WINES OF ARGENTINA: TAKE THREE

Looking at the wines of Argentina, whether from a historic or a geo-political veiwpoint, has proven to be a most interesting and fascinating study.  Whatever the past, the proof of the validity of the Argentinian wine industry is no more evident than in the varietals produced currently.

The most well known of the Argentine varietals is the Malbec.  Although its popularity has recently climbed into the forefront of the wine industry, the varietal has been developed over the last one hundred years in Mendoza next to the Andes mountains.  With a small, dark and juicy fruit, the degree of reliance on irrigation allows growers the ability to control the quality of the fruit.  In some of the higher altitudes around Mendoza, the fruit has a thick skin with high tannins   and acidity making for a robust wine; while in the lower climates the thinner skin grapes are juicer making for lighter wines.  Beacause of the ample use of oak, Malbec often carries the flavors of vanilla, spice, and some tobacco flavors.

With the Italian immigration of the 1890’s into Argentina came the Bonarda Piomentese varietal of grape from the Piedmont region of Italy.  A very prolific grape in the Argentine climate, it was until recently the most widely planted grape until Malbec took over.  One of the last grapes to be harvested, the Bonarda grape produces a wine that is light and fruity with cherry and plum flavors, having light tannins and medim acidity.

Tempranillo, a native varietal from northern Spain, produces a light bodied wine due to its low acidity and low sugar.  Because it is lighter bodied, it is often used for blending, typically with Garnacha in Rioja.  The Argentine use of oak in aging this wine gives a dark fruited flavor with lots of plum, with shades of vanilla and spice.  Due to its sensitivity, Tempranillo  does very well in cooler areas and with water management, which makes it an excellent varietal for the areas around Mendoza.  Because it ripens early, it does not require a long growing season making it all the more versatile.

One of my favorite varietals, Sangiovese, is best known as a basis for the many Tuscan blends such as Chianti and Brunello di Montelcino.  Due to its acidity, it ages very well developing a medium fruit flavor and often has a very dry finish.  Like Tempranillo, Sangiovese  is an early ripening varietal in the Mendozan climate as opposed to other areas where it ripens fairly late.  The few vintners who use the Sangiovese are those who are very prestigious in the Argentine wine industry using their wines mostly in the export market.xs.

Among the many other varietals grown in Argentina are those more familiar Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.  Argentina is not just a haven for wines that have not made it as a single varietal in other countries, it is a treasure that is just being discovered.  Awaiting the next installment in this wonderful history are wine lovers everywhere that have only in the last one hundred years come to appreciate what lies at the foot of the Andes Mountains.

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