The history of Argentine wine making starts with the arrival of Italian, French and Spanish immigrants in the 19th century. Intertwined within this group were winemakers, by trade, who carried international and indigenous varieties with them during their long, agonizing journey to Argentina.
This group replaced the Jesuits ‘criollo wines’ with noble varietals, like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Consumption was only domestic for many years until, like magic, the Argentinean wine trade took off in the early 2000’s, due mainly to the economic crash.
There are a number of obvious reasons for the quick spurt of growth, as well: Quality improved, exports increased while local consumption fell, controlled irrigation was established and variations in altitude enabled varieties to be planted at their correct height, favoring slopes at the 3,500 to 6,100 foot range.
In the Mendoza region water is piped in from the melting snow of the Andes.
The truth is, many winemakers are making expressive wines and blends focusing on the Bonardo, Tempranillo, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
Regarding daily high and low temperatures for the vineyards, Mendoza has a distinct advantage. Warm days encourage sugar production and help the grapes develop a nice, thick skin. Cool nights help create high acidity levels.
Today, the winemakers are improving quality by producing fewer grapes per hectare with higher quality characteristics. Add oak barrels for aging and plantings of noble varieties to the game plan and you have a top quality wine.
You can’t talk about the wines of Argentina without noting that the price-to-quality ratio is amazingly low for the consumer.
The economic crash in 2001 turned, once non-competitive wines, into overly competitive wines overnight.
Prices plummeted as quality improved. Argentina was a key player on the world stage, after nearly 500 years of heartaches.
With the economic problems the United States is facing, many Americans are modifying their lifestyles, including the kind of wine they drink and where they travel for vacation.
For those of us who love viticulture and trips abroad, Argentina’s Mendoza region is the answer.
Mendoza, set against the foothills of the Andes mountains is a beautiful town that is visually Spanish oriented versus the European flair that Buenos Aires presents.
The town gathering place is the Plaza Independencia, where craft sellers stalls highlight silver jewelry, leather goods and gourds for the herbal drink Yerba Mate.
Street performers stage shows and lovers kiss on the benches.
On one side of the square is the elegant Park Hyatt, while the other side of the main square is Sacrimento, where the smell of meat grilling, outdoor cafes and urban outfitters prepare for customers who want to hike and river raft the nearby towering peak of Aconcagua.
Inside the Park Hyatt, you can start your introduction of Argentinean wines at the Vines of Mendoza tasting room, where flights from over 125 wines from the region are offered.
Malbec thrives in Mendoza.
Malbec was brought to Argentina from France, where it was used mainly as a blending grape. Mendoza is blessed with over 300 days a year of sunlight. Add hot days and cool nights to the theory and you have the perfect growing conditions for Malbec.
Malbec is planted at high altitudes, ensuring thick skin development, deep colors and rich and robust flavors.
Malbec wines are usually full-bodied, due in part to the tannins. Tannic wines are generally paired with fattier cuts of meat, like the ones in Argentina.
In fact, growth of Argentinean wine exports to the U.S. grew 23% last year, with sales of 6.9 million cases, creating $271 million dollars in revenue.
If you haven’t experienced ‘Malbec’ wines from Argentina, this is the time to start.
There are over 500,000 acres of vineyards in Argentina, of which over 75,000 acres are planted with the Malbec grape, followed by, possibly the next breakthrough grape, Bonarda (50,000 acres). Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for 40,000 acres.
The flagship white grape is Torrontes, grown specifically in the Salta region, followed by Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Grigio.
Wines made with the Torrontes grape stand out from the pack due to their fragrant aromatics, orange blossoms characteristics and the dry, full tropical fruit flavor on the palate, somewhat like an Alsatian Muscat.
One of my favorite wineries in Mendoza is Achaval-Ferrer, which was founded in 1995 by winemaker Santiago Achaval and his partners. Achaval-Ferrer, according to Argentine wine guru, Nora Favelukes, helped put high end Argentine wine on the map. One of the four partners is Roberto Cipresso, one of the world’s foremost wine consultant and winemaker.
Together with Italian, Tiziano Siviero and Argentine Manuel Ferrer, the team has broken the barrier with exceptional well balanced, complex, concentrated wines that are now world-acclaimed. With low yields and terroir driven wines, Achaval-Ferrer has made a name for themselves in a short period of time.
I sampled the 2013 Malbec Cost: $19.99
Soil: Volcanic and gravel/loom. Sustainably farmed
Aged: Aged nine months in two-year old oak barrels.
Nose: Aromatics of violets and white peach.
Yield: 17,000 12 bottle cases
2013 Cabernet Sauvignon
Soil: Limestone, sand and clay
Palate: Old world charm, pepper, dusty tannins, red fruit and somewhat barnyard.
Achaval-Ferrer leads the way in red wine production in Argentina.