Since 1997, Michael Schachner has been a regular contributor to Wine Enthusiast, one of the most influential wine magazines in the world. In 2001, he started tasting and reviewing Argentine wines, as well as reviewing wines from Spain, Chile and Uruguay. Since then he has become an authority on the viticulture of Argentina, and a keen observer of the constantly changing landscape of our wines and the industry that produces them.
Constantly interested in discovering new generations but also conversing with experienced producers, in March he visited Buenos Aires and Mendoza, his tenth trip to the country. This time he decided to tour the Uco Valley with the intention of seeing the current situation of the area ten years after his first tour of the region and how it has become so iconic for Argentine wine. Back in New York after a hectic week in the vineyards, restaurants and hotels of Mendoza, he shared with Wines of Argentina a summary of his trip with the most interesting aspects and he confessed that, although he is not clear when he will return, “I’d like to come back anytime, or as soon as possible”.
Michael, What are the trends that you would highlight in Argentina after your visit?
More freedom and diversity within the wine community, and less fear of trying new things. Also more younger winemakers and winery owners are leading the change. I have been writing about Argentina for 17 years (since 2001), and when I started almost everyone was older than me; now I feel as though 75% of the people I recently spent time with or interviewed are younger than me.
On this trip, your focus was the Uco Valley, what do you like about this region?
I love the high desert terrain, the fact that the mountains are always in sight. I love the clarity of the air and sky. I love that there aren’t that many people around. And I also love the subtle influence of altitude on the grapes and wines. You don’t realize that you are almost always at least 1,000 meters high, and sometimes 1,500-1,600 meters high. That’s pretty high up relative to the rest of the wine world.
If you had to recommend our wines to someone that doesn’t know them yet, with which wines do you recommend starting and why?
I would start with Malbec priced around $20-$30 (US). These are the wines that offer the best quality-to-price ratios. I would tell someone not familiar with Argentina’s wines to try a fuller style of Malbec, say something from Mendel, Cobos, Monteviejo or Cuvelier de los Andes and then compare that with some of the more streamlined wines now being made by Zuccardi (Altamira), Matias Riccitelli and the Michelini brothers. That way, they would be able to see that there is more than one style of Malbec. I would also encourage somebody to try some of the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs coming from Gualtallary and San Pablo as well as the white blend from Piedra Negra (Francois Lurton) called Gran Lurton. I might even suggest a new age Sauvignon Blanc, for example the basic Sauvignon Blanc from Andeluna, which I think is authentic and honest, with varietal correctness.
How do you think Argentine wineries have to promote their wines in United States markets today?
They need to make the point that the wines are evolving and are not the same thing as 10 years ago, when most were big, oaky, high in alcohol and often acidified for balance. I would suggest promoting the fact that Argentina’s wine industry is now diverse, with younger more progressive winemakers in charge. I’d tell them that new ways of fermenting in cement and open bins combined with harvesting earlier is resulting in fresher wines that are more in tune with where the international and U.S. wine markets seem to be headed. I would simply say: The Argentina of 2018 is more modern and more evolved than the Argentina of 2008. In a few words: it’s better.
Beyond wines and wineries, what do you recommend from Argentina for those who never visit us?
Argentina needs to reclaim some of the popularity it had 10-15 years ago, when it seemed as though everyone wanted to visit Buenos Aires and Mendoza. Maybe it’s because so many people did go to Argentina 10-15 years ago, that nowadays Argentina is not as popular as it once was. Travelers tend to visit places once and then they look for something new, which I think is natural. That’s what my wife and I do: unless it’s for work, we don’t like to repeat vacations. Newness is what makes travel great, and you can only discover someplace one time. To help more people come to Argentina either for the first time or to revisit the country, I would promote the following: I would tout the country’s better infrastructure; I would definitely promote the fact that Aerolíneas Argentinas and other airlines have greatly improved. In addition, you have all the new routes in and out of Mendoza and I would promote what hasn’t changed: the openness and generally fun-loving attitude of most Argentines; the great food you have, and the excellent restaurants in Buenos Aires and Mendoza. I’d also re-emphasize that Mendoza and Valle de Uco continue to offer more to the wine-loving visitor: Restaurants and hotels like Casa Vigil and Casa de Uco are exactly what sophisticated travelers want; add in the good winery restaurants at Salentein, Domaine Bousquet, Tegui at SuperUco, Andeluna and others, and there’s a lot of new and good things to promote.