Tango, Eva Perón, Gauchos, Maradona and … Malbec, our first wine love. But our head were turned after we saw what else Argentina had to offer.
Known for its sultry tango, Eva Perón, Gauchos, Dulce de Leche, and, of course, Maradona. Argentina is a melting pot of cultures influenced over the centuries by its European immigration, dramatic political and economic movements, religion and geographic set up.
It is also known for its Malbec. Despite originating in south-west of France – notably Cahors and then Bordeaux – Argentina has taken this European immigrant into its hearts and made it their flagship grape.
Malbec is grown extensively across the country – with over 75,000 acres compared to the next closest of France with its mere 13,000. Argentina’s relatively warm climate provides the perfect setting for making rich, intensely fruity yet ageworthy wine; and in Mendoza – home to some of the best – the Andes backdrop confirms everything is as it should be.
As my first wine love, Malbec was my everything. It provided seduction in the winter, and signaled a coming-together in the summer – a barbecue (“asado”) without a Malbec to match its meaty offerings is unthinkable. Intensively dark, bold yet smooth, it is a wine that took on the character of its new found home.
Such was my love for the dark stuff that I overlooked – or rather dismissed – Argentina’s other offerings. How can anything else compare? Why bother looking when you are so happy with what you have? Yet, we humans can be fickle things, and it only took a 15-hr flight in economy to turn my head. Now I still love Malbec and we will always have a connection, but my brief indiscretions have taught me that Argentina has much more up its wine-sleeves.
An aromatic dry white wine it was the last thing I expected from Argentina. Grown pretty much nowhere else in the world (and not the be confused with the Spanish grape of the same name), Torrontés is known as “The liar” because of its intensely, and often scary, fruity, floral perfume smell, yet elegant and restrained palate.
Torrontés has one problem for me – its identity crisis. Varying styles land anywhere between ‘bold’ and ‘weightless’ on the wine- spectrum, and this is not necessary clear until you crack open a bottle. I discovered that the most refreshing and satisfying versions came from Salta, north of the country. This is where the highest vineyards in the world are located and some of these daredevil vines are dangling at altitudes of over 3,000 m (9,800 ft) above sea level. That height gives these wines a refreshing acidity, balancing out its bold florals.
What I drank: Torrontes, San Pedro De Yacochuya, Salta, Argentina- Fresh and light-bodied with a delicate flavour of nectarines.
Cabernet Franc (Cab-er-nay fronk)
Cabernet Franc is a deliciously light, aromatic and slightly savoury red variety that is not to be confused with Cabernet Sauvignon – its bigger, bolder and more alcoholic relative. Like Malbec, its origins started in France – particularly Loire and Bordeaux- and provides the perfect blending partner for some of the finest wines in the world.
Lots of wine-knows rave about Cabernet Franc, but she can be a pernickety little thing and plucked under-ripe will result in a wine that tastes too leafy for many taste buds. It’s a grape that prefers a cooler breeze – and up on the dizzy heights of the Andes she can get that. In the hands of the right winemaker, Cabernet Franc makes for a high quality silky smooth wine with savoury deliciousness and a dose of eucalyptus.
Not much Cabernet Franc is produced in Argentina, so exporting is minimal making it difficult to find or rather expensive. But keep an eye out – production is on the up.
What I drank: Kaiken – Cabernet Franc, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza Argentina – Located in the Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza, Kaiken produce a knock out solo Cabernet Franc offering.
Bonarda is Argentina’s second most widely planted red grape, and produces easy going fruity wines that taste of delicious cooked black cherries, fresh blueberries, plums and a sprinkle of sweet spice. They are easy drinking, flavoursome wines that leave little to no dry mouth. Most are not oaked, but those that are give off a delicious cigar box taste (says the ex –smoker).
Most of the Bonarda is planted in Mendoza and San Juan and was popular for makers in the early days as it produced lots of colourful grapes without too much thought. Those wines were often seen as somewhat rustic and sidelined for Malbec vines by the serious makers, but it is getting some attention now (both on the vines and it in press) producing delicious wines at extremely good value.
Many are blended with something else – the likes of Petit Verdot or Syrah – to give them a bit of punch.
What I drank: Trivento 2011 Amado Sur Malbec-Bonarda-Syrah Red (Mendoza)- This Bonarda, Malbec and Syrah threesome is a delight – blackberry, spice, fresh herbs and tobacco.