From north to south, Argentina's world-class wines just keep on getting better
For all its remarkable success with Malbec, it’s easy to forget that Argentina is a huge country planted to an astoundingly wide--and still often unheralded--range of grape varieties. And while the flagship red has enjoyed well-deserved success all over the world, it is far from the extent of what Argentina has to offer.
This became exhilaratingly clear during a 10-day tasting trip I took this past October. It was sponsored by Wines of Argentina, and as such, I had the eye-opening opportunity to not only taste most of the wines in the regions where they’re made, but to do so both in the vacuum of the tasting room as well as alongside the foods with which they were ostensibly meant to be enjoyed. We also typically had the chance to speak with either the winemakers themselves or their representatives afterward, which provided an even deeper sense of context.
The trip took us to Buenos Aires, Patagonia, Mendoza, and San Juan, and throughout our travels, no matter where we were or whose wines we were fortunate enough to taste, I was beyond impressed with the range of grape varieties, styles, and food-pairing options Argentina has to offer.
Simply put, Buenos Aires is one of the most vibrant, cosmopolitan cities I’ve ever visited. It’s a sprawling tangle of neighborhoods, monuments, markets, restaurants, and everything else you’d hope for in one of the great capitals of the world. As far as restaurants go, I’d rank Chila and Tomo1 among the five best meals I’ve had this past year. (La Barra, in downtown Mendoza, is also in my top five: Their asado featured beef that was nothing short of miraculous.)
During our brief stay in the city, we focused mainly on the wines of the north, from regions like Salta and Cafayate. Expressive wines made from the aromatic Torrontes grape variety, like those from Valle de La Puerta and Bodegas Etchart, really stood out. Other producers that I hadn’t had the chance to explore much before, like Bodegas El Porvenir and Bodegas Las Arcas de Tolombón, also bottled a number of stellar wines.
Few names on the map evoke images as remote and exotic as Patagonia. And while we stayed in the wine-producing regions toward the north of it, this was still as close to the end of the earth as I’ve ever come. It reminded me, in many ways, of what I imagine some sort of South American Montana to look like: The biggest sky I’ve ever swept my eyes across, and endless vistas of vineyards, scrubland, rivers. Here we stayed at the Valle Perdido, an unexpectedly modern, beautifully constructed resort who name--it translates to “Lost Valley”--is as close to truth in advertising as I’ve ever experienced. From my room’s porch I had views, stretching out further than I could see, of a purple and orange sunset of staggering, humbling brilliance.
Wine-wise, this is a region with all the potential in the world, and depending on the producer, one grape or style or another will convince you that, yes, this is what will put Patagonia on the wine map.
At the wonderfully named Bodega del Fin del Mundo, we were convinced that Patagonia’s future lay in sparkling wine. Then, after tasting the concentrated, endlessly complex Malbecs and Pinot Noirs at NQN, we thought that these varieties would help make Patagonia’s name. At Humberto Canale, it was Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that won me over.
The moral of our trip down to Patagonia was that, though it conjures images of natural wonders, its vinous ones have the potential to be every bit as stunning.
Mendoza and San Juan
Mendoza is the most famous wine region in Argentina, and deservedly so: It is home to some of the most remarkable Malbecs on the planet, though to assume that that great red grape is the extent of what Mendoza is capable of would be to miss the point entirely.
Trailblazers like Familia Zuccardi, Lagarde, and Clos de los Siete are leading the way, alongside other standout producers like Piattelli, Mendel, Dominio del Plata, Diamandes, Trivento, Serrera, and Doña Paula, as well as too many others to list here. (NB: Tasting notes from all the producers will be posted on the blog UncorkLife.com by WineChateau.com in the coming weeks and months.) Tempranillo, Petite Verdot, Syrah, Bonarda, Semillon, and many, many more grape varieties are being given utterly gorgeous expression in this region in the shadow of the Andes.
North of Mendoza, in the desert-like San Juan, less-well-known producers are starting to make their mark. The supremely soulful wine from Merced del Estero, which is right now exporting their wines in very limited quantities, is poised to make a serious contribution to the wines of this often-overlooked part of the country. Their Cabernet and Torrontes, as well as their Malbec, are particularly remarkable. And Casa Montes (no relation to the Chilean producer of the same name) is home to one of the top Petite Verdots I tasted in Argentina.
The point is this: Argentina is the source of some of the most exciting wines in the world right now, and it’s made even more remarkable by the fact that most consumers are only familiar with a handful of grape varieties from there. Its future is as bright as any wine-producing country on the planet. And as delicious as the wines are, they promise to get even better.
It’s a staggering thought.
Brian Freedman is a food, wine, and travel writer and wine consultant. He writes for John Mariani's Virtual Gourmet, Philadelphia Style Magazine, and the blog www.UncorkLife.com for Wine Chateau, among others. For more information on his work, or to contact him regarding consulting or speaking, please visit www.BrianFreedmanPhiladelphia.com.