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News - 05.05.10

An Argentine Superstar’s Stunning Return

Article from The Wall Street Journal. By Lettie Teague Nearly three years ago, one of Argentina’s greatest winemakers, Roberto de la Mota, had an accident that left him partially paralyzed.

Nearly three years ago, one of Argentina’s greatest winemakers, Roberto de la Mota, had an accident that left him partially paralyzed. Today, he traveled from Argentina to New York in triumph, and I was fortunate to be the first journalist he met. “This trip is a bit of an experiment,” said Anabelle Sielecki, his partner in Mendel Wines, who accompanied him to New York and Gramercy Tavern, where we all had lunch. “It’s the very first time since the accident that Roberto has been on a plane.”

Vine Connections

I’d met Mr. de la Mota some years ago in Argentina, when he was still with Terrazas de los Andes, a company founded by Bodegas Chandon (of Moët & Chandon.) He had just produced his second vintage of Cheval de los Andes, a much-lauded Cabernet blend created in conjunction with Château Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux.

Roberto de la Mota has been in the wine business since 1979, when he was a 19-year-old apprentice to his winemaker father at Bodegas Weinert, one of the first famous Argentine wineries. He later worked in Bordeaux for many years, studying under the legendary enologist Émile Peynaud.

But Mr. de la Mota’s return to New York marked more than just a triumphant physical journey; it was also the debut of a brilliant new de la Mota-made wine—one unlike any other made in Argentina. The 2009 Mendel Sémillon, made from 75- to 80-year-old Sémillon vines in a high-elevation vineyard in Mendoza, is perhaps the only truly serious Sémillon made in the country.

“I’ve never even heard of Argentine Sémillon,” I admitted to Mr. de la Mota. “No one in Argentina has, either,” he replied, “although it was once quite prolific.” (The grape is traditionally blended with Sauvignon in the making of white Bordeaux. There’s some grown in the Hunter Valley of Australia and a few Sémillon vineyards in California, but it’s not a grape the world seems to care much about.)

The production of the Mendel Sémillon is tiny: no more than 4,000 bottles, evenly divided between the U.S. and the U.K. “None for Argentina?” I asked. Mr. de la Mota shook his head. “Maybe a few hundred bottles at the winery,” he said. Argentines, he added, “wouldn’t understand it anyway.”

I was flattered on behalf of my country that he thought American wine drinkers would appreciate what his countrymen could not; on the other hand, I couldn’t see how Argentines could fail to comprehend, let alone appreciate, such a beautiful wine. Rich and ripe with notes of white flowers, it’s also beautifully balanced, with a wonderfully refreshing acidity. According to Anabelle Sielecki, it will also be very well priced: about $20 a bottle. I’m going to buy as much as I can. It’s as unique and amazing as de la Mota himself.