A Sense of Place: The Remarkable Argentinian Malbec of Per Se

A Sense of Place: The Remarkable Argentinian Malbec of Per Se

'Special places make special wines, and Per Se is a great example of this.' 

Mendoza is a remarkable place to make wine. Its patchwork of different terroirs create a broad variety of Malbec styles; each reflecting the singularity of their unique vines. None harness this as beautifully as Per Se. Jamie Goode breaks down the magic of this world-class Malbec producer, and explains why their vineyards epitomise a 'sense of place'.

Wine is so much about ‘place’. It’s one of the things that makes wine so intellectually and sensorially appealing: you get to enjoy a drink with mind-altering properties that tastes nice, and that taste is shaped by the place the grapes are grown in. Special places make special wines, and Per Se is a great example of this.

I visited the Per Se vineyard a couple of years back. I was with sommelier Paz Levinson, who has produced one of the Wine Club cases for The Sourcing Table, and we were shown around by proprietors Edy Del Popolo and David Bonomi. I was stunned.

If you have spent much time in Mendoza, you’ll likely have seen some vineyards. However, the Per Se vineyard was completely different to the others I’ve seen there. It’s in a special part of one of the most remarkable subregions of Mendoza, which is Gualtallary.

Edy Del Popolo and David Bonomi in the vineyard

Edy and David were good friends before they started this project and have worked together before. Currently, David is the head winemaker at Norton, and Edy was the chief winemaker at Doña Paula for a while.

‘I hired David in 2005 to join me as a winemaker at Doña Paula,’ says Edy. ‘We had been working for different companies and that’s the way we really learned about Argentine viticulture and winemaking. Working for big companies like Doña Paula and Norton led us to not only understand the reality of our terroirs but also to understand the reality of producing more commercial wines.’ During this time they got to know the potential for great sites in Mendoza, and this provided the basis for this project. 

Per Se launched with the 2012 vintage. It’s a small, vineyard-based project of 20,000 bottles. This is divided into two separate labels: Per Se and Inseperable. All the wines come from the same vineyard. Mendoza, the most important wine region in Argentina, has 225,000 hectares of vines, and its Uco Valley subregion is now about 28,000 hectares. The Uco Valley is right below the Andes and is the same sort of size as Burgundy. Most of the grapes here are red, with Malbec being the main one. It’s also crossed by two rivers.

Per Se is based in a sub-appellation of the Uco Valley called Gualtallary. This is a new-ish appellation that is a potential GI (Geographical Indication – an appellation classification system similar that indicates notable provenance) and it has 2,300 hectares of vineyards, ranging from 1,200-1,600 m altitude. Because of this altitude difference, there is huge climatic variation within Gualtallary. It goes from climate zones Winkler 1-3 (essentially a very broad range of temperature and climatic changes), which is very rare in one region.

Per Se's Monasterio vineyard

The high altitude Monasterio vineyard of Per Se (which is often referred to as Argentina's 'Grand Cru') has a similar climate to Alsace or Champagne, but other vineyards just 11 km away have a climate similar to Bordeaux. Soil composition is also important here, and this is one of the things that amazed me about the vineyard. This isn’t marine-derived limestone like you find in Burgundy, Sancerre or Champagne, yet it is still very calcium-rich.

‘The amount of calcium carbonate in our soils is an important factor,’ says Edy. Their vineyards are found where the calcium carbonate concentrations are the highest. Typical Gualtallary soils are stony, with sand and loam, with varying levels of calcareous deposits. It’s normal for soils here to be 80% rocks, and then the rest sand, clay, and silt.

The Per Se Monasterio vineyards are planted at almost 1500 m elevation. There are two vineyards planted here and at the bottom, the vineyard is classic Gualtallary. This is used to make Inseperable, and it consists of calcareous sands and gravels.

The Per Se wines come from different parcels on the top of the hills, with completely different soils, and extremely high levels of calcium carbonate. ‘In Gualtallary, the average level of calcium carbonate in the soils is 10-12% (10-12 g/100 g) soil,’ says Edy. ‘Monasterio has 48% which is an almost pure calcareous soil. This is the main difference. Inseparable is from calcareous gravels and sand, but Per Se is mostly chalk.’

The calcium rich soils of Per Se, photographed by Jamie Goode

Inseperable is planted with a high VSP (Vertical Shoot Position), but in the hills, they have bush vines, planted at high density. ‘The idea was taken from the reality of this particular landscape,’ says Edy. ‘We wanted to control the vigour and have a nice balance between the canopy and the yield. The way to control this yield is to produce smaller plants giving smaller bunches. The natural yield of Inseperable is 6/7 tons/ha whereas the natural yield for Per Se is about 2.5 tons/ha.’ They don’t like to expose the vines to too much manipulation.

There are lots of rocks in the hillside vineyards of Monasterio. There are also conglomerates made out of calcareous sand and silt called ‘caliches’. When they are wet you can break them with your hands, so the roots can go through these caliches, take up water, and breathe because of the oxygen in the soil. ‘It is an outstanding type of soil,’ says Edy. It is unique in Gualtallary. This is a small plot: 2.2 ha, divided into three parcels, with the smallest one just 312 vines, so just one barrel. PerSe, Jubileus and La Craie are made in quantities of around only 1000-1500 bottles.

We are pleased to have the new vintages of Per Se available for purchase on an allocation basis. Please email us hello@thesourcingtable.com to receive this offer.