Trivento winemaker’s dinner

Trivento Dinner Banner

This week I had the pleasure of attending an intimate dinner with German di Cesare, chief winemaker for Trivento, the UK’s best-selling Malbec and one of Argentina’s leading wineries. Based in the foothills of the Andes at extremely high altitudes, Trivento takes its’ name from three winds (Polar, Zonda and Sudesta) that cool the climate and make Mendoza such a distinctive winegrowing region.

German (or Geri as he is known to his friends) joined the company in 2002 and has held several positions ranging from barrel room manager to varietal winemaker, prior to his promotion in 2008 to create their high-end wines. With a chance to chew the fat (literally) with the man in charge, expectations were high!

The setting for the meal was Argentinian restaurant Casa Malevo in London, with my stroll from Marble Arch to Connaught Square taking the bizarre twist of being under heavily armed police. Alas, this wasn’t for my protection, but that of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose house is only a few doors away from the restaurant. From the street, with its’ cosy alfresco tables and green awning, you could tell that this would be an intimate affair, but once inside we were led downstairs to a private dining room only just large enough to contain the 13 attendees around a large central table.

We were warmly greeted by Geri and representatives from Trivento, importers Concha Y Toro, and Tesco who were hosting the night. With our coats barely on to a hanger, we were straight in to a glass (or three) of their Reserve Chardonnay – A fresh citric number, that added yellow melon and tropical notes to its aroma. On the palate, clean fruit, joined by refreshing acidity and a buttery texture due to its time in French oak. It was no surprise when Geri later revealed that it was Trivento policy to make wines of outstanding clarity – to really feel the fruit with every mouthful.

As liberally as the wine, questions flowed to the Trivento team:

  • What sort of rivalry exists with winemakers across the Andes in Chile? (a friendly one, they are in regular contact about many winemaking issues)
  • What’s the view on having so little vintage variation with their wines? (It’s important that customers know what to expect and consistency is an important factor)
  • With Malbec doing so well, what’s next? (Trivento farm approximately 12 grape varieties, with Sauvignon Blanc 2012 about to hit the market, as well as a Syrah, and Cabernet Franc and Mourvédre the next in line)

A menu of 3 courses was served throughout the evening and, whilst there were several options to choose from, I made the following choices based on the gradual step up in the quality and body of the Malbec that would accompany each course.

To start I had grilled chorizo on toast, onions and Malbec braised Ox cheeks, paired with the Reserve Malbec. The Ox cheeks were cooked to perfection and simply melted in the mouth, and the chorizo added some spice to the meat combination. The Malbec was the perfect partner, blending with the fine tannin to allow darker fruit to come to the fore. As a point of interest, like the entry-level Reserve Chardonnay, the Reserve Malbec is actually bottled in the UK.

For the main course I had the classic combination of Sirloin Steak paired with the lauded Golden Reserve Malbec 2012 – made at altitudes of 950m in the oldest Argentinian wine appellation Luján de Cuyo from 60-80 year old vines that grow on the alluvial soils of the riverbanks. The long cool growing season and concentration of low yielding old vines gives a wine that clocks in 14.5% abv, and shows a vibrant dark purple in colour. Malbec and steak is a winning combination and these two blended beautifully, with the powerful nose of black and blue fruit being of concentration, not aggression. Incidentally, the wine is called ‘Golden’ to evoke treasure, which this wine definitely is. Treasure and a pleasure!

To finish I had the cheese selection with quince and raisin toast, paired with their top level Eolo Malbec, which is produced on an extremely limited run of just 500 bottles (600 cases). With a price tag of £50 per bottle (if you can find it) it was a great privilege to be able to try a few glasses of this rare wine. The nose was divine with roasted tertiary characters, and the velvet silk, vanilla, and dense rich concentrated black fruit carrying on to the palate. The tannins were gentle and integrated, and when paired with the variety of cheeses, melted away. The length of the wine still persisted as people started to make their excuses, and head for home.

All in all a wonderful night in great company, with generous tastings of fine Argentinian wine, alongside fine Argentinian food. Unforgettable.

Many Thanks go to Trivento & Concha Y Toro for hosting the evening, and to Tesco for providing the opportunity.

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I before E

I’m referring of course to ‘I before e, except after c’, the rhyme used to assist people with their spelling. Whilst a handy little mnemonic, it is largely ignored now as having too many exceptions to the rule to make it a useful learning tool (I’ve used one exception myself in my very first sentence). These ground rules are important though for establishing boundaries, and I came across one when progressing through my WSET Levels 2 and 3 (Intermediate and Advanced) that I thought I would share. In todays wine world it’s not a watertight rule by any means, and there are multiple exceptions, but for me it still plays a large visual part of how I structure the wine world, and certainly something I still use when helping others.

I’m talking about the 30-50 rule – that wine is produced in countries, and specifically limited to the areas of those countries, that lie between 30-50 degrees latitude in both the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere.

Wine Map   Map Source ThirtyFifty

When I’ve run tastings for small groups it’s been a particularly successful visual in helping people to work out where in the world they are drinking, as well as the what. I had maps printed on pages of A4 and laminated, and then set them out as placemats for each taster. They could use the blank side of the page to assess the appearance/colour of their wine, and then flip the page over to put it in context as to where it has come from. Is it cool climate or warm climate? Is the region near water or inland?

As you can see from the image above the majority of wine producing areas fall within these two bands, certainly all of the important historical ones. Two things are changing this though and may eventually consign the 30-50 rule to the bin.

