Guide to Argentinian Wines
“By the year 2015, the greatness of Argentinean wines made from the Malbec grape will be understood as a given. This French varietal, which failed so miserably on its home soil in Bordeaux, has reached startling heights of quality in Argentina. Both inexpensive, delicious Malbecs and majestic, profoundly complex ones from high-elevation vineyards are already being produced, and by 2015 this long-ignored grape’s place in the pantheon of noble wines will be guaranteed.”
Food & Wine Magazine, September 2004, Robert Parker Jr.
For hundreds of years, Italian, French and Spanish immigrants to Argentina realized that the climate and soil of Argentina was perfect for winemaking, and thus made Argentina the fifth largest wine producer in the world. However, because the vast majority of the wine produced domestically was produced for the Argentine masses as table wine it was generally of low quality. With the economic downturns in Argentina in the last decades, the Argentine’s purchase of table wine decreased dramatically, shocking producers into reevaluating their consumer base. Many producers came to the realization that exportation was the only way that they could survive, and so in the late 1990’s, Argentine producers began modernizing equipment and technology, uprooting old vines and cultivating higher quality grapes that would sell primarily focusing on the Malbec grape.
The Malbec is originally a French grape varietal which is very delicate and needs specific climactic conditions in order to express its complete potential. It was once a staple component of the Bordeaux blend, but it never recovered fully from the 1956 French frosts and its plantings in France fell by 75% as growers subsequently replaced it with more durable grapes. Fortunately for the Argentine wine producers, Argentina was one of the few places in the world where the Malbec grape could still be grown successfully and plentifully.
Mendoza is “the” wine region of Argentina, although there are others with varied degrees of success and recognition. But ninety percent of wine production from Argentina comes from Mendoza, which is located close to the eastern Andes that separate Argentina from Chile. The two areas of Mendoza that arguably produce the best Malbec in Argentina, if not the world, are Lujan de Cuyo and Valle de Uco. Valle de Uco is located at a higher elevation and produces a lighter, fruitier wine. Lujan de Cuyo is located at a lower elevation, in the region in which the historic “Camino del Vino” is located (what the locals like to call “Little Napa Valley”), and where water is delivered to the vineyards via ancient aqueducts that divert spring water from the Andes Mountains. The wines produced from this region’s Malbec grape are full-bodied, at times bordering on earthy.
International wine experts have been quick to see the potential of the unique and versatile Argentine Malbec, and in the last 5-10 years the Rothchild Family, Allied Domecq, and Moet & Chandon have all purchased/developed wineries in Mendoza. El Grupo de los Siete a French group of seven families (including the Rothchildes) – invested US $50 million to purchase and develop uncultivated land in Mendoza order to capitalize on the Argentine market. They certainly see the Malbec as forging the way for a new Argentine wine market on the world stage. What the future holds for the Malbec and for Argentine wine is certainly a story to watch as it unfolds.