Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Wines of Argentina

By Amanda Schuster

For many years, wines from Argentina have been considered among the top values for your glass. Chances are, when perusing a menu at a bar or restaurant, you've chosen the Argentinian one over the others. Well done. If you haven't, here are some reasons why you should give it a try.

Argentina is now one of the top five wine-producing countries in the world. For a long time, most of it was made strictly for local consumption, enjoyed in casual home or restaurant settings, the bottles never traveling much farther than a few miles from where they were produced. But in the last half of the 20th century, an increasing number of vintners took notice of Argentina and its star red grape Malbec, which has become the most widely planted grape in the country. It has its origins in France, in Bordeaux as part of the classic grape blend, as well as in the Southwest where it is produced in the inky, often rustic and funky wines of Cahors (there are always exceptions, of course). But in the sometimes dizzyingly high altitude regions of Argentina, it becomes a different thing altogether - more dependably balanced, plush, fruity and velvety. By the late 20th century, Malbec wines made a big splash on the international scene, winning awards, garnering high ratings and amassing enthusiastic disciples.

Gaining traction is Torrontes, the star indigenous white grape, now also found on many restaurant menus for its refreshing, aromatic qualities and affordability. Other international grape varietals are also grown in Argentina, most notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda (that's a whole other interesting story out of Italy, we'll tell you about it sometime), Merlot, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Tocai, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Despite the excellent reputations of Argentinian wines, most of them, even the Malbec, are produced at considerably low costs, providing an excellent value for the consumer compared to wines in the same price range from places like California or France.

All styles of wine are produced in Argentina - from dry whites, reds and ros├ę to sparkling to late harvest dessert and even fortified wines.

Argentina also boasts an impressive collection of winemakers under the age of thirty-five, and a growing number of women innovating the field, as well as many wineries dedicated to organic farming and sustainable production practices. This is clearly a country that has learned that investing quality and precision to winemaking is worth the dedication.

There are several microclimates swirling within the country, and there are many different regions and subregions.

• Cuyo is the largest and most productive region, divided into three subregions, who in turn are further subdivided (it's a bigger country than people give it credit for). This is the heart of Malbec country, also known for excellent examples of the Italian grape Bonarda, plus many more. Mendoza, in the west near the Andes, is considered the top region, which divides into Lujan de Cuyo, Maipu, San Rafael and the Uco Valley, among others. San Juan is home to the Tulum, Pedernal and Zonda Valleys. La Rioja is the smallest section of the region, but still a big contender in the wine world.

• To the south lies Patagonia, which grows many cooler-climate international varietals such as Pinot Noir, Gew├╝rtztraminer and Riesling. This is divided into the Neuquen and Rio Negro.

• Catamarca, Juju and Salta are part of the region simply referred to as the North-West. These are known for some of the highest altitude vineyards in the world, with close proximity to the equator. Here, vineyard workers are often chosen and compensated according to their capacity and training to work under the steep, sometimes treacherous conditions in the fields, and ability to transport grapes back to the main production site safe and sound.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Amanda Schuster is a native New Yorker, but without much of the accent. The mobile landscape of the city has taken her on a whirlwind journey from Medieval historian, photo archivist, jewelry designer and invitation specialist to earning her sommelier certification in late 2005. After working as a retail wine and spirits buyer and freelance brand promoter, she turned to the one thing that has stayed a constant all these years – her love of writing. She has published dozens of articles on cocktails, spirits, wine and other culinary interests, and is currently working on her first novel. Her favorite cocktail is a Manhattan.

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