Even though Argentina can trace its wine history back more than five centuries to Spanish Jesuits, it is only recently that the country’s wines have risen in statue to compete at the international level.
The reason for this is a single grape varietal -- the much chastised Bordeaux grape called the Malbec. Malbec is susceptible to many plant ailments and that fact has diminished the vines ‘popularity. Truth is, malbec in Bordeaux is mostly used as a blender to achieve color or fruit density. Standing on its own, the wine has never achieved a large following except in the area around Cahors in France.
But in the middle of the 19th century, French agronomist Miguel Aime Pouget brought the first cuttings to the South American country and the rest is history.
For some reason, malbec absolutely thrives in Argentina, and particularly in the Mendoza grape growing region. The grapes there produce intense wines with plum and berry-like flavors with a velvety finish. The malbec has found particular attainment in the United States where American palates have discovered a pleasing varietal friend in the Bordeaux grape. Perhaps the key to malbec’s success is the fact that most Argentine plantings are at high altitudes and the vines seem resistant to many of the impediments of its French cousin. It is also less tannic and smoother to one’s palate.
A number of international wine entities have taken a position and purchased land in the Mendoza Region and the number is steadily growing. French, Italian, Chilean and American wineries are taking advantage of the huge explosion of interest in malbec.
Today, Argentina is the world’s fifth largest producer of wine, most of which is consumed within the country itself. But exports have risen sharply in the past decade with a decided percentage of high end varietals leading the way. Enotourism is also up in Argentina, whose cuisine is well suited to its wines. Many wineries offer wine dinners that provide comparisons of different wines with diverse foods.
Argentina also benefits from the fact it enjoys a growing season directly opposite from Europe and the United States. Bud break occurs in October and the harvest generally begins in February, a time when competing vineyards elsewhere are completely dormant. This advantage translates into a retail advantage when annual varietals are first introduced.
The future of the Argentine wine industry is extremely bright. Growers have reduced yields to respectable levels and better wines have resulted. The fact that Argentine vines have never felt the power of the phylloxera pest is unique in the grape-growing world. Most Argentine vineyards are planted on ungrafted rootstock, a factor that impedes potential phylloxera infiltration. Also, the high proportion of sand in the soil and the relative isolation of Argentina are also cited as possible reasons for the country’s resistance to the pest.
There are more than 1250 wineries operating in Argentina, a number of which are small, boutique-style operations that produce extremely high quality wines. The six largest wineries account for 70% of the market, and about 84% of the wine sold in Argentina is red.
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