The first key to the success of Achaval-Ferrer was the team’s choice of vineyards. Located in Argentina’s Mendoza province, at between 730 metres and 1,100 metres above sea level, warm, sunny days and cool nights prolong the ripening season. This, allied to poor alluvial soils and low rainfall, sets the scene for the production of concentrated, mature grapes which, in turn, make for great structure and complexity.
Although the vineyard is of crucial importance, it was nonetheless something of a coup to have the iconic Italian winemaker Roberto Cipresso on board as part-owner and winemaker. Despite his prodigious talent and considerable achievements, Roberto is a commited terroiriste – convinced that the land is fundamentally of much greater importance than winemaking per se .
There are three markedly different yet complementary concepts within the Achaval-Ferrer portfolio and five distinctive wines to date.
Here the aim is to present a very authentic, pure and intense expression of Malbec. Achaval-Ferrer buys from contracted growers, on three sites, who work under their direction. There are some five hectares of 66-year-old vines, grown at 960m above sea-level, on gravel soil and planted at 5,500 vines per ha. Then there are twelve hectares of younger 13-year-old vines at 1,060m, planted at a density of 4,000 vines per hectare on sandy gravel. Finally eleven hectares of vines at 670m, planted at 4,000 vines per hectare on heavier soil, with some clay, are an impressive 86 years old and low-yielding. With production restricted to a meagre 18hl/ha, this makes for a Malbec which combines innate power with a lightness of touch and a bright vivacity.
Quimera is a blend, the name of which evokes the idea behind the wine – the search for ultimate perfection – in a wine where the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. The Quimera vineyards are situated between 750 and 1,100m above sea level, producing Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Unusually, blending takes place early on in the winemaking process. Most producers keep ingredients separate for as long as possible to see how they develop, however at Achaval-Ferrer Roberto Cipresso and the rest of the team are adamant about early blending. The fermented old vine fruit of Quimera is immediately racked into barrels, 95% French oak and 5% American. This early assimilation aims to produce a really well-integrated, marriage of fruit which may well account for the sleek, layered complexity which habitually characterises Quimera. The wine is then aged for twelve months in oak, 40% of which is new, with the balance one year old. The vineyard blend here is 38% Malbec, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot. Yields are restricted at around 18hl/ha and the wine is neither fined nor filtered. The combination of old vine fruit and tempered production contribute a wonderful intensity and concentration in the finished wine, though the high altitude ensures a vitality and freshness.
Finally three estates – fincas – bear the Achaval individual terroir flag with style and flair.
ACHAVAL-FERRER FINCA ALTAMIRA
Achaval-Ferrer Finca Altamira is a jewel of a vineyard, situated at 1,035 metres above sea level. Here four hectares of ancient, ungrafted Malbec vines were planted over eighty years ago. The age factor, allied to high density planting, make for extremely low yields so that three vines are required to make just one bottle of this highly-prized find. After fermentation in small tanks, the wine is racked into new oak barrels, 90% of which are French, the remainder American. In a further effort to retain inherent subtleties and flavours, Altamira is neither fined nor filtered.
ACHAVAL-FERRER FINCA MIRADOR
The 6ha Achaval-Ferrer Mirador vineyard is 700 metres above sea level in the Medrano region, on the west bank of the Tunuyán River. It is planted on relatively heavy soils but with reasonable drainage, at a density of 6,500 vines per hectare. These old ungrafted vines were planted in 1921, and yield is low, resulting in an intense purity and richness. As with the other single vineyard wines, after fermenting in small tanks, Finca Mirador is racked into French oak barrels, 100% new, where it is then aged for fifteen months. It is bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve its individuality and freshness.
ACHAVAL-FERRER FINCA BELLA VISTA
As with all of the fincas , the Achaval-Ferrer aim for Bella Vista is to be faithful to a very special piece of land. Finca Bella Vista is 5ha in size, situated in Perdriel, on the south bank of the Mendoza river, at 980 metres above sea level where it enjoys cooler nights. It is planted on relatively heavy soils with some clay and reasonable drainage, with a density of 6,500 vines per hectare. Yields are just 14 hl/ha from old vines planted in 1910 – about one third of a bottle per vine. After fermenting in small tanks, the wine is racked into 100% new French oak barrels where it is then aged for fifteen months. It too is bottled unfined and unfiltered.