“That’s what they do in Argentina. Have a little wine and talk. Then have some coffee and talk. Then, go back to the wine.”
Wine regions in Argentina lie at the foothills of the Andes, outstanding from the semi-arid environment, an average of 700-1400 meters above sea level. However, in some areas the grapes even occur at an altitude of 3,000 meters. Here the night temperature is low enough for the retention of the grape flavors.
In Argentina, the average rainfall is only 200 mm per year, therefore the irrigation is worked out through flooding or drip method using the melt water of the Andes. The country is the fifth largest wine producer, the seventh largest wine consumer and the ninth largest wine exporter in the world and produces grapes on 228 thousand hectares. The most significant wine-producing region of the country is Mendoza.
The wine arrived in Argentina on the boats of the Spanish colonizers and religious orders. Those, who needed altar wine, were the first winemakers in the colonial era. But the development of the viticulture began really with the great waves of immigration in the nineteenth century.
In 1853, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, governor of Cuyo and future president, employs a French specialist, Michel Aimé Pouget, to develop the vineyard. He imports native varieties and methods to Mendoza to make a modern industry. The Mendoza region was not chosen randomly: i’s topography, geology and climate make it an ideal place.
With the wave of immigration from Italy, Spain and France, in the late nineteenth century the Argentine viticulture improves and gets enriched with new varieties. Leastways Argentine only gets disillusioned of the table wines and the large consumption in the 1980’s to put more emphasis on the quality.
Investments have been made -sometimes with foreign capital- to improve the technology and the Argentine wine is now winning on international competitions, it is recognized and exported around the world, including the United States, Canada and the UK. Located between the 32nd and the 39th parallel, such as Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Argentina became one of the greatest wine producing countries of the New World.
The climate is continental: cold frosty winter, scorching hot summer. To search for climatic variations, altitude is an important asset and the vine is grown from 700 to 1700 m above sea level. The risk of springtime rise with the altitude. The sweltering heat of the summer inclined producers to protect the grapes from the sun and vines are traditionally conducted in parral (pergola), a growing method which still represents more than 60 % of the surfaces.
An adverse climatic factor prevails over the vineyard: hail, which is responsible for the loss of 10 % of the harvest each year. Only 20% of the vines are protected. The low rainfall rarely exceeds 200 mm, which makes irrigation compulsory.
Mendoza is now part of the network of eight wine capitals of the world, with Bordeaux, Florence, Porto, Bilbao-Rioja, Melbourne, Cape Town and San Francisco. And, due to the altitude and the climate of the wine regions, Argentine wines are famous about containing the most antioxidants on the world.
Argentines are among the biggest consumers of wine with 30 liters per year per capita. They consume most of what they produce, although Argentina is the fifth largest producer in the world (and the 9th exporter). As in all major countries of wine culture, the tendency is to consume less but better quality products.
The vineyards of La Rioja, mainly gathered around Chilecito in the Famatina Valley is located 600 km north of Mendoza. The valley is hot and dry while the soils are sandy and poor: temperatures often reach 45 ° C. Although the region would be better off if it produced red wine, Torrontés is still the king here.
The wine goes wonderfully with asado, grilled meat, and the basic dishes of the Argentine cuisine. Red wine (tinto) is by far the favorite, and the dominant grape is Malbec. The assemblies (corte) were developed only recently with the modernization of wine making.
Unlike in France, where we choose a wine according to its origin and not the grape variety, in Argentina, first the variety is selected then the region and the producer.
Argentineans consume little white (blanco), much less rosy (rosado), but do not disdain the “champagne”. Developed according to the Champagne method, it is represented under the name of champaña, espumante, and even champagne. It is quite honorable and the focus on quality now enables producers to export.
If an Argentinean offers you vino patero on the Wine Road, please taste: it is made by hand in a traditional way, the grapes were crushed by feet (with boots) and were fermented for a few days. It’s a little bit sweet, thick and rustic, but worth the experience.
