After many years of political turmoil and economic uncertainty, Argentina’s wine industry is rapidly emerging as a major player in the world of wine.
The country has been producing huge quantities of wine (fourth largest in the world after France, Italy, and Spain) since the 16th century. Most of the Mediterranean immigrants to Argentina came from viticultural backgrounds and brought with them their traditions and grape varieties, but were flexible enough to adapt to a completely different environment.
Grapes such as Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, Tempranillo are cultivated and on high-altitude vineyards even Pinot Noir thrive. For white wines vignerons like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes, and even Riesling, but the bulk of all wine used to be from Pais, a grape variety brought from Peru and Chile by Spaniards.
Argentines have always consumed mostly domestic wines (90 litres per capita in the 1950’s) and a lot was exported in bulk to countries like the U. S. S. R., and other looking for inexpensive lots. When the economy took yet another downturn early 1970’s and domestic consumption dropped, growers were forced to abandon quantity for quality. Since then Argentine wine quality improved greatly. European and American wineries invested huge amounts of capital and bought suitable land anticipating worldwide increased demand. Lurton brothers, from Bordeaux, Kendall-Jackson from Sonoma, California, as well as Austrian interests, are already producing refined products. Many are exported not only to the United Kingdom, traditionally one of the best markets for Argentina, but also to the U S A, Canada and many EU countries.
Argentina’s once huge tracts of vineyards covering 314,000hectares dwindled to approximately 200,000 hectares but quality is so better.
La Rural, N. Catena, Nieto y Senetiner, and Vinedos Santa Julia among others, have been at the forefront of the quality revolution.
Nicolas Catena, a native of Argentina and former economics professor at University of California at Berkeley and grandson of an Italian immigrant spent considerable time in California wine country. Upon his return, he planted vineyards on high altitude reasoning that the cool climate prevailing at such heights coupled with diurnal temperature changes would yield more suitable grapes for outstanding wines. Today his wines, and those of his collaborator La Rural are hailed as the most sophisticated of the country. Vinedos Santa Julia owned and operated by the family Zuccardi is known for consistently high-quality and reasonable prices.
Mendoza, Salta, Catamarca, La Rioja, San Juan, Neguen and Rio Negro are the major growing regions. Mendoza’s sub-regions of Maipu, Lujan de Cuyo and Tupungato arte well noted for their superior fruit grown on high altitude vineyards. N. Catena, Vinedos Santa Julia and La Rural cultivate vineyards in Tupungato, Lujan de Cuyo and Maipu, others are now starting to buy land and plan to plant. Trapiche, valentin Bianchi, Humberto Canale, Bodegas Etchart, Finca Flichman, the Lurton Brothers, Navarro Correas, Bodega Norton, and Vina Patagonia are large and well managed wineries.
Their quality is fine for large enterprises and considerable efforts are being made to improve quality.
Argentine Chardonnays are quite impressive and show potential to rival their red wines, which have been traditionally their strong suit.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah and blends of some have been wining international awards for the past decade. Tempranillo and Sangiovese wines are also improving year after year. Soon we will be able to sample them in North America.
Malbec, a grape mostly used in small quantities in Bordeaux blends, thrives in Argentina producing varietal wines worthy of gastronomic tables everywhere. Vinedos de Santa Julia’s Q-line Malbec 1998 is outstanding and worth every penny.
Nicolas Catena was one of the first to recognize that fruit quality was of prime importance and sought the advice of Michel Rolland starting 1996. Since then Catena’s wines have improved immeasurably.
Kendall-Jackson, Concha y Toro, Martini e Rossi, Sogrape all huge, well-established wineries have recognized Argentina’s potential and invested significant amounts of capital in vineyards, winery buildings and modern equipment. All use irrigation to their advantage by controlling quantity, thus regulating quality.
Winemakers and viticulturists from many countries are finding themselves in Argentina, where the freewheeling attitude prevails, providing some relief from restrictions associated with existing European appellations and practices. Argentina has yet to develop a rigidly enforced system of appellations, although such regulations will become inevitable as the industry evolves and becomes more export oriented.
Over the past decade the dull, dusty, musty, oxidised wines have started to give way to fresher, more fruit-driven wine styles, most young wine drinkers want. They are the ones who consume quantity and eventually decide to turn to quality.
But in its headlong plunge into the “brave new world“ Argentine winemakers and growers not forgotten that the country possesses some of the oldest vinifera vineyards in existence, having been spared the phylloxera scourge – thanks to the high barrier of the Andes mountains to the west and vast land surrounding Mendoza, the oldest and largest grape region of the country. Some vineyards date back to late 18th century and many new ones are now propagated from those pre-phylloxera vines.
Argentine wines from small family-owned wineries represent excellent value due to overproduction and decrease in domestic consumption, Presently the per capita wine consumption is approximately 50 litres well over 60 percent less than it was in 1950’s
Yet it must be said huge wineries with an output of millions of cases still produce rough, and oxidised wines!
You need to judiciously select the winery before buying Argentine wines.