Argentina has multiple wine growing regions, but Mendoza is the shining star, producing more than 60% of Argentina’s wine. Argentina itself is the 5th largest wine producing country in the world and they have been making wine since the 1500′s. Up until the 1990′s Argentinians have been more focused on quantity rather than quality, with 90% of wine produced being consumed inside the country. A shift in thinking and desire to capture a lucrative export market has driven many wine makers to begin producing quality wines at higher price points. With the devalue of the Argentine Peso in the early 2000′s, tourism has increased due to the country’s affordability for Americans and Europeans. This has allowed wine tours to become increasingly popular and has created a growing awareness of Argentina’s wine region.
Mendoza lies 500 miles Northwest of Argentina’s capital city, Buenos Aires. The region is tucked up against the dramatic Andes Mountain Range. Due to high altitude and low humidity of the region, the vineyards in this region rarely face issues with fungi, mold, insects and grape diseases that other countries deal with. This allows for little to no pesticides for the majority of the vineyards and offers ease of producing organic wines…good news for the sustainable wine enthusiast!
Another aspect that the vineyards at the base of the mountains have in their favor is the use of spring run-off. Dating back to the 1500′s the Argentinians began building complex irrigation canals to channel snow melt from the Andes to sustain the vineyards and agriculture. Once the irrigation systems are in place, the grapes have a metered water supply.
The most common grape you are likely to find when shopping for wines from Mendoza is the Malbec. Malbec was introduced from France and has been found to thrive in this particular region. Other popular varietals is the Italian Bonarda grape, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay.
What may come to a surprise is actually how large of a region Mendoza is, meaning they have micro climates, just like Napa and Sonoma. You can get a good idea of what characteristics your Malbec is going to have by where it came from. Agrelo and Lujan de Cuyo are located in the warmer Northern region of Mendoza, producing Malbecs with rich, muscular profiles and black fruits. In the South, areas of the Uco Valley such as Tupungato and La Consulta are cooler and tend to produce Malbecs with vibrant fruit and minerality. Remember, when you move North within the country, you are heading to warmer climates, South is cooler. The Argentine snowbirds head North for the winter!
If you visit Mendoza, keep in mind that the growing season is opposite than the Northern Hemisphere. Grapes are starting to bud in October with harvest usually beginning in February. That means the best time to see the grapes, green leaves, warm weather and jump into the tasting rooms is during summer, Oct-Feb.
Now that you are probably thirsty, here are some delicious thirst quenchers straight from Mendoza.
Nieto Senetiner Bonarda Reserva 2007 – $35
Lujan de Cuyo – Bright, saturated ruby. Brooding aromas of crushed blackberry, leather, tobacco and smoky oak. Sweet and primary, with nicely concentrated flavors of crushed dark berries. Finishes with ripe, fine tannins and a note of dark chocolate.
Antigal Uno Malbec 2007 – $20
Tupungato Valley – Intense fruits with significant hints of oak. Silky but concentrated with a balanced and elegant finish.
Domaine Jean Bousquet Malbec 2007 – $15
Tupungato Valley – Made with organically grown grapes. Opaque violet, almost black in color. Ripe plum and chocolate flavors with a soft, supple mouthfeel. Voted a Wine Spectator Best Buy.
Buy these wines at http://www.decantedwines.com and receive a 10% discount on a case! Or shop in-store at Decanted Wines, 1410 Pine Ridge Rd, Suite 21, Naples FL 34108.