By Sarah Rowlands, The Wine Diamond wine.diamonds Sept 2016
A wine tasting from a pioneering Argentinian winery that has moved from conventional through organic to biodynamic winemaking. Arranged in conjunction with the Circle of Wine Writers and Planet Thirst, and given by Gabriel Bloise, winemaker and general manager.
Chakana is based at the heart of Argentinian winemaking, in Agrelo, Lujan de Cujo Valley south of Mendoza. Though only established in 2002 the friendly and knowledgeable Gabriel admits that he has changed the whole concept of his wines and the way he manages the 180ha estate.
Originally conventional methods were used in the vineyards and the winery. This involved herbicides etc. and blocks of grapes were harvested at the same time. Selection then took place to decide, by tasting, which grapes were ripe and characterful enough for winemaking involving ageing and oak, and those destined for early drinking fruit forward styles. In the winery, wines were moulded using the saignée method to concentrate them, they were inoculated with yeast and acidity adjustments made to maintain freshness.
Aiming to make better quality wines, the vineyard soils were studied in detail. The concept of the wines is now origin based. Vineyards were surveyed using electromagnetic soil mapping, plus digging many holes along with other analysis like fertility, salinity and water retention. The overall picture was complex with layers of different types and depths of soils which did not respect the artificial vineyard block boundaries. This information was distilled into 12 main categories of soil. A detailed map of the vineyards was formed based on these categories.
Gabriel is convinced that the soil profile plays a major role in how the wine tastes. These profiles are now used to guide the order of harvesting the grapes. This means that harvest takes longer, however the benefit is that grapes have better and more even ripeness, and the vines and resulting wines are more balanced.
Continuing the quest for quality and understanding led to working organically; Bloise realised that herbicides had contributed to compaction in the soils, which leads to lack of oxygen for the roots. Then, working with a US consultant, the late Alan York, the vineyards are now moving towards biodynamic certification. Gabriel admits he does not understand fully how this holistic approach works. He has observed that the vines are in better balance and alcohol levels are more in check. In 2016, the strong El Nino affected South America bringing with it much rain and consequent disease risk, like botrytis, but the vines were strong enough to deal with this themselves. In addition, there is a huge increase in the micro-diversity within the soils.
He is committed to this way of working and recognising terroirs within the vineyards. He sees that the vineyards will have a long life ahead of them.
It shows in the tasting of the wines too. Comparing Chakana white blends (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, which retail around £13), the 2013 was smooth, with ripe peach and apple juice and a touch of bitterness on the finish [acidification?]. The organic 2015 was more vivid, with the Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc characters more noticeable. It was fresher, but this seemed not merely a function of it being younger. It had a more charming floral character and though flavours were more distinct it was overall more harmonious.
We tasted also the brambly Bonarda with a touch of coffee and bite on the finish, plus a weightier creamy textured Cabernet Sauvignon grown at 1400m in Gualtallary in the Uco Valley. This was made with well-integrated 100% oak barriques (40% new). Though young, with time it will develop, however it was already fresh and elegant (retailing at £19).
Lastly we tasted a mini vertical of their signature Ayni single vineyard Malbecs. These charted the changes in vineyard management moving from conventional to biodynamic methods. They were concentrated, with brambles, fine chalk-like tannins, cherries, smoke and a touch of floral and coffee. Initially in the glass candyfloss, like strawberry and spun sugar, which gave way to marshmallow and with time they evolved beautifully. A softness developed along with savoury notes. The youthful almost purple ruby 2015 was a tank sample and not yet bottled. This biodynamic wine (60% aged in foudres and 40% in concrete vats) was already smooth and elegant.
The combination of the El Nino weather and the change to holistic techniques have created overall a more charming European style. Credit should be given too, to Gabriel’s skills which showed in all the wines tasted; these skills have been recognised in the recent DWWA as the Chakana 2015 Nuna Estate Malbec was given gold in the organic wine category.
To find out more see fells.co.uk, the UK importer which covers the entry range starting from less than £10, to the top Ayni wine at £21.49. Thanks also to the Circle of Wine Writers and Sophie Jump at planetthirst.co.uk
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