Susana Balbo is Argentina’s first lady of wine
She was born into a family of viticulturists (with Italian heritage) in Mendoza, Argentina. Mendoza is the 3rd largest province and the undisputed heart of the Argentine wine industry. Susana Balbo is regarded as one of the greatest winemakers to come out of Argentina. Family is extremely important to Susana and is proud that her two children Ana & José play prominent roles in Susana Balbo wines today.
Susana Balbo has over 50 vintages under her belt, 30 of these in her beloved Argentina. She was the first female winemaker in Argentina and the first Argentinian paid to consult to an international winery. Balbo’s most famous nickname is the Queen of Torrontés. Wine lovers around the world have her to thank for changing the reputation of the Torrontés grapes from a bland blending grape to a grape which is now one of Argentina’s most famous white wines.
Susana Balbo’s Journey Into Winemaking
Despite having a family who owned a small winery in Mendoza, winemaking wasn’t Susana’s first love. In fact, if it wasn’t for her parents not allowing her to move away from home to study, Susana would have pursued a career as a nuclear physicist. In 1981 Susana Balbo was the first woman in Argentina to complete an enology [the study of wine] degree. Entering the wine industry as a woman in the 80’s was not an easy path and guided her career as an innovator and risk taker.
Susana describes her first professional moment of breaking ‘the barrier’ was when she applied for a job at Michel Torino. The job description required an assistant winemaker with 4+ years experience and fluency in English. Susana had no experience at all (as she had just graduated) and couldn’t speak English. Much to her credit, she still beat 80 applicants for the job. She thinks it came down to a compelling cover letter she wrote expressing her desire to do something different. Susana’s career in winemaking has seen her make wine all over the world including Australia, Spain, Chile, Italy, France, South Africa, Brazil & the USA. Susana’s experience overseas allowed her to learn new techniques and become familiar with new technologies. She also adapted to international tastes which resulted in Susana becoming a much sought-after consultant helping modernise the Argentinian wine industry.
A Love Of Argentinian Grape Varieties
Susana Balbo’s key motivation to starting her own winery was to have the freedom to create the wine styles that she loved and not be dictated by what styles other people wanted her to make. For Balbo, this meant showcasing Argentina’s unique terroir with grapes that are best suited for the soils.
The Queen of Torrontes. If you haven’t heard of Torrontes you are excused. Outside of Argentina, the indigenous grapes known as Torrontes are little known and even harder to get your hands on. Torrontes is an aromatic white wine that has similar peach and floral characteristics to Viognier. Most premium Torrontes examples are fermented dry with no residual sugar. Technically the name covers a number of grapes including the most common; Torrontes Mendocino, Torrontes Sanjuanino and Torrontes Riojano. The Torrontes grapes are native grapes of Argentina thanks to a natural cross between the Muscat of Alexandra & País grapes, the latter of which is a red grape.
When Susana Balbo started her career at Michel Torino the Torrontes varieties were used to produce cheap table wine. They were grown with high yields and had no distinguishing characteristics. Balbo was challenged to be different and create a premium wine to showcase Torrontes to the world. Susanna’s innovative approach of making wines with no skin contact & later adding barrel fermentation is a key turning point for the grape variety in the early 80’s. The varieties signature sweet aromatics are stark contrast to the texture and palate of a dry white wine bought about by barrel fermentation. Her method of productions created a deceptive experience and a wine of intrigue.
Malbec is one of the 18 noble wine grapes of the world, originally from Bordeaux in France. In Bordeaux, Malbec is most often blended to add tannin structure and deep colour. This is most common on the right bank Bordeaux blends. In France, single variety [Malbec] examples do exist in appellations like Cahors but aren’t as common as in Argentina.
Argentina is responsible for over 75% of the world’s plantings of Malbec. The best single varietal expressions grown at higher elevations in the foothills of the Andes mountains. The large diurnal temperature range in higher altitude vineyards ensures Argentinian Malbec develops enough acid to carry the varieties dark fruit and smokey characteristics. They produce excellent single varietal wines.
Chardonnay is the most planted white grape in the world. It’s often said to be a winemaker’s best friend thanks to its ability to thrive in almost any terroir. Chardonnay responds well to different winemaking styles and techniques. Argentinian Chardonnay is grown in the high altitude vineyards of Mendoza to benefit from the hot days and cool nights. This diurnal swing creates age worthy wines with crisp acidic backbones, combined with citrus fruits and minerality shining through. If you love white burgundy, particularly Chablis then consider a Mendoza Chardonnay as a great value alternative.
