Whether it is through the wide range of wines from Susana Balbo, where he is viticulturist and general manager, or through his personal PerSe project, Edy Del Popolo is at the forefront of viticultural change in Argentina. In town to host a lunch with wine writers Del Popolo showed Victor Smart the Signature range, Nosotros and BenMarco wines and explained his hands-off approach of viticulture.
“What I really like is to see what the vines can do by themselves, so I try to avoid adding my personal influence to my wines,” says Susana Balbo viticulturist, Edy Del Popolo.
Mendoza’s viniculture came of age some years back with the emergence of several ultra-premium Malbecs. Secure in their reputation, its top winemakers are now able to unbend a little and indulge a yen for experimentation with a range of varietals in new terroirs.
No one epitomises this better than Edy Del Popolo. After establishing himself in many of the region’s most important wineries, he joined the Susana Balbo wine group in 2013 as viticulturalist and general manager (Balbo herself, of course, is a formidable force in Argentina’s wine development too).
Del Popolo is one of Argentina’s most renowned and experienced viticulturists with a deep knowledge and understanding of Argentine soils. Through his personal PerSe project which has seen him grow Malbec at very high altitudes and on steep slopes, through to his work with Susana Balbo he is driven by a desire to have wines from all of the country’s sub-regions speak for themselves.
At a lunch at 67 Pall Mall, Del Popolo unfolds his quest to bring wine excellence to new areas of the Uco Valley, Gualtallary in particular. Thoughtful and personable, Del Popolo clearly has no need to prove anything yet still radiates a profound passion for the attempt to achieve wine excellence in uncharted soils.
Like many producers, Susana Balbo has several sub-brands in its portfolio. We’re here to taste the Susana Signature range, the high-end Nosotros and last, but not least, the BenMarco wines, the one for geeks (the company’s words), overseen by Del Popolo.
The first wine drawn from the Signature range is a bit of a tease. The Torrontés de Raiz Naranjo 2020 (13.5% ABV) is an orange wine not available in the UK. This is a crying shame as it’s a stunner – a perfect orange wine for those usually unimpressed by them. It is clean, has a beautiful colour and an earthy flavour that very clearly derives from the 16 days of skin contact. This, surely, would throw the category wide open to new customers.
Then on to the Signature White Blend 2022 (12% ABV) which is available at £18.25. From Altamira, this is a Torrontés, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc blend. Some will remember when Torrontés used to be bit oily. But this offering is clean and pure with well-managed oak.
Then on to the Nosotros Single Vineyard 2019 (14.5% ABV) around £90. The winery believes this is the best vintage of the ultra-primum red it has had and there is clearly bags of potential for ageing.
But it’s the shift on to the BenMarco range from Gualtallary that reveals Del Popolo at his most animated. Gualtallary is a high-altitude wine region in the northern reaches of the Uco Valley. The vineyards here are planted at the foot of the Andes at altitudes of up to 1600 metres.
Known for the diversity of its calcareous alluvial soils, this is the place that Del Popolo has chosen to enact his winemaking philosophy to the full. His outlook is summed up in his statement: “What I really like is to see what the vines can do by themselves, so I try to avoid adding my personal influence to my wines.” He has also said that a wine should speak about the place rather than the grape. Powerful words.
First we taste the Sin Limites Malbec Gualtallary 2021 (13.5% ABV) at £19.95. 100 per cent Malbec which boasts an appealing natural freshness and fine tannins plus a distinct garrique character. We then move on to Sin Limites Chardonnay 2022 (14.5% ABV). It’s not available in the UK. But it’s powerful, with an intense, ripe fruit core.
We then conclude with the Expresivo 2020 (14.5% ABV) at £28. This is 85% Malbec and 15% Cabernet Franc. It undergoes cold maceration for four days and spends 14 months in oak barrels.
With a lot of depth and chalky tannins, there are aromas of blackberries and violets and some wonderful mineral notes. Del Popolo’s ambition here is to make the Malbec “ethereal”. It is an enormous credit to him that the Expresivo invites comparisons around the table with the graceful, effortless quality of fine Pinot Noir.
The wines of Susana Balbo are imported and sold in the UK by Enotria & Coe which is a commercial partner of The Buyer, to learn more about them click here.