorice. Intense tannic grip adds rather than detracts from the mouthfeel, with spades of acidity to lift the finish, leaving a long, dense richness of flavours.

    Pionero 2016

    Finca El Tomillo, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza

    This blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc is an attempt to recreate the kind of wine Otto Bemberg would have drunk when he settled in Argentina in 1860. Fabulously intense nose of red and black cherries, blackberries, black pepper, nutmeg, and liquorice. This is a truly fine wine, with a beautifully balanced, round, smooth mouthfeel and a finish just goes on and on.

    Bemberg Estate Wines are available in the UK through Top Selection. For more information and pricing on application, please contact Matt Ellis on matt@topselection.co.uk.

    Mike Turner is a freelance writer, presenter, educator, judge and regular contributor for The Buyer through his editorial company Please Bring Me My Wine. He also runs a wine events and ecommerce business, Feel Good Grapes, that explores and discusses the idea of sustainability in the wine trade.

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