San Pedro de Yacochuya 2006 (Argentina)
Author: Oleg Cherne
The best wine should always be in the pursuit of aesthetics. In other words, a work of art. «Wine is meant to be enjoyed. If wine does not provide pleasure, then why make it?» This principle is espoused by Arnaldo Echart, the visionary behind Yacochuya, a masterpiece of Argentinian wine, in collaboration with renowned oenologist Michel Rolland.
Wine: San Pedro de Yacochuya
Region: Cafayate, Salta, Argentina
Grapes: 85% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon
30,000 bottles produced
Poetry of Taste
«Shcha-ko-choo-shcha» wine… What a bizarre and decidedly un-European sounding name! Or «Zha-ko-choo-zha»… as they would pronounce it in Spain… «Yaco» in Quechua means «water,» and «chuya» means «light.» Perhaps the saying that wine should be washed down with a woman’s kiss was conceived by the Argentinians when they first tried this deep and refined wine?
Undoubtedly, the success of this wine has been phenomenal thanks to the famous Michel Rolland. Bowing before the master, we must also note that «Yacochuya» is an unusual wine for him, which is particularly evident in the 2006 harvest. This is truly a wine «challenge,» and it seems that poets and artists are more attuned to perceive it than critics. Perhaps this is why the wine is unlikely to ever receive a rating higher than 95 points, but will nonetheless always remain a hit among connoisseurs of beauty.
This wine cannot be perceived outside of its historical and cultural context. Winemaker Arnaldo Echart set out to create a truly masterful work of art the moment he founded the Yacochuya winery in a region extremely high-altitude for winemaking, near the city of Cafayate in the province of Salta back in the early nineties.
If a sommelier wants to work not just with a famous brand, but works of art, this wine is a real gem with its atmospheric character. It inspires you—you’ll be moved to paint a picture, recite a poem, play a sonata—because the sensation this wine provides cannot be expressed in plain words. When embracing this wine, it is almost as if you’re dancing the tango with it, or plunging deep into the Borges, or wandering the old Native American Salta trails shoulder to shoulder with Che…
Arnaldo Echart’s wines are living guides into the world of Argentina’s taste. It is a wine with a subtext inspired by the best snapshots of Argentinian culture. We suggest enjoying this wine to «Nuevo tango» by Astor Piazzolla. Or perhaps you’d prefer traveling through the fantastic worlds of Jorge Luis Borges. While the latter can hardly be considered an excellent connoisseur of wine, this hasn’t stopped him from admiring this wonderful drink. «His muse did not live in wine, but Borges has one remarkable sonnet, in which the writer’s true wisdom is revealed. This is a sonnet dedicated to wine,» says senor Arnaldo.
What realm was it, what century?
What silent stars concurred?
From autumn’s gold they fashioned it;
And like the stream of days,
Down through the generations the red wine carves its ways,
Regales us with its music, its lions and its blaze.
Be it the night of triumph, be it the fatal day,
Wine raises high our happiness, it soothes our fears away:
And here’s a brand-new dithyramb I sing for it today.
The Arab and the Persian, they sang its praise of old.
Wine, Teach me all my history, that I may see it told As if it were the memory of ashes dead and cold!
Indeed, much like Borges’ poetic masterpiece, senor Arnaldo’s Yacochuya has the power to connect a man to the immense force surrounding us, the force with its fragrance, character, and feeling. For some reason, I immediately think of the tango, which is considered genuine not by the technique or skills of the partners, but by the feeling they express through their movements, ethereal and almost otherworldly. Something purely Argentinian.
If a sommelier wants to reveal the full potential of a wine from Argentina, they need the inspiration and elegance to do it right. Argentinian is the wine of freedom, both figuratively and literally. It is not limited by strict traditions, making it an excellent testing ground for adventurous winemakers and aspiring sommeliers to demonstrate the best of their art. It is an inexhaustible source of inspiration—one must simply learn to channel and manage the immense power it has to offer.
