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We will try in this article to reveal some truths about it. Here, a small and humble Myth-Buster article.
Some time ago, Argentine wine was “splashed” by an identifiable style in a significant part of the industry and the products resulting from this. The time of harvest, often in May in Mendoza for instance, and the use of new oak from vast toasts used to deliver dense wines, dark and full of notes from the family of chocolate and coffee. This style is well placed in time, the very early years of this millennium, when the average premium wine was virile, muscular, and often with an excess of almost everything. It was part of an initial step for this path of high-end Argentine wines, a reflex of what we thought the world was asking for, but very, VERY FAR from what now we are delivering.
Today, wines like A LISA from Noemia winery, show with clarity how much we can enjoy a wine that evokes a closer image to a young classic ballerina than to a trained man in a CrossFit camp. Very relevant wineries like Salentein went from really extensive usage of oak to products that exhibit the freshness of Uco Valley. Nearly all the products from Argentina have taken a new aesthetic path, leaving behind the old picture of dense and dark wines that filled the shelves almost 20 years ago.
Another myth which deserves to be analyzed even though it has been partially banished during the last few years. Nowadays, even though there are many wineries that have high-end products in their portfolio, the proportion they represent in the total export sales is less than 1%. This is a challenge we need to face as a country and there are a lot of battles to fight. No doubt the quality is our main asset.
California dared to challenge some decades ago the great wines from France and they were successful in the Judgement of Paris, leaving everyone open-mouthed. I encourage to those who can, to compare wines of category from Bordeaux, famous Italian DOCG and great wines from Spain with samples of well-ranked wines from Argentina, preferably with more than 10 years of ageing. Compare a Palmer or a Sassicaia, blindly, with a Poesia or a Noemia, with an Achaval Ferrer Mirador or an Iscay from Trapiche.
I invite you to discover how a wine from our country can be at the same level as a European specimen for half the money. You will be surprised!
When my father was my age (thirtysomething), Argentina both consumed and produced more white wine than red wine. By then, the fake “Pinot de la Loire” by Suter and Bianchi’s Chablis and Cinta del Plata comforted the dreams of any consumer. There is no doubt that during the reconversion of the wine industry during the 2000s, Malbec was the star. It presented brilliance in the simpler categories and in wines with artistic pretensions as well. Back then, the high temperatures and the non-specific viticulture launched only a few specimens out of what was done with our flag grape. The staring eyes of the world were short-sighted to the Argentine white wines. Torrontés tried to find its place in the world but it only succeeded modestly (and relatively) in the sphere of the entry-levels.
Today everything has changed. The Argentine white was favoured by multiple findings of micro-terroirs, high and fresh, far from the southern lands, diversified in the map but specific in the varieties.
This is a statement that seems evident, taking into account the vast European tradition. The world, the globe, the Earth, has one only age (it’s 4 billion years old). While there are various tectonic plates, terroirs of different ages and geological compositions, the truth is that the old and the new are part of the same land in which we all inhabit.
On the other hand, Argentina is an old centenary wine producer. Most likely the oldest among the newest. And last but not least, Argentina is one of the few countries that has not suffered the attack of the phylloxera. There are many reasons: volcanic ash, desert climate, height, flood irrigation. The result: there are vines in Argentina that exceed 100 years old. Many of the world’s viticultural monuments are in our country. Nowadays, it is very unusual to find old vines in Europe, due to the devastation it suffered in the 1870s. And even harder to find European root-stock vines. Those plants belonging to Veteris Conventus, Lagarde, Achaval… Antique vines from Perdriel, Lujan and Altamira. All of them are one century old, natural roots, far from the pesticides.
That being said, is it possible to say that we are a country of the new world? Well… at least do it after considering these mentioned points.
Despite the fact that Mendoza represents 70% of the local production and 85% of the implanted Malbec, it would be too unfair not to value extraordinarily many of the small terroirs that may not result as important in numbers but that they truly are in quality.
We will begin in the South. Our Patagonia makes extraordinary products. Regions like the High Valley of Rio Negro, where Humberto Canale has a tradition of more than a century, the micro-terroir of Mainqué with its exemplary at Chacra and Noemia wineries, or San Patricio del Chañar. Even though they produce nearly 3% of Argentine wine, their quality is prominent.
In San Juan, the Pedernal Valley is a spectacular place for Malbec and Syrah. In Salta, Cafayate, Molinos, Yacochuya. There are significant examples from here which are already acclaimed. Domingo Molina, Altupalka, Pachamama, Yacochuya, Davalos. All irrefutable wines. Jujuy peeks through the window with some small projects. Among them, Punta Corral and the very well accomplished Pasacana stand out.
Yes, it is our flag variety and our emblem. Yes, it is our introductory card. Our role in the wine world.
It is not, definitely, the only reason for pride of the Argentinean varietal assortment.
The Cabernet Sauvignon made in Argentina is a true asset to take into account. Cobos is a great example and also Catena Zapata is, focused on Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo. Mendel makes a magnificent specimen of this strain for its mainline. Cabernet Franc has gained some fame by today. The world success obtained by Alejandro Vigil with his El Enemigo is a clear example. To my personal taste, Humberto Canale has a fantastic exponent: Marcus Gran Reserva. Bonarda seems to be taking off with awesome results, and we already mentioned white wines.
There are many preconceptions which can be busted at ease by opening some bottles. I invite you to taste, drink, enjoy and search for special bottles from a different point of view. Argentine wine has a lot of stories to tell yet. It is a book that many have not started to read but, without a doubt, it will be captivating. It is a book that adds a new page every day and we encourage you to read, enjoy and debate!
Sommelier and wine professional with more than 15 years of experience. Passionate about art, wine and life.