Chasing the impossible dream: a perfect white wine

Malbec producer Achaval Ferrer has launched its first white wine. It’s getting good reviews, but winemaker Gustavo Rearte is in search of perfection…


Creating a white wine at Achaval Ferrer has been ‘a great challenge’ for winemaker Gustavo Rearte

Chasing the impossible dream: a perfect white wine
  • Chris Boiling
  • 2023-11-30
After 25 years of producing Argentine Malbecs, Mendoza’s Achaval Ferrer has created its first white wine.
It’s going down well with critics, but head winemaker Gustavo Rearte isn’t satisfied. He’s striving for perfection – “chasing the impossible dream” that’s hinted at in the name of the new wine – and pushing on with his experiments.
From grapes grown in alluvial soils at high altitude – in Tupungato, Valle de Uco – the fresh and elegant Achaval Ferrer Quimera Blanco 2022 comprises 63% Chardonnay, 23% Sémillon, 10% Viognier and 4% Sauvignon Blanc.

The Chardonnay and Viognier were fermented and aged in French oak barrels and were the only varieties to go through MLF. The Chardonnay was fermented and aged in a mixture of new (20%), second- and third-use barrels, while the Viognier went into second-use barrels. These barrels had been used in the experimental white wines made in 2020 and 2021 – an important part of the learning process for Gustavo (below) as he tried to understand the white blend he wished to create.

The experimental white wines were not released and fewer than 1,000 bottles were produced. The 2022 vintage, however, has produced 8,500 bottles, which will be launched in key markets around the world early next year with a retail price here in the UK of £40.
The Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc were fermented at low temperature in a stainless-steel tank to enhance their freshness, verticality and typicity.

Gustavo says the Chardonnay brings complexity and elegance, Viognier gives texture and velvety tannins, Semillón adds freshness and intensity, and the Sauvignon Blanc brings some subtle aromas.
He says: “Creating Achaval Ferrer Quimera Blanco was a great challenge that has also been a dream of mine to fulfil. I had experience in the creation of white wines in New Zealand, as well as in Spain and some local trials. However, creating a white wine for Achaval Ferrer became a great desire. Quimera represents the constant search to achieve something impossible.”
That ‘quest for the impossible’ is reflected in the name. The word ‘chimera’ has two different meanings, and both have an intimate relationship with this wine. In Greek mythology, the chimera was a fire-breathing beast made up of the parts of three different animals (head of a lion, body of a goat, and tail of a snake). This is a clear connection with the fact that this wine is a blend. Still, the second meaning of the word is the one that best represents the wine. A chimera is an impossible search, the search for the unattainable. This is the mentality that everyone has in the vineyards and the winery every year when they produce this wine: without following any rules or tradition, the goal is to produce the best possible blend each vintage.
Gustavo says: “When we reach the level of excellence, when we get to the blend of these varieties, it can be expressed as a single dream – we will have reached this dream of the impossible. That is the chimera. Maybe in time, perhaps in the perfect year for the maturity of the grape… I’m sure we’ll reach it one day.”
His experience of making white wines comes from a year in New Zealand, working at Delegat in 2012, and at Newton Vineyard in Napa Valley. Gustavo says the New Zealand experience “helped me understand the conception of white wine in the New World”, while the California experience helped him “to elaborate an unfiltered Chardonnay, where I could capture the synergy between the wine and the New World with the Old-World ways of making wines”. He elaborates: “New World with stainless steel, versus new and old barrels for the Old World, and how their different forests provide greater frankness to the varietal characteristics of some wines.”
I note that these are not recent experiences, so I wonder how he found the switch from making reds to whites?
“It was an incredible challenge after eight years without making white wines,” he admits. “We take note of our memories, we read many books and consult with colleagues. I think that from 2020 to 2022 we have evolved and found a style very adapted to the ideology of Achaval Ferrer.”
Does that mean the winemaking philosophy is the same for the new white wine as his wonderful Malbecs (extremely low yields, and minimal intervention winemaking with no fining or filtration)?
“Whether white wines or red wines, Achaval Ferrer will continue to maintain its low-yield roots, respect for the terroir and the least intervention in our wines,” he replies. “This is the way we understand and how we represent our vineyards and, without a doubt, how we will continue to deepen these characteristics.”

Gustavo, who joined Achaval Ferrer in 2013 as second winemaker and was promoted to head winemaker in 2017, says the experiments in 2020 and 2021 taught him a good deal about picking dates, handling processes, and fermentation methodologies. But, most of all, they taught him about the best type of barrel for each variety. Now he is experimenting with the length of maturation in amphorae as they are “super-respectful of the soils from which the grapes come”.
Asked about his experiments with different vessels, he replies: “To be able to select the best containers to make our white wines, the first and most important thing is to know how they are demonstrated after each fermentation. Today, our Chardonnay is fermented in stainless steel, concrete, and French oak barrel.
“Sémillon is 100% stainless steel, but by 2024 I will do the test in amphora, since I think it can be very beneficial for its fruit perception.
“Viognier needs barrels, needs to be able to work its texture with new and used barrels of French oak.
“Sauvignon Blanc, today, is our varietal to experiment with. Stainless steel, concrete, French oak barrel, and amphora… Each of these containers help us to express the varietals in different ways and all are accessories to achieve the dream of the impossible.”

Achaval Ferrer Quimera Blanco 2022

BRIX at harvest: 24.6°
Yield: 4,000kg/ha
Alcohol: 13.3%
pH: 3.36
TA: 6.2g/L

Achaval Ferrer is part of the Tenute del Mondo wine group, which also includes Arínzano in northern Spain and has a stake in Tenute di Toscana.

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