ARGENTINA is the fifth largest wine producer in the world and until the early 1990s it produced more wine than any other country outside of Europe. But it was quantity rather than quality and 90% of its wine was drunk domestically.
In the late 1980s producers started planting vines in cooler areas to extend ripening and trained them on wires for better fruit quality.
According to Jancis Robinson, no wine-producing country in the world has made more progress in the closing years of the 20th century – at least viticulturally and oenologically, if not financially.
Argentina, due to its large influx of Italian and Spanish immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries, has a wine-drinking culture similar to that of Europe’s Mediterranean countries.
So, according to Bodega Catena Zapata managing director Laura Catena, this culture leads people to make wines with passion, respecting and preserving traditions as they incorporate necessary innovations with caution. These are the keys to preserving a country’s wine culture and to non-commoditisation.
Malbec has turned out to be the perfect grape for Argentina’s warm climate, producing rich, fruity yet age-worthy wines which are more impressive than any Malbec-based Cahors from the grape’s home in south west France.
After a period during which Malbec was grubbed up to make way for more international varieties, Argentinian wine exporters realised that Malbec represents their point of difference, much envied by their competitors across the Andes.
Mendoza is the engine room of Argentinian winemaking, producing 60% of its wine (more for exports). It is followed by San Juan and the high-altitude vineyards around Cafayate in Salta – some of, if not the highest vineyards in the world.
Catena sums it up: “Privileged cool-climate regions, high altitude with alluvial, well-drained stony and limestone soils – a viticulturalist’s heaven for high quality and perfectly ripe fruit with moderate alcohols and good natural acidity. There is still unexplored land and regulations are not as restrictive to experimentation as they are in many European countries.”
Trivento marketing director Mónica Caamaño says: “Malbec will be our USP for a long time. However, it is important to support this strategy with diversification of styles, such as late harvest, sparkling, low-alcohol or natural sweet wines.
“We are aware that Malbec is our most valuable variety and that Argentina has built its image on it – Malbec represents 63% of our exports. Nevertheless, you can find other interesting varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Torrontés or Syrah that can create beautiful examples. Moreover, you can taste Argentina’s terroir diversity in each of these varieties.”
Caamaño continues: “The biggest challenge as a wine producer is to respect what the terroir delivers. A brand owner has the duty to build and grow the Argentina brand and Malbec brand in different markets. Then each winery has to develop and value its own differential attribute – terroir, variety, distribution channel, etc.”