Sunday, 2 October 2011

Argentina, a land of passion

Finca Sophenia, set against the mighty Andes in Mendoza, has everything one needs to produce a perfect wine—high altitudes rising to 4,000ft, a cool climate, long sunshine hours, high diurnal temperatures, well-drained soil, water from melted Andes snow for irrigation, a gravity-fed winery, the latest vinification equipment ... but I think the real secret of its success lies with Roberto Luka, the finca's driving force.

Roberto has been in the wine export business for many years and has been president of Wines of Argentina. With insight of the industry, he made sure Finca Sophenia was founded on the best possible site, he focuses on export markets and he engages Michel Rolland as wine consultant to ensure the wine suits international consumer tastes.

But behind all this business sense is a man full of passion. Roberto named the winery Sophenia, after his two beloved daughters Sophia and Eugenia. An Argentinian staff member at the Tango Argentine Steak House where we recently had lunch explained to us the story behind the name Finca Sophenia and how the wines are different from others. It turned out that this lady had served Roberto and his family at a restaurant in Buenos Aires some years ago, and Roberto had passionately explained to her the philosophy behind Sophenia. Since then she has acted as an unofficial ambassador of Finca Sophenia, repeating the story with passion to anyone who will listen. She recognised Roberto in the restaurant and came over to say hello. Such passion, such a small world!

Roberto is a true believer in Argentinian wines—he needs to be given that he has increased Sophenia's annual production fourfold in three years to 1.2 million bottles (still considered merely medium size in Argentina) and is planning to plant more. He carries three labels to showcase the diversity of Argentina's wines: Altosur for varietal expression, Sophenia Reserve for terroir expression and Sophenia Synthesis, one of the country's best cult wines. In fact, Sophenia Synthesis The Blend 2008 just won the Decanter 2011 ‘Red Blend over £10’ international trophy.

He loves Malbec. The grape may have originated from France but it thrives in Argentina. Argentinian Malbec has many faces. It can be fresh and fruity with no harsh tannin, which suits entry level consumers who prefer round and gentle wines, or it can be intense and concentrated with a structure to satisfy the most discerning palate. Its diversity is like Argentina’s landscape, from the tropical Iguazu Falls in the northeast, to the high Andes in the west and the semi-desert Patagonia in the south. This flagship wine of Argentina opens the door to great Argentine wines for those wine lovers who like to explore the world through wine.

Malbec, of course, is already strongly associated with Argentina. But I would love to see the underrated Torrontes grape more appreciated. Its aromatic and spicy characters are excellent compliments to Asian dishes. It turns out Roberto has just started planting it at Finca Sophenia, so let's hope his drive will help give it the recognition and association with Argentina it deserves.

Talking to Roberto and tasting Sophenia reminded me of the three months I spent travelling in Argentina back in 2002. The lives, the culture, the diversity and the spirits of the country are reflected in the wines. It is said that behind every successful man, there is a wise woman. I think we can extend this to wine: behind every successful wine there is a passionate driving force.

The Finca Sophenia range is available from Valdivia Ltd.

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