Criolla: a piece of history in a glass

Recently I got sent three bottles of wine under the “Criolla Family.” One Criolla 2018 from Bodega Vinedos Nicolas Catena. One País Viejo 2020 from Bodega Bouchon, and a Torrontes 2020 from Chakana. All thanks to fellow CWW member Amanda Barnes who recently self-published an amazing/enormous/beautiful book called “The South American Wine Guide.” The book is a treasure and it’s a go-to guide for anything related to South American wine. 528 pages with lots of maps that did not exist before. It was an incredible work and “a labour of love”, as Amanda puts it. Highly recommended to any South American wine enthusiasts or if you are doing the MW or WSET Diploma, this is a must-have!

Reading the book whilst tasting these three wines, it felt as if I were a time traveller! Just imagine, in 1498, Columbus found South America, and possibly in 1551, these Criolla grape varieties were introduced there, from Peru, Chile then to Argentina.

[What is Criolla]

“Criolla” is the generic name for anything that was born in the Americas of mixed Spanish and native descent. 

[Criolla grape varieties]

These are drought/heat-resistant, easy to grow, and adaptable to local conditions.  

Criollas include Criolla Chica, Criolla Grande, Pedro Gimenez, Cereza, Moscatel Rosado, Moscatel Amarillo and Torrentes (Riojano, Sajuanino, Mendocino).

[What does DNA profiling tell us?]

Criolla Chica = Listán Prieto (an old Spanish variety) and with many synonyms such as Mission (USA), País (Chile)…

Torrentes Riojano & Sajuanino: Cross between Moscatel de Alejandria and Criolla Chica.

Torrentes Mendocino: A cross between Moscatel de Alejandria and an unknown variety. 

How fascinating! So the grape varieties from the three wines that I tasted are in fact all related! 

[Tasting notes]

Chakana, Estate Selection Torrontes, 2020 (UK importer: Fells) @je_fells @chakanawines

Delicate perfume of white blossoms, citrus, and juicy apples with a hint of appetizing grapey note. Very round and creamy on the palate and has a long and zesty finish. (Mendoza, 12.5% ABV. Fermented in barrels)

País Viejo from Bodega Bouchon UK Importer: Concor Wine @bouchonfamilywines 

Destemmed and fermented in old concrete tanks. The alcoholic fermentation starts naturally with native yeast for 14 days without additives.

Bright ruby colour with an appetising red cherry and mixed herbs and spices notes on the nose. Light and refreshing on the palate with pure fruit expression. I paired this with Mexican tacos on the day and it was just DELICIOUS!

Bodegas y Viñedos Nicolas Catena – La Marchigiana Criolla Chica 

An exciting natural wine made by Bodegas Catena, one of the most famous wine producers in Argentina. To be honest, I think it makes all the sense to make wine from this historical grape variety naturally, after all, that was how everything was done then, isn’t it!? The wines were made in clay pots without the addition of sulphites. A new project for Catena since about 5 years ago.

And the verdict?

The wine is really expressive on the nose. As soon as it was poured into the glass, I got a bit earthy, almost chocolaty note with some warming herbal, spices, leading to juicy fresh cut strawberries and cheery aromas. Light body, refreshing and pure red berry finish. What a natural delight! 13.5% ABV

Where to buy Amanda’s book, go to: https://southamericawineguide.com/

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