How has Argentina become one of the world’s hottest wine producers?
I recently returned from Vinexpo in France, the largest wine show in the world. I was overwhelmed with the amount of great wines available from every country. Especially impressive was the quality and variety from Argentina.
Argentina is known as the land of tango, soccer and empanadas. It’s the world’s fifth largest producer of wine. It has a climate ranging from rainy jungle in the north, sunny and dry highlands in the middle, to the penguin populated region of Patagonia in the far south. With this much variance in terrain and climate, great wine region abound.
In 1988, travelling winemaker Michel Rolland was flying to Mendoza, Argentina as he had heard that this country was in the midst of a wine revolution. Immigrants from Spain, Italy and France had brought vine cuttings with them when settling in Argentina as far back as 1853. Wine lovers were starting to recognize the quality of these wines, primarily due to the efforts of Nicolas Catena, who had lived and worked in Napa, California in the early 1980s and brought back many premium winemaking techniques. This, combined with the perfect combination of climate, elevation and soil, allowed Argentina to suddenly climb onto the world stage.
When we think of Argentina, malbec is the grape that usually comes to mind. Originally a grape from the Cahors region of France, malbec has flourished in Argentina. It’s susceptible to rot and mildew and therefore requires a dry climate. Much of western Argentina, including Mendoza, is in the rain shadow of the massive Andes Mountains. The result is a dry and dusty countryside, where it can rain less than 200 millimetres per year.
Many Argentine wines are available, with more than 50 per cent of those being malbec-based. Many wine geeks have called malbec the new shiraz, in reference to the huge influence shiraz had on the growth and popularity of Australian wines.
What struck me, as I recently tasted through a range of wines from Argentina, was how much the quality has improved. I have never been a huge fan of the jammy, blueberry flavours of cheap malbec, although they do offer good value for everyday wines. But for less than $20 you can now find delicious and food-friendly malbecs in every wine store in Halifax. Plus, Argentina produces a range of other great red wines, like cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. On the white side, the wine made from the signature grape torrontes is delicious. It’s wonderfully aromatic with floral and citrus tones. Torrontes is a great summer sipper and highly recommended to try.
Other up and coming wine regions of Argentina include Salta, which contains the world’s highest commercial vineyards at 10,000 feet, and Patagonia, which is making amazing pinot noir at the far limits of the icy south.
So how do we celebrate these delicious wines? Throw an asado—a big outdoor barbecue with lots of wine and other drinks, along with some Argentine-style food. It’s part of the social fabric of many Argentine communities. Music is a must, and tango is preferred. Skewer cuts of different meats and slowly roast over a charcoal grill without seasoning. The longer the meat skewers cook at low heat, the better.
Make a chimichurri as a condiment, and add in some salads and breads. Throw it all on a table with some Argentine wines and you have the makings of a great summer party.
The under $25 wine review
Reserva de Peron Torrontes 2012
Argentina, NSLC, $12.49
One of the things I love so much about torrontes is that the aromas are bottled summer. Fresh flowers, honeysuckle and tropical notes. Great value. A rich honeyed texture balanced with some acidity. Leans more in weight toward chardonnay than pinot grigio, and is a refreshing change from the typical whites we usually drink. At $12.49 a bottle, buy a case. 89/100
Finca Las Palmas Gran Reserva Malbec 2010
Fantastic nose of rich vanilla and blackberries; more typical of a cabernet than a malbec. The flavours are rich and mouth-filling. Malbecs less than $20 shouldn’t have this much structure and velvety tannins! A touch jammy on the finish, with some herbal and chocolate notes. This is a great expression of malbec and worth every penny. 91/100
80–84: A great sipper, good value.
85–89: Won’t last long, great value.
90–94: Brag to your friends and buy a case—fantastic.
95–100: A classic, run to the store, extremely rare.