The Wines of Argentina 101

Taking a look at the where, what, whys and whens of Argentina

 


Red Grapes

While Argentina produces plenty of wines from a range of familiar varieties their flagship wine must be Malbec for the reds and Torrontes for the whites. Malbec of course comes from Southern France where it produces earthier, and more structured wines in the form of Cahors than one typically encounters from Argentina where the grape achieves greater ripeness allowing for the production of  wines that are bursting with black cherry and blackberry fruit while retaining some of the herb and spice notes commonly associated with the grape. 
 
While Malbec accounts for over 30% of vineyards planted to red varieties, it’s not the only important red wine grape in the country. Bonarda, which was only recently supplanted as the most common red variety, currently with about half the acreage that Malbec covers, is important both commercially but also as a counterpoint to the ever more ambitious styles of Malbec. Known as Charbono in the USA, Bonarda produces a simpler wine than Malbec, plump, juicy and fresh, it’s commonly used as a blending grape in Argentina. 
 
Other red varieties in decreasing order of acreage include: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, and Pinot Noir.

White Grapes

It might be surprising to learn that Pedro Gimenez is the most common white grape variety planted in Argentina, with about 28% of the vineyards devoted to white varieties. Used to produce sweet wines, like its cousin from Sherry, the Spanish Pedro Ximénez, it’s a variety we rarely see in the USA. Instead our Argentine white wine offerings are usually  built around Torrontes and the ubiquitous Chardonnay. 
 
Torrontes is considered to be an indigenous Argentine variety, a result of crossing Muscat of Alexandria with the Mission grape that early missionaries brought with them to the New World. The spicy floral character of the Muscat is an obvious trait of Torrontes, which tends to show citrus and apricot fruit on the palate. Torrontes is actually a family of grapes, with three distinct clones being responsible for the vast majority of Argentina’s production. Two in fact, the Torrontes Riojano and the Torrontes Sanjuanino are responsible for the bulk of production.
 
Other white varieties in decreasing order of acreage include: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Viognier

Who: Malbec

It’s difficult to recommend wines without knowing what a person is really looking for but for those of you looking to learn more about the wines of Argentina it’s a little less difficult. If you really are interested in learning about a region’s wines you have to be open minded and try a variety of styles to understand what a specific region and variety allow for. Only then can you begin to distill out a winery’s style and influence and truly begin to understand the expression of terroir and varietal character that marks the finest wines. What follows are some of my favorite Argentine wines that I would recommend for those interested in learning more about these wines. 
 
Malbec
 
Achaval Ferrer’s Single Vineyard wines, particularly Bella Vista ($100),  but also Mirador ($100), and Altamira ($100)

Who: Torrontes

There are relatively fewer producers of both Torrontes, which would have to be included in any serious discussion of Argentine wine, and Bonarda, which I include on the following slide because I love the wines.
 
Torrontes has a very assertive character so you’ll find that the range of styles produced in Argentina is in fact rather narrow. It’s a very aromatic variety so winemakers tend to work to preserve the perfume and freshness of the grape. These producers are among the tops in my book.
 

Who: Bonarda

While Malbec receives the lion’s share of attention in Argentina, when you work your way down the price ladder I find that Bonarda often offers more to please my palate. These tend to be a bit chunky and fun, certainly not fancy wines but wines that work perfectly for simple grilled fare and casual weekday evenings. They are great values!
 

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  • GDP: OUTSTANDING article, once again! I am so happy to see the Argentinian wines that I pratically grew up drinking (being from the little "ball" to the right of Uruguay, which you can see on the map above) being depicted which such grace and knowledge,. Well done and gracias, che! P.S.: I have tried some of the wines you mention and I am a big fan of Susana Balbo’s. But I have to say that my favorite (for value and also to bring back memories of my Law School days) is Etchart Privado Torrontes. My father already knows to leave a couple of bottles in the fridge waiting for me when I go to Brasil…

    Oct 21, 2013 at 10:53 AM


  • Snooth User: wimryan
    250731 14

    Gregory;
    I have lived in São Paulo, Brasil for the past 16 years and have seen firsthand the maturing process of the Argentine vineyards. Your recommendations for the reds are spot on. The Altamira, Bramare and Noemia are spectacular wines, on a par with some of the best "old-world" (or new world, for that matter) offerings. Noemia, in fact, is owned by the italian Countess Noemi Cinzano (yes, THAT Cinzano), who recently sold Argiano property (makers of fine Brunello) to a Brazilian banker. Catena is a fine winemaker, from very basic, affordable and drinkable wines, to much more elaborate offerings. If you can get your hands on a bottle (or more) of Catena Zapata DV Adrianna, do so. Simply sublime. Several other Malbecs or blends that I would highly recommend are: Cuvelier los Andes Grand Vin (partially owned by the Leoville Poyferre house, check out the similar label), Yacochuya (huge Michel Rolland Malbec) and the Bressia Profundo, a Malbec, CabSav, Merlot and Syrah blend that is beautiful. All of these will go great with a big, juicy steak, lamb, or just to warm up a chilly evening.
    Thanks for the article, would love to see a similar one on the Chileans...
    Abraços from Brasil;
    William Ryan

    Oct 21, 2013 at 12:23 PM


  • Excellent article, but please get a new map. The Brits won that little war three decades ago and the islands in the south Atlantic are the Falklands and are part of the UK.

    Oct 21, 2013 at 4:59 PM


  • Signed up for your Doña Paula virtual tasting and the only one I could find locally was the Malbec, darn it. We will lift our glass with you during the Malbec tasting and take notes during the rest. Then start hunting for some of the others mentioned in this article. Seems the biggest challenge for us is the lack of variety to be found in our stores. Not to mention the fact that the sales staff seems more interested in quoting a price than insuring they have the vintage you are looking for. With the exception of this little whine, it will not deter us on our journey.

    Oct 21, 2013 at 5:53 PM


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