Serving Argentinian wine is not dissimilar to reciting poetry in a foreign language, as Borges was known for, saying: «Gentlemen! Allow me to recite a poem in Latin for you. I know that few of you understand Latin, but I want you to at least enjoy the melody of the sounds…»
Arnaldo Echart’s Wine Philosophy
Of course, it’s hard to say whether Senor Arnaldo would have been able to make this wine without Monsieur Michel, but the two masters were destined to meet in 1988, when Echart was heading his family-owned enterprise, one of the top Argentinean wineries, Bodegas Echart, in the high-altitude Cafayate (Salta Province).
Arnaldo’s great-great-grandfather founded the winery in 1850. From that moment on, it has remained a family-owned enterprise, passed down from father to son. After his father died, sixteen-year-old Arnaldo decided to take the destiny of their family business into his own hands. He left his university studies in San Juan and accepted the position of head manager of the business. This continued until 1992, when the large French company group Pernod Ricard offered to buy out his bodega for a substantial sum. The offer was generous, so Arnaldo took the plunge and decided to start over with a new winery.
This probably would never have happened if it wasn’t for Arnaldo’s adventurous character. Instead of quietly continuing his family business, he decided to create something entirely new based on the philosophy of the area. As a tribute to his land, he named the new winery Yacochuya, a word from one of his native languages, emphasizing his connection to roots that spread much deeper than just five generations of winemakers.
Arnaldo plunged into a study of all aspects of the art of his country, trying to create a world-class wine that would be the embodiment of the Argentine spirit, and a paragon for other winemakers.
«I don’t think that me meeting Michel was an accident,» says Arnaldo. «At a certain moment I noticed that my wine was lacking something. It was a good wine, but its taste wasn’t something from my dreams. I tried my wine and other Argentine wines, and noticed that in comparison with French wines, my product was far from perfect. I was very critical about everything I did, and it was time for me to ask for help, because it was clear that I couldn’t reach the desired level on my own.»
After several failed attempts to consult with local oenologists, Senor Echart decided to reach out to Michel Rolland, and invited him to Argentina. As we all know, Rolland loves new challenges, so he jumped at the opportunity. This is how the first Argentine wine from the seeds of Malbec 1913 vintage was born from the union of Rolland and Echart. In Yacochuya, Malbec acquired a more intense color, and a more complex aroma and structure. The favorable climate of Cafayate and Michel Rolland’s skills contributed to the creation of one of the best wines in Argentina.
«Wine brings happiness to its creator, while a lack of culture can damage the quality of a wine,» Arnaldo believes. «I noticed this problem a while ago, and ever since then I’ve been looking to make a synthesis of wine and culture. Of course, technical mastery is essential, too. There are many young winemakers and oenologists studying this aspect of production. They spend years learning in professional schools and universities, but I’m more interested in approaching my wine with the help of culture, art, and beauty.»
Today, Arnaldo’s son Marcos carries on these traditions, applying the secrets he learned from his father’s and Michel Rolland’s guidance. Marcos is young at only 35, but his winemaking technique is striking, or at least so says his father. Michel, using all his experience as a foundation, shared the type of experience and knowledge one cannot simply find in a book.
The Yacochuya Estate is located 8 km from Cafayate, at 2,035 meters above sea level, making its terroir a one-of-a-kind phenomenon: it is the most «elevated» vineyard on earth. In total, their vineyards occupy about 16 ha, in close proximity to the Yacochuya river.
The local terroir demonstrates such power that we can even find in ancient indigenous legends such as the story of the local San Pedro cactus, as it is referred to today. This plant is a living symbol of Cafayate, and the embodiment of this terroir’s capacity. In the past, locals used the San Pedro cactus in various rituals.
The climate here is known as Che-esque, an apt metaphor for when the temperature can change in such a revolutionary fashion. At 1,700 meters, days are hot and nights are cool (36°C and 12°C, respectively). The white caps of glaciers loom as if at arm’s length, yet the skies are clear, shining more days a year than anywhere else. Strong mountain winds stir up dust and sand in the air, reducing overall humidity.