Susana Balbo’s Wine Awards
The Queen of Argentina has many professional highlights throughout her 40 year career. The long list of awards and accolades are attributed to Susana Balbo’s unique fusion of knowledge of terroir and raw talent for winemaking. Below are some of her most notable achievements;
- First Woman to graduate in Enology in Argentina – Masters degree with gold medal for highest GPA. Universidad Juan Agustín Maza (Mendoza);
- 1997 – Awarded by the Argentine Organization of Businesswomen as Women Entrepreneur of the Year;
- 2001 – Susana Balbo Torrontes selected by British Airways in a blind tasting to be served to Business Class passengers;
- 2006 – Elected as the President of Wines of Argentina (WofA);
- 2015 – Awarded the “Woman of the Year” by The Drinks Business. Balbo made the top 10 in 2012 & 2018;
- 2020 – Awarded “Wine Making Legend of the Year” – Tim Atkin MW;
- Chairwomen of W20 Argentina – A group focused on closing the gender gap in Argentina; and
- Her two children Ana & José
Top Susana Balbo Wines
Susana Balbo – 6 Bottle Mixed Selection
Susana has been criticised by international wine writers for making “feminine wines”, wines specifically for women. Susana rightly argues that she is an elegant woman who cares about details. That elegance and finesse shines through her wine range with the various labels. Below is a list of our top Susana Balbo wines.
Typical Mendoza Malbec showcasing fresh raspberry, dark forest fruits and a touch of sweet spice. The tannins are velvety smooth making the urge for a second glass hard to resist. This is a great wine for grilled red meat.
The Nosotros label is a representation of everyone in the winery coming together to make the very best wine possible. It is fair to say they got it right with this huge Malbec. Ranked by James Suckling as the 36th best wine in the world. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on this wine cherish every sip!
Susana has been quoted as saying that the last wine she would drink before she dies is a red blend. This signature blend is a nod to the great Bordeaux blends, being less fruit driven than a traditional Argentine red. This is a wine with layers of dark fruits, tobacco and darker chocolate
The Crios range is a celebration of Susana Balbo’s children. They are expressive and true to variety. On the nose, this Torrontés expresses fresh white flowers, peaches and a hint of bruised lemon peel. On the palate its zippy acidity and dry finish will have you both confused and content. This is the perfect food wine with aromatic spicy Thai food.
Elegance, Finesse and subtle complexity. Susana Balbo’s Chardonnay showcases everything that is great about working with this variety in the high altitude vineyards of the Uco Valley. The crisp acidity, citrus characters are balanced by savoury secondary characteristics thanks to fermentation time in medium toasted French oak. This is a great alternative to Chablis with a touch more body thanks to its short time in oak.
According to Susana, Blending is the part of winemaking where you can express your individuality best. Even as small as 1% of a wine’s components can have a huge impact on the finished wine. The Brioso blend is a work of art with equal parts Torrontés and the two Bordeaux varieties Sémillon & Sauvignon Blanc. Aromatic with white flower florals and crunchy white flesh fruits this wine is great with Asian cuisines.
Visit Susana Balbo Vineyard In Argentina
Susana Balbo’s winery, Dominion Del Plata, is located in the small town of Agrelo. Argelo is a short 25 minute drive from downtown Mendoza. The wine region has a number of high end wine lodges set in the foothills of the Andes amongst the vines. We recommend staying at Cavas Wine Lodge for the ultimate experience. For accommodation a little closer to Mendoza and set amongst the vines we recommend Villa Mansa, Wine Hotel & Spa. If you want to contact Susana and her team to arrange a tasting or tour you can do that here.
Susana Balbo Wine Tastings and Vineyard Tours
Once you arrive at Dominion Del Plata [Susana Balbo’s Winery], there are a number of different experiences you can enjoy. The wine tastings all include a tour through the vineyards, the winery and the cellar. The tastings end with getting to try 4 different wines.
The next step up is a food and wine pairing experience with 5 wines carefully matched with different foods. Pairing wine with food will amplify the wines characteristics and your overall experience. To book this tour you will need to have a minimum of 2 people and be prepared to spend up to 90 minutes enjoying the wine and food pairing.
Do you have what it takes to blend the next great wine? Then book the Blend-Art Experience at Susana Balbo winery. This experience is hands on and plenty of fun. You will be welcomed with a glass of premium wine and guided by an expert to ensure you have the tools to blend your very own wine. By the end of the experience you will have created a unique wine blend and your very own wine brand! This is a private tour with a minimum of 2 people. Click the link here for more details.
Restaurant dining at Susana Balbo’s Osadia De Crear
The fine dining restaurant Osadia De Crear showcases Argentinian cuisine while highlighting Susana Balbo’s wines to create great moments. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu as well as 2 tasting menus. The first of which is a 3 course menu using ingredients from the property and as local as possible. The 2nd tasting menu is the 5 course menu celebrating all of Argentina’s cuisine.
Fancy yourself a grill master? If you would like to try cooking in traditional Argentinian style then sign up to a cooking class at Osadia.
Enjoy Espacio Crios with friends and family taking in the views of the Andes in a picnic setting. From the kitchen you can order gourmet finger food, sandwiches and salads or even ice cream made from wine! The best part is you will be given pillows and blankets to enjoy your time sitting in the garden and taking it all in.
As you can see there is a lot to like and admire about Susana Balbo and her quest to make us excellent quality Argentinian wines. If you liked reading this please sign up to our mailing list below for more interesting winemaker profiles and excellent deals on wine. Savage Vines supports small, family run vineyards so by supporting us you are supporting them and that is our mission.
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