Argentine Malbec can now be found in most wine stores and restaurant lists around the world. This success story, however, being so dependent on a single grape variety can be a mixed blessing.
While for many Argentina is a one grape country, it is ironic that the country’s strength as a producer is the wide range of extensively planted grape varieties. This is a result of the waves of immigrants from Italy, France and Spain, in addition to Malbec, brought with them Syrah, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Chardonnay and many more grapes.
Since the 1990’s throughout Argentina wineries have been changing and improving. Vineyards have been reassessed, mapped and studied to improve viticultural practises. Investing in new vineyards in cooler areas to extend the ripening process and improve the quality of and variety of wines. Focusing on regional differences adding further choice and styles.
The heartland of Argentina’s vineyards is Mendoza. Curiously Mendoza is the same distance from the equator as Baghdad, a dessert, however, it is at high altitude in the foothills of the Andes mountains where it is cool at night. While it hardly rains yet the area is susceptible to hail storms during late summer than can destroy a whole crop. Capable of producing fine wines at high altitudes while at the same time being a sources of high volumes of good value wines from grapes grown at lower altitudes. Trapiche, established in 1883, one of Argentina’s oldest wineries and today the largest winery group in the country has been on of the leaders examples of how far Argentina has come in terms of quality and diversity.
To the south in Patagonia on the Rio Negro, wineries such Humberto Canales are producing excellent Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, which grows well in the cooler conditions, irrigated from through a network of canales bringing water from melting snow high in the Andes.
Heading north west to the extraordinarily high altitude vineyards, up to 3000m, in the province of Salta, you can find Torrontes, a white variety little known outside of Argentina, making deliciously fresh, aromatic and fruity wine with similarities to a young Moscatel. Torrontes is the obvious and much needed partner to accompany Argentine Malbec on wine lists around the world. One of my favourites is Don David Torrontes from El Esteco, founded by French migrantes David and Salvador Michel back in 1892, whose 1000 ha. of vineyards at an altitude of 1800m produce wines of great concentration of aromas and well defined flavours.
Argentina is a rich and varied source of wines that will continue to surprise. I believe that it will be a source of world class wine in the years ahead.