A beautiful October day back in 2016, I leave my hipstery London neighbourhood.
Equally hipstery Hackney Road, Barullo, an Argentinian wine and food tasting event.
Here is where I first tried Via Revolucionaria Semillion Hulk. My short notes remind me of it.
The nose opened with wet stone and a certain herbaceousness. It continued showing hints of white flowers and white pulp stone fruit. The wine was vibrant with a distinctive crispness. Energetic and irreverant.
Three years later, I’m in Patagonia, Argentina. I’m planning my stop-over in Mendoza. I have a few tastings lined up already but I really want to visit Passionate Wine winery.
I ping them on WhatsApp (this is how everything works in Argentina).
Ramiro replies. Unfortunately, he says, on the dates I’m available they are hosting Expo Uco, a food and wine tasting event.
They are not taking bookings to show around the winery on those dates. 😒
Well, could I come to the event? Is that open to sommeliers?
Sure thing! Here is the address.
And so it happens. I organise to see Passionate Wine winery. 😃
However, it sounds like I won’t be taken around on a tour. But at least I will get to see the winery from outside and get a sense of their methods. Also, for sure, I will be tasting their wines again!
Turns out, I was wrong.
And it was bliss.
On the agreed day, I get to Expo Uco. Ramiro welcomes me. Within a minute he grabs a man dashing by and introduces us.
He’s Mathias Michelini, the winemaker and man behind these wines.
He just landed back from a work trip to Spain and briefly popped by the winery to see how the event is going.
He won’t stay long but then he goes:
But, hey, why don’t I show you around a bit? Here… Grab a glass! By the way, this is my daughter Paula…
And so it happened. My 1:1 (well, 1:2 ➡️ Me: Mathias + Paula) tour of the premises!
Now, often a certain grandeur surrounds successful wines and winemakers. No need to remind anyone how many wineries are designed (literally) to please eyes and egos, right?
Yet Passionate Wine struck me: it was simply a winery.
A pragmatic working space focused on winemaking. The building was packed with stainless steel vats and wooden barrels.
Outdoors, two rows of concrete eggs completed the picture. A small structure served as a tasting room and wine shop. The occasional roaming chicken was overseeing it all.
There was no architectural frill. No glamour, no will nor need to please an international crowd of affluent wine tourists. Seeing that was a true breath of fresh air.
Also meeting down-to-earth Mathias was refreshing. That day him and his daughter, Paula, showed me around the winery.
We tasted some exceptional samples of wine. Mathias sucked them out of the vats with a plastic pipe and poured them into glasses.
No frills: I told you so.
I felt very special to be able to taste Paula’s first wine: the as-yet-unreleased Enorgullecida1.
But apart from being a wine, Enorgullecida is a concept and a story.
First is the name. “Eno” is for wine (like in oenology). But Enorgullecida also means ‘proud of oneself’ or ‘proud of something one has done’. I love it! This is the first wine this young lady is producing. It sounds like a pretty spot on label to me!
And now to the wine.
Paula’s idea is to experiment with old vines using minimal intervention, allowing the grapes to express themselves. These are mixed grapes of unknown varieties. They grow at an old, semi-forgotten vineyard in the Tupungato region, Mendoza. Plus, Enorgullecida is an orange wine.
The girl has balls!
The use of a concrete egg for the skin-contact fermentation brings in yet another modern, unorthodox touch. The wine is also going to spend some time in the bottle before being released. How long exactly, was still unclear, depending on the wine evolution2.
When I tasted Enourgullecida, it showed aromatic and round notes on the nose together with some herbaceousness.
On the palate it was fresh and firm, crisp and promising. It closed with a long and energetic finish.
I’d love to taste it again now that the first bottles have been released!
Montesco - Agua de Roca; Sauvignon Blanc
From the concrete egg row, I also got to taste Montesco - Agua de Roca.
It’s a super crisp, clean Sauvignon Blanc, made from grapes that grow at altitude (1450 meters).
The wine is mineral and sapid, the quintessence of that terroir; rocky, dry, unwelcoming, wild.
Here, what struck me most was the intransigent freshness and power of this Semillón.
I very much envy whoever gets to taste this wine after 10 or 15 years in bottle. I bet on a splendid evolution for this very complex, charismatic wine.
The visit continued, we tasted from different vats, 5 or 6 more. Almost all whites (a first in Mendoza!), all intriguing wines, all apt for long aging!
Montesco Punta Negra; Pinot Noir (almost only...)
This sample I can’t forget; taken from a big wooden barrel.
It was a barrel from 1945, explained Mathias.
He had purchased and refurbished it himself. Before that, for many years it had served as a dog house at a local farm…
Now, more suitably, it was hosting the latest Pinot Noir harvest. The wine had spent a winter in it and it was in for yet another one in the cask. After that it would be bottled to mature one more year before its release.
Montesco Punta Negra was first vinified in 2011 combining Pinot Noir with a 10% Semillon. An unorthodox blend choice, for sure. But hats-off to Passionate Wine for daring as the result is outstanding!
The sample from the barrel was super promising and with reason.
Mathias later opened one bottle from that first vintage. I felt super privileged and lucky!
The wine showed nothing but elegancy and complexity. The bouquet didn’t lack fruits but it was not defined by that alone. First came some toasty notes from the freshly toasted barrel where it fermented. Then some appealing coffee and dark chocolate aromas rounded things up.
That 8-year-old Punta Negra was classy, that is what it was. Classy on the nose and on the palate.
Refined, balanced, long.
Hulk Inédito; Semillón
Mathias also opened a bottle of Hulk Inédito from 2012.
It was the same Semillón I had tried fresh in London but, oh…, so very different!
The nose was complex and full, it showed notes of olives and a beautiful sapidity. It was round, long and balanced.
Piel; Sauvignon Blanc & Brutal; Torrontés
Finally, we tried two more bottles, an orange and a white; the 2018 Torrontés - Brutal and the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc - Piel.
Brutal, the orange torrontés, is unfiltered and spends 360 days skin-contact fermenting. The nose was great. It opened with floral and tropical fruit aromas that were very much present on the palate too. On the mouth, though, the finish was clean and cleansing almost.
Piel, the white Sauvignon Blanc, was sapid and round on the nose, very reminiscent of mature apricot. The mouth was sapid, refreshing and funky.
In my week-long visit of Mendoza, Passionate Wine was the winery that shone.
The unconventional grape choice, the vinification methods, the crave to showcase wild, challenging terroirs…
Everything here was on the experimental side.
Mathias, and Paula now, work with passion.
They turn grapes into funky, powerful wines that don’t need to be Malbec to get the audience’s attention.
The ingredients? The glorification of the terroirs plus some true appreciation for the grapes.
And of course, let’s not forget Passionate Wines brave, rebel touch, careless of breaking rules.
What’s next for Passionate Wine?
As I write, Passionate Wine production has just moved to a new estate. I hope to visit them again soon.
Things will have changed, for sure. I will miss their iconic graffitis, the strawberry fields and the laid-back old finca.
But their wines’ charisma, their philosophy and their passion won’t have changed.