South America is not the first place we think of when it comes to fizz. Most sparkling wines I have tasted from Chile and Argentina have been disappointing compared to New Zealand, Australian or European offerings.
This month the fizz giants Moët Hennessy, well-known for their Moët & Chandon, Krug and Veuve Clicquot champagnes, are hoping to change our perception of South American fizz. Upmarket Argentinian méthode traditionelle bubbly, Chandon, is designed to appeal to both prosecco drinkers looking for something different as well as those who buy cheaper champagnes. The price of the new fizz sits neatly in between these two popular sparklers: the fizzy sweet spot, apparently, for less formal occasions.
Sparkling wine sales are storming in the UK right now, with 25 per cent volume increase over the past five years, thanks to prosecco’s popularity, while still wine sales remain flat. So the time is ripe, apparently, to woo UK prosecco drinkers. The only snag is that although we do think of South America as good value in wine terms, we think of Argentina as a red wine country offering delicious Malbec bargains. According to Jean-Guillaume Prats, head of estates and wines at LVMH, this perception can be translated to fizz with ease – or so he hopes.
You might have heard of Chandon Argentina before. It used to be sold in the UK but was withdrawn. I remember it as a fizzy bargain costing about £7.99, but not as good then as their Australian Green Point fizz range. Sadly, the new Argentine fizz is more expensive at £14.99-£15.99 a pop.
Argentina is not a new stamping ground for Chandon. This was the first country outside France in which they established vineyards. In 1957 Count Robert-Jean de Vogue, then head of Moët Hennessy with the help of his oenologist Renaud Poirier, selected the high Uco Valley near Mendoza in the Andean foothills as a potential area for sourcing grapes for fizz to supply to the local market.
As a result, with a longstanding base in the country, they apparently have ample stocks of older reserve wines, which are essential for making quality fizz. The new bubbly is based on 2011 vintage, with 25 per cent reserve wines in the blend.
Moët Hennessy already dominates Argentina’s domestic fizz sales with a 50 per cent share of that lucrative market – others such as Freixenet, Codorniu and Mumm also produce Argentinian fizz. However, the new Chandon being offered in the UK tastes different. It is, of course, made by the same method as champagne with second fermentation in bottle – but it is drier (with 6 grams per litre of sugary dosage added) than the fizz sold in South America, where sweeter styles are popular.
The vineyards in Uco Valley, at 1,100 to 1,500 metres, must be among the highest fizz vineyards in the world. The diurnal temperatures, with cool nights retaining the essential acidity in their vineyards at Finas El Yaima, Caicayen and Cepas del Plata, are crucial for producing quality grapes for fizz.
Jean-Guillaume Prats, who is in charge of Chandon, has a cunning plan for the ‘brand’. He wants it to be a single brand produced in different countries under the same name: currently in California, Brazil, Argentina and Australia (Green Point) – with Chandon India launched last year with a Nashik-based fizz which is selling well – and plans for Chandon China are now shaping up.
Chandon are notoriously canny about their fizz production and with consultants such as Dr Tony Jordan at hand (the man responsible for Green Point’s evolution) they know how to produce quality in very different and under difficult conditions. They will also wait to get it right. The Chinese venture release from Ningxia-based vineyards just south of the Mongolian Steppe and Gobi desert has been delayed until this autumn, as they want the wines to rest on their lees for longer. Meanwhile we can enjoy their new releases from Argentina.