Our third visit on that day found us back in Agrelo to visit the queen. Or more specifically, the queen of Torrontes, otherwise known as Susana Balbo. At her Dominio de la Plata winery, Susana produces a range of wines that count amongst the best of the best from Argentina in terms of quality and value. She is widely considered to be on the top winemakers in Argentina.
Since receiving her enology degree in 1981, Susana has consulted and made wine on 5 different continents. With this global experience, she has most likely produced a more comprehensive range of different wines than just about any winemaker in Argentina. Impressive props for the woman who is also largely credited with introducing the wine world to Torrontes, Argentina’s light, bright and fragrantly aromatic white wine.
The current range of wines from Susana Balbo include:
Crios de Susana Balbo
Super Premium Wines:
Surrounding the DDP property are approximately 10 hectares of cane-pruned comprised of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and malbec. These vines are drip irrigated with water sourced from the local river and fed via the Andes. Chief viticultural hazards here are low, although both ants and foxes in search of water and grapes are relatively common.
Fruit from these vineyards are most often utilized for the Susana Balbo, BenMarco and Nosotros range of wines. Fruit sourced from additional vineyards in both the Uco Valley as well as Salta (Torrontes) also make their way into these lines as well as the fantastically popular “Crios” line.
After a tour of the vineyards, assistant winemaker Gustavo Bertagna guided our group through this state of the art winery. He explained that upon arrival at the winery, the grape clusters are carefully sorted before stemming and crushing.
All the stainless steel fermenting tanks have double external coils in order to lower the temperature during fermentation or raise it during malolactic fermentation.
DDP also utilizes thermal insulation so that the wine can be kept at a constant temperature of less than 15° C all year round. These 15 or so tanks come in varying sizes, such that more controlled and precise fermentations can take place depending upon the particular characteristics of a particular lot.
Pneumatic presses are also utilized in order to ensure minimal trauma to the juice and pomace. The goal here is to avoid unnecessary trauma or extractions that would produce “undesirable sediments or rough aromas in the wines”.
The elevage process is also quite varied, and depends upon the the style of wine being produced. More specifically, stainless-steel, stainless steel with the use of oak staves, and traditional French barrique are all de rigueur at DDP. In addition, micro-bullage or micro-ox is also utilized on certain cuvees. A tour of DDP is to witness modern winemaking at it’s most precise and fine tuned best.
After our tour of the winery and barrel room, our group was informed that we would now participate in the pro-active, hands-on part of the tour. Huh? Yes, that’s right, we were going to blend and create our own cuvee and be judged/critiqued by Susana. Eeek!
Here you see a selection of various varietals sourced from different locations and vineyards sites. Included in the lineup were:
2 x Malbec from different vineyard sites
Our group was split up into 5 groups of 3 people each. We had 10 minutes to give it our best shot and create a balanced yet expressive red of which Susana would be proud. Go!
O.K. that was definitely NOT 10 minutes. At least it didn’t seem like 10 minutes. Man, time goes by fast when you’re having fun! This blending exercise was a bit like high school chemistry meets home economics meets college party time. I might add, without the added pressure of knowing that we must then sell how many thousands of bottles of our custom cuvee once it’s in the bottle? I believe that our final blend went something like this:
35% cabernet sauvignon
20% malbec “los arboles”
And now the moment of truth. Susana and Gustavo tasted through each of our respective cuvees, discussed and then passed judgement. Well, our group came in 3rd (if I remember correctly). Susana’s main critique was that our particular cuvee was lacking a bit of mid-palate and length. Juicy, bright, yes..but lacking in overall balance to kick it up a notch to good+ to excellent.
BTW, you can see the winning team in the photo above directly to the left of Susana. These three dudes (from L-R: Loyd, James -a master sommelier and Frank) were in the zone on this particular day, crushed the competition and took home the gold. Susana was most impressed with their work, as she described the wine as having all of the qualities she was looking for. Intensity, balance, and length.
Well done gentlemen!
Next up: Dinner, dancing and more vino with Susana Balbo!