Horribly early on Friday morning, sitting on the plane from Mendoza to Buenos Aires en route home and trying to file some sort of report, though it's difficult as the charming gentleman beside me is a member of one of the many originally-Italian winemaking families of Mendoza and was at our seminar yesterday so would prefer to chat. (Interesting to hear of his enthusiasm for the often derided ubiquitous Bonarda - actually the French Corbeau rather than an Italian variety.)
We eight UK judges were required, not just to lend our palates for heavy duty over three days of judging, hammering out which contentious wines deserved which sorts of medal and which gold medal winners deserved one of the nine available trophies, but to deliver our views on how the Argentine wine exporters could best improve their (currently pretty minor) position in the UK market. This seminar, another very well-run event, attracted well over 300 fee-paying participants and was apparently over-subscribed.
But the most amazing thing was that the audience was the most silent and attentive I have ever come across – this despite the fact that we were all speaking English, for which many of them needed the services of a simultaneous translator whose ingenuity must have been sorely tested at some point. Joe Fattorini's talk, which included references to Coronation Street, widgets and a particularly diverting discourse on the carbon emissions entailed in sending Mendoza's pride and joy, 800 gram bottles, around the world, must have been particularly taxing.
We all had to nominate two wines that had been successful in the UK market and these were served to everyone, and illustrated by close-ups of the packaging, while we spoke. For the record this was the running order:
Oz Clark, wine writer
Montana Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
Viña Leyda, Brisas Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005, San Antonio, Chile
Henri Chapon, Hotel du Vin
Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner Kammerner Lamm 2005, Kamptal, Austria
Casa de la Ermita Reserva 2001, Jumilla, Spain
Robert Joseph, wine writer
Stoneleigh Pinot Noir Rosé 2006, Marlborough, New Zealand
Yalumba, 'Y Series' Shiraz Viognier 2005, Barossa Valley, Australia
Adrian Atkinson, Pernod Ricard UK
Azpilicueta Reserva Rioja 2001, Rioja Alta, Spain
Peter Richards, wine writer and South American specialist
Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2005, Chile
Blason de Bourgogne, Saint-Véran 2005, Burgundy, France
Beverley Blanning MW, wine writer
William Fèvre Chablis 2005, France
Novas, Organic Syrah Mourvedre 2005, Chile
Joe Fattorini, wine writer
Linda Domas, Shot Bull Rosé 2005, Fleurieu, Australia
Seigneurs d'Aiguilhe 2004 Côtes de Castillon Bordeaux, France
d'Arenberg, The Money Spider Roussanne 2005, McLaren Vale, Australia
Jean Paul Mas, La Forge Merlot 2005, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
None of us had conferred about our choices so it was interesting to see so many Pinots (not an Argentina speciality, though who knows what might eventually happen in the far south of the country?) and rosés – or the useful pale red style of the Linda Domas wine which Argentina could presumably do so well. We all chose our wines for different reasons. Oz to show that a big volume brand such as Montana can still communicate a sense of place; Henri to show them what sort of wines sommeliers like at the moment; Robert, for instance, to demonstrate the Syrah/Viognier combo; me to show how medium sized family companies, the sort that dominate the Argentine wine scene, can lift themselves out of the ordinary by working out what the market wants.
Our wines were in general much lighter and higher in natural acidity than the Argentine norm and all of stressed how important drinkabiity rather than sheer mass was and it all seemed to go down well.
After our presentations, which were more wide-ranging than just showing these particular wines, we were rewarded with an exceptionally fine lunch at La Bourgogne, the restaurant at Carlos Pulenta's new winery just outside town with the British ambassador and our Argentina fellow judges et al. These smart new restaurants and small hotels would not look a jot out of place in the Napa Valley - though they need a few more road signs to get the tourists there reliably.
On Monday I'll bring you the – pause for drum roll – results of our labours.