This is one of those stories where inspiration strikes and the result is, well, maybe not divine but definitely delicious. Winemaking like so much else has embraced technology but sometimes all you need is good old ingenuity to correct a problem. That´s what faced Juan Andrés Marichal when he decided to make a pinot noir solely from saignee (first press of the berries but macerated for 4 hours) from a portion of his pinot noir harvest and discovered after a short time that it was quickly losing its acidity in barrel.
I suppose I should back track a bit and explain how I got to know Juan Andrés´story. I was visiting his family vineyard, Marichal, in the Canelones region of Uruguay, roughly 40 kilometers outside of Montevideo. The Marichal vines were first planted by Andres´great-grandfather, Isebelino Marichal in the early 20th century, when he arrived to Uruguay from the Canary Islands. It wasn´t until 1938 however, that the winery was built and ever since, it´s been a family-run winery.
Juan Andrés likes to tell the story of how his grandparents met. He stares off into the distance from the doorstep of his winery, points to a house about 500 mtrs up the road and says, “that´s where my grandmother grew up and where we are standing now is where my grandfather grew up.” His grandfather literally married the girl next door, or at least the closest next door neighbour he had. What started with his great grandfather has continued through the years to Juan Andrés and his brother. Although neither live at the vineyard, they both live in nearby Montevideo and visit often.
Juan Andrés told me that Uruguay has not always been a quality wine producer but in the 1980´s, the government took an interest in the winegrowing industry and provided incentives to pull up all the inferior rootstock and replant it with higher quality vines. The family took advantage of this program and replanted extensively. Juan Andrés also took advantage of the opportunity to study in Mendoza, Argentina. Today, Juan Andrés and his brother Alejandro are both oenological professionals, who together with their parents, handle both the vineyard and winery to produce their family wines.
The family grow tannat, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, pinot noir, chardonnay, semillon and sauvignon blanc. The vines are located on gently sloping hills, clay soils, with a Mediterranean climate but only 40 kms from the sea so they get those cooling breezes during the blazing hot summers. I visited in late spring and it was already getting up into the mid 30´s Centigrade.
Marichal´s wines, especially the tannat and pinot noir/tannat blends have been winning international accolades but Juan Andrés is always looking to stretch wine making boundaries and like so many of the winemakers in Uruguay, likes to experiment with what he can and cannot do with his wines — he´s not content to sit on his laurels. That´s where the conundrum of what to do with that flabby saignee pinot noir comes into play. He thought, they add chardonnay to pinot noir in Champagne for their sparkling wines, why can´t we do the same? And so he added the chardonnay to lift up his rather dispirited saignee pinot noir. And guess what? It worked! Due to it´s oak aging, it had a rather nutty, caramel, nose with dried white flower notes floating about the rim. On the palate, a lively wine (thanks, chardy!) glazed red cherries, ripe strawberries and toasty oak thrown in for good measure, full of fruit but dry, just the way I like my rosés. A tasty rosé is what it was, perfect food wine and delightful with the homemade empanadas that Juan Andres´aunt had made earlier that day.
I love finding wines that are not business as usual and the Marichal 2008 pinot noir/chardonnay blend was certainly something different. Marichal wines are available in the UK and most are priced at about the £10 point. If you see a wine from Uruguay, give it a try, it might not be exactly what you´re expecting but sometimes that´s exactly what you want.