On the whole, the climate in this area can be characterized as continental. The locals believe that the three places responsible for the specific climate of this area are mentioned in ancient tales—San Antonio de los Cobres, Salar del Hombre Muerto, and Mina la Casualidad.
The town of San Antonio de los Cobres is located 4,000 meters above sea level, surrounded by the mines and peaks of the Andes. The surprising amount of sunny days a year is attributed to the benevolence of the spirit Pachama («mother earth» in Quechua), who disperses clouds. However, from a scientific perspective, this is caused by the concentration of nearby mines, which form a unique geomagnetic field in the region. The total population is about 2,000, mostly indigenous residents.
San Antonio de los Cobres is the final stop on the El Tren a Las Nubes, the famous «Train to the Skies,» which connects this remote town to Salta, the capital city of the province. The railroad starts at an altitude of 1,200 meters, and snakes along breath-taking zigzags, tunnels, and dizzying turns along the Quebrada del Toro rift, and past mountain lakes and indigenous villages with houses made of unbaked brick. The Polvorilla viaduct, a delicate lace-like railway bridge 224 meters long and 63 meters high, is a true engineering masterpiece.
The second spot locals are most fond of is Salar del Hombre Muerto. This town is located in the neighboring province of Catamarca, and has one of the largest deposits of copper and gold in the world, complete with ancient petroglyphs. The locals believe this place also has something to do with the unusual Cafayate climate.
The third point on our map is Mina la Casualidad, a small town just a few kilometers away from the Chilean border nestled 4,148 meters above sea level. In winter the temperature here drops to –40°С, and its most notable landmark are odd geological structures known as «signing rocks.»
We often hear about droughts in Argentina, but 2006 was very favorable for the highland Salta, with one of the best harvests of the last 20 years.
Yacochuya is made with Malbec (85%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (15%). Some of the vines used are over 100 years old. Currently, the ripeness of grapes is monitored by Marcos, who can accurately determine the exact day when the grapes are ready for use. Arnaldo shared with us that «Sometimes he would wake me up at five in the morning to go and look at the vines. We’d go and make sure that these wonderful bunches, wired to each other, remained in a strictly vertical position. This way they could preserve the best of their quality.»
The main grape variety cultivated in Yacochuya is Malbec. It was first brought to France by a Maguar, and is also known under the names Auxerrois, Cahors, Cot, Pressac, Quercy, Pied Noir, Noir de Pressac and Medoc Noir.
Michelle Pouget was the first to ever bring it here, to Argentina. It is quite common in sunny regions, such as Chile, Australia, Italy, California, Southern Oregon and Washington state. However, the largest plantations of Malbec, about 30,000 ha, are nowhere other than in Argentina.
Many people believe that Malbec ideally expresses the nuances of its terroir. In Yacochuya, in addition to its intense aroma, we can also notice a very special note of flavor, typical for the famous San Pedro cactus.
This wine has a very intense aroma, balanced, but rather complex. It demands special preparations before being served. The best way to reveal the qualities of this wine to their maximum is to keep it in an open bottle for about 30 minutes. Decanting is not a must, but a little aeration never hurts.
This wine is fairly strong, but does not bowl you over, as Arnaldo and Michel recognized that the grapes for this wine should be very ripe and well-aged. The juice ages in French oak barrels, granting it inimitable shades of flavor.
The serving method for Yacochuya stems from its storage requirements, which dictate the product is kept at a strictly controlled 16°C. However, if you are planning on keeping it in your cellar for 5 to 7 years, it is best to maintain the temperature at 12–14°C.
That is why it is so important not to overheat wine immediately after opening it. If it is quite warm in the room where you serve it, do not wait 30 minutes. Pour the wine into glasses immediately, and just ask your guests to leave it for 10 minutes or use an aerator.
94/100 from The Wine Advocate, Robert Parker
96/100 from Code de Vino, Oleg Cherne