We all can learn. Nothing stays the same. Things change. This is true about ourselves, but also about wine regions. In this case, I attended a seminar to learn about what changes have been going on the last few years in Argentinean wine making. Barb and Ian Phillps, from Barbarian Wine Consulting, were our hosts for this seminar; both having recently come back from a wine judging event in Argentina after a 5 year hiatus.
Some things stay the same. Most of the wine produced in Argentina comes from Mendoza. 70% of the wine is from Mendoza to be specific. The next closest region is San Juan at 17%.
The change in Argentina is the winemakers’ movement toward Purity of Flavour, Focus in the Wine, and Finesse. There is still the production of Malbec, Torrontes, Bonarda, and other international varieties, but the wine makers and viticulturalists are spending time, searching for the best places to grow specific grape varieties. Altitude and latitude, on their own, or combined, can influence where grapes can thrive. Too low of latitude, toward the equator, is too hot for grape growing, but if there are mountains, like the Andes, you can cool the temperatures down by moving up the mountain slopes in these areas. Argentina has many choices then with the Andes Mountains running from North to South along the western edge of Argentina, and the plains as you move south toward Patagonia. Argentinean wine makers can try growing the same grape in different regions, with different climates, and different results to find the result that gives the wine maker purity of flavour, focus and finesse. Overall the climate is continental, hot and dry in summer, with minimal disease pressure. Glorious conditions for producing wine grapes.
Soil also plays a part. Very fertile soil will make very happy vines that produce too many leaves and grapes, diluting the flavour and intensity of the wine. Low soil fertility is a key component, producing reduced vigor and yield and more concentration of grape flavour. The soils are mainly washed down from the Andes, sand and other materials that pile up on the lower slopes, all mixed up, rather than the stratified soils that we see in North America for example.
- Sparkling wine has potential in the export market. Argentina currently produces sparkling wines but does not have a defined style. They maybe need to figure out what style they want to produce, such as Cava or Prosecco, excelling in it, before they make a major push to export markets.
- In the 1980s, Argentina produced and consumed a lot of wines for themselves. Producing lower volume, higher quality wine was a new paradigm. Trailblazers like Nicolas Catena helped start the quality revolution. (sorry an older trend, but very important.)
- There is NO next best grape variety, rather it will be about “Regions”. Wine is about place, about terroir. So producing the best wines in each region will help showcase Argentina to the world. Mendoza, Salta, and Patagonia should all be regions we will be learning about.
Together with being educated about Argentinean wine, was a change to taste Argentinean wine. Which wines did I think were quite exciting?
Some Exciting Argentinean Wines
Vina Cobos Felino Chardonnay 2014 ($17.39) – This winery is co-owned by Paul Hobbes from California, and I think you get some of that California style coming through in this wine. It is medium bright lemon in colour. Lots of tropical fruit, sweet spice and vanilla on the nose. As the seminar progressed and the wine interacted with the air, more aromas of oak and toast came out. Medium body with a lighter mouth feel. Ripe tropical fruit flavour, finishing with some spiciness on the tongue followed by a second wave of tropical fruit. Medium acidity to keep the wine refreshing.
Colome Autentico Malbec 2011 ($39.99) – This is a Malbec from the Salta region, where you more often think of Torrontes, but this wine shows that Malbec can do well here. Opaque ruby and garnet colours. Smoky, meaty, bacon and dark fruit aromas. Fuller body, dry, with ripe purple fruit, some minerality, followed by a floral component. Finishes with sweet spice and pepperiness. Firm tannins on the finish. Besides “region”, another thing that makes this wine unique and exciting, is that it uses indigenous yeasts to produce a wild ferment, so you are really getting into the terroir of the vineyard from soil upward. A very intense wine!
Masi Tupungato Passo Doble 2012 ($13.99) – A blend of Malbec and Corvina grapes from Mendoza. What makes this wine different is that the Corvina grapes are dried before fermenting. The Malbec is first fermented, then a second fermentation takes place when the dried Corvina grapes are added. If this sounds familiar think about the Ripasso wines from the Veneto region of Italy. Dark garnet in colour. Light intensity nutmeg, meat and dark fruit aromas. Dry, medium plus body with fine tannins. Purple fruit flavour with hints of vanilla, minerality, flowers and spice. Some pepperiness and dark fruit on the finish. An enjoyable wine.
Zuccardi Emma Bonarda 2012 ($34.79) – One thing I learned from this seminar is that Argentinean Bonarda is not the same grape as Italian Bonarda. They just share the same name. Argentinean Bonarda is really the Charbonneau grape from eastern France. This wine was inky ruby in colour. Cedar, vanilla and dark fruit nose. Fuller body, quite silky, with ripe dark fruit, cedar and vanilla flavours, along with pepperiness. Medium acidity and medium plus length. Very tasty. I would firmly classify this wine as being made in a “New World” style.
El Porvenir de Cafayate Laborum Tannat 2013 ($34.99) – Another suprise from Salta. Super inky garnet/ruby in the glass. A bit of a ganja smell, together with tea leaves, smokiness and dark fruit. Fuller body, silky with some minerality and ripe, softer tannins. Intense dark fruit together with some smokiness and pepper. A powerful wine.
Barda Pinot Noir 2013 ($33.69) – Metaphorically traveling down to Patagonia, we tried two cooler climate Pinot Noir. This one I quite enjoyed, Pale garnet in colour. Nice nose consisting of sweet red cherries, smoked & dried orange, and a hint of flowers. Medium minus body, dry and soft. More flowers and orange on the palate, together with tea leaves. Medium plus acidity and very light tannins. A pretty wine.