I meet the two Argentine winemakers aged under 40, whose wares were selected by their peers to rank first and second in November at a blind tasting. Introducing Sergio Pomar from Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo, who polled number one.
“I’m showing Michel our new Sémillons for the first time tomorrow. I hope he likes at least one of them and doesn’t tell me my wine is shit!”
Recently anointed Argentina’s best winemaker under 40 by his similarly aged peers in a blind tasting, a meet with consultant winemaker Michel Rolland is a perfectly timed reality check for Sergio Pomar. The head enologist from Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo and Bodega Malma, located in San Patricio del Chañar in Neuquén province, presented Malma Reserva de Familia Malbec 2014 at the #WinemakersSub40 contest in November – and took the top spot. A fantastic goal for New Patagonia winemaking, especially when fourth place went to a second 2014 Malbec from Chañar made by Nicolás Navio from Bodega Patritti. You can read my piece on #2 Mauricio Vegetti here.
But, despite the fact that Patagonia – specifically Old Patagonia Río Negro and New Patagonia Neuquén, respectively developed at the start of the 20th and 21st centuries – is whacking out some phenomenal wines from the likes of Bodega Chacra and Bodega Noemia, it remains relatively off radar. Following this accolade, however, perhaps wine lovers will sit up and take more note of a legendary region usually associated with blistering winds, dinosaur fossils and icebergs. And they should start with the 2016 vintage, according to 37-year-old Sergio.
“Two factors have contributed to 2016. First, the year was typically Patagonian, temperatures weren’t overly hot and nights were cool. Great thermal amplitude. So the climate was extraordinary. That meant the 2016 harvest was amazing – we had rain after May, well after Mendoza – so we weren’t affected. It’s a boom right now.
“And second, the winery has given a boost to quality, something we’ve been working on for the past three years. We’ve been working hard to streamline: icon wines take home 5,500 kilos per hectare, reserve lines at 8,500 kilo and so on. So intense work in the field teamed with amazing weather has made this the best year in Patagonia in 10 years. I don’t think there’s been such a great harvest, in terms of quantity and quality, since 2006. A phenomenal year. A lot of work, which isn’t easy, but we have the advantage of it all being our own production,” he says.
But it’s not just about sheet force over the past three years; new to the game, after planting in 1999 and producing wine in 2003, both Malma and Del Fin Del Mundo started to make an about-turn six years ago.
Sergio, who’s worked at the wineries since 2006, adds: “We’ve also been working on styles, preserving the variety, the typicity, the region, the fruit. Our wines used to be over-extracted with lots of ageing, lots of oak; difficult wines. But we started looking for more drinkable, fresher wines in 2010.” And the results are starting to pay off. Malma Extra Brut ranked second in Vinos Con Sentido 2016 while the 2016 harvest was anointed the year’s best by Evaluación de Vinos de Cosecha 2016 (Evico).
I visited both wineries in March 2016, and while it seems likely that Sergio and I met, neither of us remember. “I probably had my head stuck in a tank,” he laughs.
As for the Malma Reserva de Familia Malbec 2014 taking top spot in #WinemakersSub40 organised by Mendoza-based sommelier María Laura Ortiz and to be chosen his peers is a big deal, says Sergio, not least because it’s a Patagonian Malbec punching above its weight – in Mendoza. Plenty of heavyweights entered the contest, such as Sebastián Zuccardi (Familia Zuccardi), Juan Pablo Michelini (Zorzal Wines) and Santiago Mayorga Boaknin (Nieto Senetiner) among others. No mean feat indeed.
“It’s the first time I’ve entered this tasting contest and I had to take two wines – it was a kamikaze decision!” he laughs. “Everyone said I should take Pinot Noir. But I chose two Malbecs: I’ve worked at Malma since 2006 so it was easy to select the Reserva de Familia Malbec 2014, while I chose La Poderosa Malbec as it’s the first wine I started to make at Del Fin Del Mundo; it ended up being the first Malbec we tried in the tasting.
“Truth is, I wanted to try my luck in the capital of Malbec with Malbec. The methodology is well done: wines selected by 40 enologists, blind tasted in seven-glass flights. You score them, then each winemaker comments on the wine. And it was a surprise to win, and also for Nico to come fourth. Trying them blind truly supported all the decisions I made, that I’d taken the right path. That’s the most important thing. So the award has two sides to it: the fact that I won, and that I won with a Malbec. Because I knew I’d never win with a Pinot Noir.”
Back to the day job. The following morning, post a dinner at Uco Restaurant paired with cold-climate Pinot Noir Pintom 2014 from El Cepillo, Sergio has an early start with flying French winemaker Rolland. Will those Sémillons receive a oui or c’est de la merde? Why am I not surprised that Sergio tells me it’s a green light for all three Sémillon later that day.
Check out my piece on second-placed Mauricio Vegetti from Gauchezco here.