Seven new reasons to sample the fruits of this South American country's vines.
Credit: Dominio Del Plata/Pachy Reynoso
Argentina ranges from the Andes to the Atlantic, from the subtropical north to the sub-Arctic south. Within its vast geography, as mid-19th-century European immigrants discovered, there are great places to grow grapes. But it wasn't until 2002, when producers began exporting in earnest, that the rest of us got to taste what Argentines had been drinking all along. Argentina now sends nearly 7 million cases of wine to the U.S. yearly, most of it just one varietal: malbec. Big, dark, and often affordable, malbec has appealed to wine drinkers used to rich California reds. In recent years, though, tastes have changed, and Argentine vintners are responding with new ways of making their wines. Here are seven categories of Argentine wine that you'll want to taste now.
1. The New Malbec
When Michel Aimé Pouget brought the malbec grape from Cahors to Argentina in 1853, winegrowers found that the terroir
there could also yield burly reds. Today, as tastes for high alcohol and tannins in wine diminish, Argentines are styling malbec in a more elegant, food-friendly fashion. A good strategy for finding softer, prettier malbecs is to seek out recent vintages. Most malbec is grown in Mendoza, Argentina's top wine-producing region, located in the central west, where last year's cold snaps slowed grapes' ripening, resulting in even, vivid wines that are delicious to drink now. The Recuerdo Malbec 2010 ($22) mixes zesty spice with flamboyant fruit, while Yauquen Malbec 2010 ($12) offers cherry, mineral, and sandalwood notes. Even in the 2009 and 2008 vintages, you can see more gentleness. Susana Balbo Signature Malbec 2008 ($25) delivers earth and funk and balanced acid. The bouquet on the Finca Altamira 2009 ($120) from the acclaimed Bodega Achaval Ferrer is lighter and merrier, with a hint of vanilla, while its velvety mouth shows plums, spice, and a long, powerful finish.
Malbec might be their big export, but bonarda is what Argentines drink at home. Not to be confused with the same-named grape from Italy's Piedmont, Argentine bonarda comes from the Savoie, in eastern France, where it is known as charbonneau. More delicate than malbec, it allows the character of the terroir
to shine through, picking up notes of farmyard and forest. Medium-bodied and rustic, it's an ideal wine to drink with lighter meats. Bodegas Nieto Senetiner excels at bonarda; their medium-bodied 2009 is full of beaujolais-like berries ($15), while the 2008 Limited Edition is meaty and suave ($34). From La Rioja north of Mendoza, the La Puerta Gran Reserva Bonarda 2007 ($35), with its hints of leather and minerals, proves that the grape can age a bit.
This article was first published in Saveur in Issue #143