MW trip to Argentina

Peter Scudamore-Smith MW

Well Argentina - excellent wine country. Just so contrasting to a man from another vast land of deserts, wild kangaroos and excellent sunshine.

A contrast greater than the vineyard vista is a wine producing country of hundreds of thousands of hectares. Spanish speaking, it shines on many Italian family business names with strong connections to Italia, growing French-imported grape varieties. It’s the total rainbow culture as the MW group walked amongst stark white arches in haciendas reminiscent of Spain. And Wines of Argentina chair Alberto Arizu sums up further: partly European, partly Latin and historic. Mine too.

The grape. Malbec. So true. But MWs wanted more than monovarietal wine. We investigated what makes the soul of Argentina, rode the malbec wave as this grape occupies all regions, climates and sites. Go beyond that as the huge vine evacuation project of the 80s re-aligned the industry towards premiumisation. This dry and thirsty country drinks the 70 per cent that it makes. But cheaply. Greater export options were proposed to the MW party.

And what else is special here. A unique water service, still tightly held by licencing rules providing melted snow from the Andes all summer long. The deadly word-furrow water delivery is readily and widely used, producing outstanding malbec and other varieties. Old water infrastructure remains valuable whereas new sites use drip. Phylloxera lives here but does not spread in the universal deep sandy loams. Vineyards fed by snow-driven mineral-rich loess water (silt) suffocates the insect. But new vineyards have rootstock defences in case.

Argentinians are infatuated by their terroir, mapping, site selection, elevation-grabbing and all things are explained about malbec in this continental clime. It dominates exports. This variety performs well in all arenas; tastes good, fills the mouth on the plain, streams across the tongue when made by the old ways. Or it tackles the mouth with tannin linearity and acidic coil at elevations beyond 1500 metres. Yes, that high, and higher and the wines are not herbal. The sun shines strong still and the grapes do ripen. Winker 1 to IV is the standard bearer for heat units and climate comparison.

Is there life after malbec? MWs were seeking it. The ancient pergola-grown mission/pais/criolla introduced by the Jesuits was an enlightening light red, and of national significance. Too little is left (50ha). Bonarda grows well, makes fine wine. Locals have underestimated their local hybrid white-torrontes, when grown and made well it gives heavenly aromatic, light crispy-fresh whites.

Mendoza remains the vineyard engine room. And the Los Compuertas region looks a star; ample old vines, sympathetic vinification in old or large oak, or in eggs, or in low tech natural states which teases out local rustic aromas and vine age concentrates. And malbec keeps its deep colours all round in all the regions inspected. Nearby Uco Valley is supporting new sauvignon, chardonnay, viognier, riesling and pinot noir reflections. These have linearity and ultra-level acidities in the world style. To the north high elevations in Calchaqui are pushing the ripeness boundaries with ease; to the south in Patagonia, lower elevations and cooler maritime conditions are the cradle of modest, restrained, acid-fresh sauvignons, pinots and rieslings.

The future? Strategically less malbec. But more of its international bed partner cabernet sauvignon in the dominating proportion. Stitch cabernet franc into this mix and complete more widely in countries brain dead to anything but cabernet. More natives-torrontes and criolla.

A vote of thanks to Wines of Argentina: MWs were hospitality soaked, comfy in long travel, surprised and enlightened in the environment, and I acknowledge the efforts to provide these learnings.

Peter Scudamore-Smith MW
28 February 2018