THE WINES OF ARGENTINA
What a difference time can make in one’s viewpoint. One year ago, all I knew of Argentina was that Malbec had finally found a home there and was thriving. Since then I have done some research and have discovered quite a history of the blend of wine and politics that has proven to be fascinating. In today’s market, Argentina has grown to be the fifth largest wine producer in the world behind France, Italy, Spain and the USA, but that is not how it all began.
By 1556, Spanish priests brought vines (most likely a Criola Grande varietal) across the Andes mountains into Chile to be planted for the production of wine for communion. With the establishment of vineyards in Mendoza by the end of the sixteenth century, the wines continued to develop to such a degree that by the eighteenth century that they were well known throughout the area and were a major domestic trade product. In the 1880’s a French botanist introduced French varietal vines that did very well in the Mendoza area. As Italian and Spanish winemakers immigrated into the area, they brought with them their native vines which grew equally as well as the French vines.
Probably the most well known of the European varietals to thrive in the Mendoza region has been the Malbec. One of the five Bordeaux varietals, by the time Malbec arrived in Argentina, it had been sent to Spain and Portugal in an attempt to find a place where it could thrive, with no results even moderately comparable to the growth and development achieved in Mendoza.
What made this varietal such a sucess in an arid, dry area such as Argentina? One must look at the characteristics of the grape itself to answer the questions concerning its European migration leading to the immigration in Mendoza. The Malbec grape is very susceptible to rot and mildew, both of which are very prevalent under normal conditions in many areas of Europe. Upon arrival in Argentina where there is almost no rain, rot and mildew became of little concern to vine growers in the region. With hail being the main worry, vineyards were soon spread out to minimize the effects.
Given the natural procilvity the Mendozan region provided for the European vidias vinefera, there would seem that there is nothing that could thwart the growth and development of wine production. Next week we will look into how the geological, political and economic factors affected this burgeoning industry.