Our Experts: Rachael Pogmore (South America Buyer)
I’ve been a part of the Enotria team for just under a year now. It’s been such a whirlwind, and I can’t quite believe we are now fast approaching the end of the year. In what has been a very testing time for the drinks industry navigating the cost-of-living crisis, rail strikes impacting trade and duty increases, I’m proud to be a part of such a dynamic and passionate group of people working together to build a strong and trusted business leading from the front with our incredible wine portfolio.
I have two key areas of responsibility: South America and what we refer to as the commercial entry level portfolio, a range consisting of around 100 own label SKUs. Whilst the latter provides a very interesting commercial proposition and has its own unique challenges, which I will share at a later date, the former is very much where my passion lies. South America is such an incredible place to venture as a wine buyer due to its rich history, diversity of climates, topography, soil types and grape varieties, not to mention the fantastic individuals creating these wines whom it has been my pleasure to get to know over the past few months.
At Enotria, we primarily deal with Argentina, Chile and Brazil, which all have their own opportunities and challenges. Whilst Brazil is still relatively niche, the other two countries are both very much established in the UK (for better or worse), but what all three have in common is their desire to challenge preconceptions, which I will delve into further and share some of my favourite aspects of these great winemaking regions.
Argentina is blessed with the proliferation of Malbec and as such, often needs very little introduction. I think the challenge lies in two key areas: first, the protection of Malbec in all its guises from Cafayate, to Mendoza to Patagonia and second, the true quality that can be found in its other grape varieties, whether that be Torrontes, or international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon. I think one of the issues with Malbec is that it can actually be quite good at masking differences in terroir. If you consider it is grown from Salta down through to Rio Negro (and further south even), a distance equivalent of Manchester to Marrakesh, I would argue that some consumers may struggle to tell a huge difference; whereas I am sure with say Pinot Noir, the variances would be plain to see. I think the key here is to look to those stand out winemakers: the likes of Susana Balbo, Daniel Pi, Edy del Popolo, people who truly understand the terroir and can best express its potential. Whilst Maipu is home to some of the oldest Malbec vines in Mendoza, Uco is truly where the magic is currently happening, and within this subzone the intricacies you find in say the minerality of Gualtallary, or the floral notes often found in La Consulta or the concentrated nature of Las Piedras makes it a particularly exciting part of Mendoza.
Going forward, I think protection of this provenance is crucial, as we are already seeing cheaper imitations from other countries finding their way onto the shelf, and whilst the Malbec of Cahors is a great counterpoint, the expressions of Argentine Malbec are well worth defending.
Moving away from Malbec for a moment, as mentioned previously, there is so much more to Argentina than Malbec and the white wines from the Queen of Torrontes herself, Susana Balbo, are testament to that. Susana deserves a post to herself, so we won’t do her an injustice here by glossing over it, but suffice to say, if you thought Torrontes was just a light aromatic aperitif, think again! Her barrel fermented Torrontes is a thing of beauty and, as we found out at a recent vertical tasting in 67 Pall Mall, is an incredibly complex wine that will also reward the patient amongst us.
Other varieties to look to would be Cabernet Sauvignon of Cafayate, Pinot Noir from Patagonia and the world class expressions of Chardonnay, that we can find all over Argentina. Please do venture beyond the obvious as there is so much to discover!
I think one of the successes of next year will be Patagonia with the championing of not just the traditions of the Canale family or the modern interpretations of Elias Lopez and Verum, but the introduction of a true gem, Ribera del Cuarzo. If you are yet to try these cool climate Malbecs, please ask your account manager, as they are truly best in class.
Chile is very much a different story. Like South Africa, it has often been at the brunt of off trade price promotions within the multiple retail space, which can make it difficult to convince customers to put their hand in their pocket for wines from these areas. However, it is a rich voyage of discovery with Itata itself being the oldest of the New World regions. This subzone in the south of the country was home to the first Spanish settlers in the 1500s, who would have bought over wine in amphora as well as cuttings of Moscatel and other vine species. The great work of De Martino and their preservation of these styles with the ‘Viejas Tinajas’ range is inspiring. Conversely, there are also a huge number of other growers, such as our own Elias Lopez of Bodegas Verum, who are exploiting these forgotten old vines to craft incredibly modern and fruit forward wines, such as his Fuerza Natural Cinsault and Semillon.