We tasted an outstanding Pinot Noir from Patagonia in Argentina last week that surprised us all with a rare precision and poise that we have seldom encountered in South American Pinot Noir.
All too often South American Pinot Noir can seem too simplistic, and they tend to show a pleasing sweetness of fruit that can come across a little confected and sometimes they have an overly creamy, toasty covering of new oak. Not so the wines from this estate.
We shouldn’t be surprised as Bodega Chacra was created by Piero Incisa della Rochetta, the grandson of Mario who founded the renowned Super Tuscan estate, Sassicaia. It seems there may be pioneering spirit in the blood – he has been making wine in Patagonia for near on 20 years and the results speak for themselves. The 24-hectare estate is situated in Mainqué in the Rio Negro region where Piero based his project around three hectares of old, ungrafted vines planted in 1932 and seven hectares planted in 1955 that had grown accustomed to the flood irrigation system that has been used for decades. To help place the region geographically, Mainqué is in northern Patagonia, 500 kms due south of Mendoza (or of the approximate line of latitude between Buenos Aires and Santiago), where the meltwater rivers of the Limay and Neuquén meet. The region is characterised by cold winters and warm to hot summers, with notable winds which limit humidity and cool the vines in the summer. Rainfall is low and the soils well-drained with low organic matter meaning the vines have to root deeply to find sustenance. Key to the success of Pinot Noir in this region is the fact that desert conditions allow for warm days and cold nights, which typically extend throughout the growing season. We make mention of this factor in many offers, but seldom are we describing conditions where night temperatures can drop by as much as 40 degrees! These are great conditions in which to retain acidity and aromas in the berries and aids a slow, even ripening process. Yields are naturally low, and the alluvial soils tend to produce small grapes with thick skins and a good concentration of both sugar and acidity. As Piero is on record as saying, ‘Rio Negro is a surprisingly perfect spot for Pinot Noir’. When considering these factors, and tasting the resultant wines, it is hard to disagree on any level – there is something very distinctive about the Pinot here.
Piero has also brought renowned Burgundian winemaker, Jean-Marc Roulot on board, and they are now partners with Jean-Marc’s particular focus being on the Chardonnay at Bodega Chacra. Piero was particularly taken with the aromas and delicacy of Pinot Noir in Argentina and seeks to harness that purity and delicacy in his wines, which are made following organic and biodynamic principles. No great surprise there given the estate’s philosophy.
Please see my note on the 2021 Pinot Noir, Cincuenta y Cinco (55) below – no-one aside from James Suckling has yet tasted the 2021, but it is worth stressing this is a wine with great pedigree already. Luis Gutierrez of robertparker.com is often our go-to critic for Spain and South America. He scored the 2018 at 98 points commenting that ‘this wine has reached an amazing level of sophistication and nuance.’ That should give you a flavour of the endorsements that this exciting estate’s Pinot Noir has garnered. The 2021 received 98 points from James Suckling too.