If the wines of Argentina have been whetting your palate recently, we take a look at some of the country’s best producers.
So, Argentinian wine, beautiful with beef. This much we know. Yes, the country’s malbec (a French grape, which even the French acknowledge is vinified with more éclat by the Argentines) is an almost tearfully good match for a bit of mature moo-cow, but what else does this enormous wine region, the world’s fifth biggest producer after France, Italy, Spain and the US, have to offer?
Plenty of uniquely tasty stuff, is the answer. Pinot noir, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon and syrah are reds you’re probably familiar with, but then there’s bonarda. Bonarda is another import (this time from Italy) that flourishes in Argentina in the same way as malbec. Much of it is light and fruity, though oak ageing produces much meatier versions (similarly, malbec doesn’t always have to be tongue-witheringly inky and tannic – younger wines are surprisingly guzzle-able on their own).
Chardonnay is pretty big on the whites side, but the most commonly planted white grape is the native torrontés. Now torrontés is very nice. It’s generally grown at high altitude and the best comes from the northern Salta province. It combines strong aromatics (think riesling or gewürztraminer) with bright, refreshing acidity (think sauvignon blanc).
How does it do that? Thanks to those magnificent mountains. Harnessing the mineral-rich melt water from the Andes, through an ingenious centuries-old irrigation system set up by the native Huarpe tribe, has turned the what was once featureless desert into fertile wine territory. The high altitudes mean cooler temperatures. That means a longer growing season. That means more time for fruit to develop. And that means lush aromatic flavours in both whites and reds, but also retention of acidity so the wines don’t become all cloying and nasty like so much new-world stuff.
The big market for Argentinian wines is the US, but its presence in this country is both growing and diversifying. The bottom line is that it’s an excellent place to look to for that rare and precious thing: cash value. In the low price bracket, there are few wine regions in the world that can offer such consistent quality. With that in mind, here are my top five bodegas (wineries) offering an excellent route into this barely-begun new-world success story.
**1. Bodega Catena Zapata (Mendoza)**
A family business run by fourth-generation Italian immigrants. Credited with putting Argentinian wines (particularly high-altitude malbec) on the map. Catena Chardonnay 2011 is a good-value summery tipple (£12.99, Majestic), while Catena Malbec 2010 (£12.99, Majestic), also value for money, is a classy malbec that will get even better with a bit of ageing.
**2. Finca Decero (Mendoza)**
A single-vineyard producer boasting some excellent entry-level reds. Try the Decero Cabernet Sauvignon Remolinos 2009 (£12.99, Sommelier Wine Cellars) or, if you’re looking for a treat, the complex and silky Decero Amano 2009 (£32.99, Troubadour Wines). Matured in French oak for 22 months and a further 12 in the bottle, it is smooth stuff - a proper Jesus in velvet pants.
**3. Trivento (Mendoza)**
Fairly well-established in the UK, Trivento produces some respectable malbec, but is also good for whites. It’s about to unveil a reserve chardonnay in Tesco, in July, and already has single-varietal torrontés that’s delicious and superb value (£8.99, auriolwines.com, hoults.com, mumblesfinewines.co.uk).
**4. Michel Torino (Salta) **
An historic vineyard in the province that’s seen as the true home of torrontés. The organic Cuma Torrontés 2012 (Spirited Wines, £8.99) is as good if not better value than the Trivento; there’s also a lightly spicy Don David Tannat 2010 (£10.99, thegoodwineshop.co.uk), winner of a Decanter silver medal last year and an equally impressive Don David Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (£10.99, slurp.co.uk).
**5. Bodega Bressia (Mendoza) **
This is a small family-run bodega feted by winemakers and writers the world over. Bressia has just released its Pablo Y Walter Malbec 2012 , which is as light and vibrant a malbec as I have tasted. Also try the Bressia Profundo 2007 (£23, Virgin Wine Online, The Winehouse). Made with 50% malbec and a blend of cabernet, merlot and syrah, it’s rich, it’s lingering, and it's full of depth.
These wines were sampled at Cambalache, a one-off event in Stoke Newington, London, sponsored by Wines of Argentina.
**Written by:** Darren Smith