Argentina’s Wine Renaissance.

malbecThis big, resource-rich South American country has been producing wine since the 16th century. The industry started shortly after Spanish conquistadors arrived and introduced Catholicism by building impressive cathedrals and churches. The clergy needed wine for communions and their daily diet.

Before 1980’s, Argentina produced huge quantities of wine, exported much of it in bulk, and consumed the rest. There was no pressing need to improve quality. Although the official language is Spanish, the majority of the European stock is Italian, and they like to drink a glass or two with their meals. Even children are given a glass of wine diluted with plenty of water. To an Argentine alcohol is a liquid to consume with a meal, and never abused to get intoxicated.

Wine quality was acceptable at best, and never reached levels of excellence worthy to export in bottle.

The industry was poorly organized; quality mattered little or not at all. The situation changed drastically in the 1980’s with foreign investments and enlightened approach by local wineries.

Young and promising winemakers were sent to Spain, Italy, Germany, and the U S A to study oenology, and related chemistry. New equipment including French and American oak barrels were purchased.

Truth in labelling also became important, and today, all verietal wines, destined to international markets, conform to international standards (i.e 75 per cent of variety stated on the labels is in the blend, although some wineries routinely use 100 per cent).
Now Argentina ranks fifth in quantity produced behind France, Italy, Spain, and the U S A. Exports have grown by leaps and bounds. The U S A, Canada, and the United Kingdom are the best markets, as modern Argentinean wines represent good value.

The country has three main wine producing regions – Norte, Cuyo, and Patagonia), each of which contains several sub-regions.

Norte consists of Molinos, El Arenal and Cafayate, all in the province of Salta, and ranging in altitude between 1700 and 3000 metres. Valle de Fiambola is in Catamarca with vineyards located on 1700 metres above sea level. Norte is closest to the Equator, and by necessity, vineyards must be located on high altitudes.

Cuyo is the largest viticultural region, and located in the provinces of La Rioja, San Juan and Mendoza. It consists of 18 sub-regions- Vallee de Famartina (La Rioja), Valle del Pedernal, Valle de Tulum, Valle del Zonda, (all in San Juan); Norte, Este, Lujan, Maipu, Valle de Uco Centro, San Carlos and San Rafael (all in Mendoza). The altitudes of vineyards range from 700 to 1100 metres above sea level.

Patagonia, the farthest south and coolest of all regions has two sub-regions: San Patricio del Chanar, and Alto Valle del Rio Negro. The vineyard altitude varies between 200 – 300.

Argentina has a total of 245,000 hectares under vines. The country produces mostly red wines, but white wine production is increasing rapidly.

The most popular red grape varieties are: malbec, cabernet sauvignon, bonarda, syrah, tempranillo, merlot, tannat, and pinot noor.

For white wines, winemakers prefer chardonnay, chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, torrents, viognier, tokay friulano, moscatel de Alejandria (Muscat d`Àlexandrie), ugni blanc (trebbiano) and semillon.

Of all red grape varieties malbec is the most popular, and internationally successful. Malbec comes in an array of styles ranging from juicy-fruity quaffers to refined wines of grace and elegance, to robust, potent wines suitable for steaks and game roasts. It goes very well with grilled and/or roasted choice beef cuts, i.e strip loin of beef, rib of beef, and tenderloin of beef.

Torrontes a native white grape evolved over centuries from imported vitis vinifera varieties, emanates floral aromas and is very appealing in its youth, but unfortunately does not age well It should be consumed within a year of harvest.
Before the “wine revolution”, huge wineries dominated the market. Today, many small and medium-sized, mostly family-owned, quality-oriented wineries are gaining market share both at home and in export markets.

Here are some red wines I recommend, although many small wineries produce outstanding white wines, but unfortunately they are unavailable in export markets, and if so in very small quantities.

Malbec, 2008, Altos Las Hormigos
Malbec, 207  Andean Vineyards
Malbec 2008 Chakana
Malbec 2006, Kaiked Ultra
Signature Malbec 2007 Dominio del Plata
Broquel Malbec 2006 Trapiche
Malbec 2006 Vina Lobos
Alegoria Gran Reserva Malbec 2006 Navarro Correas
Don David Reserva Malbec 2007 Michele Torino

Hrayr Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?

Professor B offers seminars to companies and interested parties on any category of wine, chocolates, chocolates and wine, olive oils, vinegars and dressings, at a reasonable cost.


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