Firstly is global warming, which is now allowing viticulture to take place in the outer limits of these boundaries. Only 50 years ago English wine was a dream away, and certainly not something that could ever be taken seriously. How times have changed, and just the rise of a degree or two has enabled winemaking to move north in to southern England (and also parts of northern Germany). There isn’t enough warmth yet to successfully ripen red grapes to any depth – some varietal wines exist but they are far outnumbered by their white counterparts, and the red grapes are better utilised in sparkling wine. Many of these red grapes won’t be familiar, being either hybrid or Germanic varieties, but the most famous red is Pinot Noir which, liking a longer cooler climate takes well here. It also thrives in northern France, being a key component in Champagne and the red grape of Burgundy.

Secondly, progressive winemaking is continually changing the production methods and vintners have an armoury of tools to use in a given circumstance. If you head back to the decades leading up to the 1980’s it wasn’t unusual to see a split of harvests something like 3 vintages per decade being rated as poor, 3 years rated as good, 2 as great and 2 as outstanding. These days you are unlikely ever to see wines rated below good. Technology allows such constant intervention in every step of the winemaking process that you can disperse storm clouds using iodine flares or utilise temperature controls in warmer climates. The younger breed of tenacious winemakers, producing in many countries (Chile, for example) where winemaking has no tradition handed down through generations, have no rules to bind or limit them. They’re continually taking winemaking further or higher, looking for that unique new mix of climate, soil and grape variety that will create a unique selling point (USP).

As things progress, I hope that the map visual with its two bands will continue to be used, even with its inaccuracies. For me, it limited what I viewed at the beginning of my wine studies as the unlimited number of wines that existed in the world. Sainsbury’s sold different wine to Tesco, who sold different wine to Marks & Spencer. Multiply that by the number of merchants, regions, producers and individual lines/brands, and you had something that was frankly un-fathomable.

Conversely, it was a map of the whole world that allowed me to put things in to perspective.

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It’s all Greek for me

Last weekend saw Decanter magazine put on their usual March Fine Wine Encounter, but for the first time the event was completely devoted over to wines from the Mediterranean. Looking specifically at these wines threw up quite a few firsts for me and is a well-timed move by Decanter. Merchants and even some supermarkets are already starting to stock or broaden their ranges from countries such as Israel, Lebanon and Turkey, and this in turn means that customers are able to start trying these wines without specifically hunting them out. A quick look at the awards being dished out further paints the picture – In the 2009 Decanter World Wine Awards (picked purely as it was the nearest historic Awards catalogue to me as I write) Turkey won only one bronze medal – In the 2014 awards they won over 40 medals. Obviously producers need to be entering their wines in the competition in the first place, and the number of those entered certainly has gone up, but you get the picture.

Wine enthusiasts are always looking for the next thing – I think it’s an inherent part of being interested in wine (it certainly is for me). With prices pushing certain wines out of reach on the one hand and the glut of commercially successful variety wines on the other, the time seems right to delve in to what’s been going on in these hitherto unembraced countries. Hand in hand with this is the education piece – I mentioned the tasting to a worldly-wise family member and their reply was that they didn’t even know wine was made in some of these countries.

There’s also good news for the casual wine drinker and that is, as well as becoming more widely available, the wines are pretty darn good too. It’s easy to forget that these countries having been honing their craft for years, and constitute the oldest places on earth to have been making wine (Old-Old World Wine, if you like). Like anywhere, I’m sure there are still many works-in-progress to be found, but for those shown at the Decanter event I’d be happy to pay the same price as I pay for my regular bottles. I’d certainly get a renewed vigour in sharing them with others to spread the word.

My top takeaways from the day, in no particular order:

  • Moschofilero – a Greek white grape – makes a deliciously peachy and floral Sparkling.  I tasted the Amalia Brut NV from Ktima Tselepos.  I’ll be looking more at this variety.
  • Slovenia are making Sparkling wines (the Slovenian term is Penina), so you may soon be drinking Penina alongside your Cava’s and your Prosecco’s.  The wines tasted on the day were in large part Chardonnay, blended with smaller amounts of Rebula (AKA Ribolla Gialla from Friuli).
  • Rapsani is a small high altitude Greek village making smooth jammy reds.  Having tasted the offerings on the day, I now have the badge to prove I am a #rapsanilover.  Greece showed really well on the day for me, definitely proving that (and I’m sure that they’d agree with me here) some of the uninspiring wines that they were quite famous for, are now a thing of the past.
  • And finally, honourable mention for the lovely chap pouring at the Villa Conchi stand, who admitted to me that they were new to the show circuit and launching a new range of Cava’s.  This was the first stand I went to on the day as I like to start with Sparkling, and I don’t think he had his pour levels quite sorted out.  They were as big as you’d get when buying a glass of wine in a restaurant!  Too good to spit though and a lovely creamy Brut Imperial NV.

Overall, producers seem to have found a good balance of producing wines from indigenous grapes to create their own regional USPs (unique selling points) and the more internationally recognised varieties, so as not to scare off traditionalists. It remains to be seen whether drinkers will take to obscure grape varieties such as Krassato or Kalecik Karasi as they have to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. I was thoroughly happy with the day though – a lot of new avenues to discover and over 20 new grape varieties tasted. Having been to many Decanter events in the past it did feel a little quieter than previous ones focusing on more established regions so, with my above enthusiasm noted, there is definitely more inroads to go to get the masses excited about these wines.

The good news is that they are now clearly on the agenda. For me, I was actually happy this time around with less attendees (the flagship November event can be quite rowdy with thirsty tasters three deep at particular producers!) as it gave more chance to have lengthy chats with the winemakers (whose first language is not necessarily English), and to taste through their whole offerings rather than just picking highlights.

Yamas!

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