Wine Regions

Wines of Argentina at the JFK Library

I had the recent privilege of attending the “Meet the Experts Roadshow” with the folks from the Wines of Argentina.

Hosted by Nora Z Favelukes, this event allowed participants to try different wines from Argentina  and to learn about the region. Exports to the US have increased 1000% over the past 10 years! According to Sandy Block, MW, during the recession, Argentina was the only region to have both increased sales and average sale price per bottle.

Argentina is the world’s 5th largest wine producer. The 74,000 acres of Malbec planted in Argentina are planted up and down the country, ranging from latitude 21 in the North down to 43 in Patagonia.

The three main regions, the North, Mendoza, and Patagonia all have warm, sunny days and cool nights. In the North, the vines can be planted as high as 10,000 feet while in Patagonia, the vines are planted at only 900 feet. An acre in Mendoza, the most well known region, sells for about 10% of what an acre of land in Napa Valley would.

Tomas Hughes and Edgardo del Popolo sat down with a small group of us to chat prior to the event start. In 1988, Edgardo (on the right) helped to set up Doña Paula winery in Luján de Cuyo in Mendoza and currently manages over 1700 acres of vines.

Tomas is the Agricultural Manager at Bodegas Nieto Senetinerm, holding responsibility for the vineyards there.

They explained that Malbec was just one of the French Bordelais vines that were planted in Argentina and its success resulted from it’s ability to adapt to the region, resulting in grapes that were rich in color and polyphenols.

Argentina has abundant variation in altitude and soil. According to Tomas, “with only 30 feet of difference in height, you can taste the difference in the wines.”  Wineries often blend Malbec from different regions to be able to get the flavor they want.

In Argentina, Malbec is in everything, 100% varietal wines as well as blends.  Argentine rules allow up to 15% of another grape to be blended into a varietally named wine. So you can be relatively guaranteed that the Argentinean Cabernet Sauvignon you’re trying has some Malbec too! Cofermentation is used, rather than blending post fermentation.

Edgardo painted an appetizing picture of his favorite Malbec food pairings. “In Argentina, the number one food pairing is with a good steak!” Beef empanadas and pasta with red sauce were also high on his list. The Malbecs we tried were all fairly high in alcohol, at least 14%, so pairing with food is highly recommended!

Argentina also produces the lesser known Torrontés, a grape that produces an extremely aromatic white wine. This grape is the only native varietal. Cafayate Valley (Salta) has had the best success with producing this muscat like grape.

The event was very interesting but flew by, leaving many of us with questions warranting further exploration:

  • Will the current trend for Malbec hold strong, or will it fade as many others wine trends have?
  • Argentina is completely reliant on irrigation with water from the Andes; with water resources becoming scarce around the world, will this strategy fail? Are they in trouble already?
  • Red blends were touted as the next big thing for Argentina – will consumers agree?
  • Will Argentina be able to continue to tell a compelling story that will at least maintain, if not continue the growth of wine exports?

Events such as this one are a great start for the Wines of Argentina; look for them to participate in a future #winechat where we can explore some of these questions!

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