Malbec is the most common variety in Argentina. In France it is called “côt”. It originates from the Cahors region and was introduced in Argentina by the French Michel Pouget in 1868. This variety became the icon of Argentine wine. According to the Wine School of Chicago. two thirds of the planted area in the world (about 34,000 hectares) is located in the South American country.
The grape has perfectly married to the terroir of Mendoza, “Land of sun and good wine”, according to a local song. “Its main advantage is that it does not need to age for a long time to be good. It is a wine made already after only five years of storage” says John du Monceau, former Vice President of the Accor group, today director of the Atamisque cellar.
The country went through a huge leap in quality over the last 10-15 years. Until the mid-1990s they virtually did not export any win, but produced vast amounts of low-end slumgullion for their internal market. Since then, local consumers have begun to appreciate more the sophisticated, especially fruity wines, and now the significant part of the bottles gets uncorked in the United States. Foreign capital played a big role in this jump and the knowledge and technology that came together with it -which was not significantly pushed back neither by the 2001-2002 financial crisis.
We will represent our six favorite wines from the country:
6. Alta Vista
An ancient bodega in Mendoza restored by Jean-Michel Arcaute and Patrick d’Aulan, now head of Château Sansonnet(Saint-Emilion) and Chateau Dereszia (Tokaj). The adventure began in 1997 with the selection of terroirs as Alto Agrelo, La Consulta, Vistaflores and especially Las Compuertas planted with malbecs of 60 years, out of which comes the Alto cuvée. Here, viticulture is respectful of the grape and the techniques of the great Bordeaux vintages. The wines have the same ambition.
5. Clos de los Siete
It’s the adventure of three men from Bordeaux, Michel Rolland, Jean-Michel Arcaute and Philippe Schell. In 1998, after selecting terroirs in Vista Flores, they share with other investors (Eric de Rothschild, Laurent Dassault, Catherine Pere-Verge, the Cuvelier family and Bonnie) the 850-hectare site where the first vintage was born in 2002.
This vineyard is mainly planted with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet franc. Syrah and Pinot Noir have a small place. Each has its own wine and the wine making bears the mark of Michel Rolland. And a part of the production is pooled to produce the Clos de los Siete.
4. Catena Zapata winery
Nicolas Catena is a large family business that runs on nearly 2000 hectares in the south of Mendoza. This is one of the pioneers of the Argentine quality, which is symbolized by the pyramidal chai. The selection contains mainly wines from single varieties, but the cuvées are also very successful. Today, this bodega sells its wines under three labels: Catena, Catena Alta and Alamos.
3. Terrazas de los Andes
One of the jewels of domain Chandon, it was established on the Perdriel sector on an ancient viticultural property founded in 1898. The plantation of the vines depends on the altitude of the terraces that form the foothills of the mountain. The range includes three quality levels: Alto, Reserva and Gran. The wines are named after the grape variety. Les Gran comes from identified vineyards, Las Compuertas and Los Aromos.
2. Cheval des Andes
The association between Terrazas de los Andes and Cheval Blanc, the first cru of Saint-Emilion (owned by Bernard Arnaud and Albert Frère), gave birth to Cheval des Andes. An artisan wine developed by Pierre Lurton (the director of Château Cheval Blanc) and Roberto de la Mota (oenologist of Terrazas de los Andes), with an assembly philosophy (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot). The first born 2001, is a model of harmony. And the subsequent vintages trace the lines of a great wine.
1. Bodega San Pedro de Yacochuya
Here Malbec is the king, the vines are over 80 years old! The Yacochuya is a must for any lover of wines and it’s tasting leaves a lasting memory (opulence, extraction, length). Its aging potential is huge.
Argentina boasts an old wine tradition and is home to a large number of Bodegas, but attracts more and more foreign companies due to the favorable growing conditions which has led to a war of competition never seen before between Argentinean wines.
Thank you for reading, in our next article we will examine the wines of Uruguay. Or if you are more like a wine enthusiast, read our articles about the top notch wines of Germany, Australia, United States, Austria or Chile. Have fun!