Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Wines Of Argentina: The Marriage of Power and Elegance

The Emergence Of A Giant!
While on my way to the Design Exchange at 234 Bay Street yesterday I couldn't help complain to myself that this was the seventh wine tasting in a row that I was going to attend in Toronto. The voice inside of me said "Stop whining! Remember when you would have killed to be invited to just one tasting. So what if you've had to travel again from Whitby (just 60 kls east of the city), just think of what you will be tasting today. Maybe a new discovery!"
Indeed, my self disclosure was prophetic since I tasted some excellent Malbec (red) and a truly fine Torrontes (white).
A Bit Of History!
Vinifera grapevines were introduced to Argentina some 400 years ago (1542) by Spanish missionaries that were responsible for spreading the Catholic faith and also caring for the "souls" of the soldiers and explorers who came to very large country. As with most other countries which were of the Catholic faith, the missionaries planted grapes around their monasteries in order to make wine needed for the celebration of Mass. The grapes grew very well in the climate and soil.
European settlers provided much needed technical knowledge when they arrived in the early 19th Century and brought with them more vines and specialized knowledge. Wineries were founded and in 1993, "Argentine Top Wines", consisting of a small group of exporting wineries and wine producers, was developed within the Argentine Vititcultural Association. Later in 1995, an agreement was signed between the Argentine government and wineries to promote Argentine wines. Then in 1998, "Wines of Argentina" was founded to further promote its wines and educate the public of other countries. Later that year, the first annual tasting was held in London, England.
The result of all of this is that the wines of Argentina have taken their time to develop their own identity, with characteristics different from but yet comparable in quality to countries such as Chile and even France.
Argentina, is the second largest country after South America with just over 1 million square miles. It lies between the Andes Mountain Chain in the West and the Atlantic in the South and East. Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia,Paraguay and Chile are its political borders.
Argentina can be divided into four geographical parts: Pampas (agriculture), Patagonia (oil), Gran Chaco (Sub Tropical Flatland) and Andes Mountains. There are many micro climates within these areas and many types of flora and fauna exist. Argentina produces many products for export among which is wine!
Wine Regions
There are 15 wine producing provinces spanning some 200 km North to South. Almost 355,400,000 litres were exported to all markets in 2007. Canada ranks third in it imports of Argentinian wine. In all there are 950 wineries the majority of which (685) are in the Mendoza wine region!
The wine regions (with their wine producing provinces in brackets) from largest to smallest are as follows: Cuyo (Mendoza [North, Central, South] , San Juan, La Rioja) North (Salta, Catamarca) Patagonia (Rio Negro, Neuquen La Pampa).
The climates of these regions are indeed variable. Usually the weather is dry, with alluvial soil deposits. Patagonia has very strong winds which may help the area avoid frost. The Neuguen area of Patagonia is the largest growing viticultural centre of Argentina with four first class wineries already there and three more in the works.
The largest and most important area in Argentina is Mendoza producing about 80% of the wine made in Argentina. Salta has some of the highest vines planted anywhere in the world.
Malbec is still king in Argentina representing 33% of all sales. Cabernet Sauvignon is certainly coming up (12.5%) with Chardonnay (8.1%), Syrah (4.3%), Merlot (3.2%), Torrontes (2.1%) and Pinot Noir (up and coming in Patagonia), Bonarda and Sauvignon Blanc bringing up the rear.
An interesting fact about Pinot Noir in Patagonia is that because of the high winds and sunshine, the grapes have grown an exceedingly thick skin which allows for less damage and higher concentration thus making a Pinot that is different from other Pinots in its concentration.
The Tasting
I arrived in time for the 1:30 pm tutored tasting. My friend Alex Eberspaecher was there (as were Barbara Ritchie and Patricia Dinsmore) though some of the other familiar wine writers were not. Michael Vaughan was having lunch with Miguel Torres and Tony Aspler was coming later. There were a substantial group though that were comprised of exhibitors, agents, sommeliers and writers).
Six wines were tasted: Torrontes 2008 from Salta's Cafayate area, Malbec 2007 from Mendoza's Barrancas area, Malbec 2006 from Mendoza's Valle de Uco area, Malbec 2006 from Mendoza's Maipu area, and Malbec 2005 from Neuquen's San Patricia del Chanar area.
The Wines (These wines range from a price of $10 (Torrontes) to $20 (Malbec). They are of excellent value and can be obtained by contacting the individual email address beside them.
Echart Torrontes 2008
This was one of my of my favourite wines of the whole tasting.
Nose: Fresh and lively with herbal/grassy spice, apple fruit Highly perfumed.
Palate: Citrus mandarin, kiwi, fruit based apple flavours, fresh acidity and excellent length.
Pascual Tosso Malbec 2007 (Eurovintage, Tom Noitsis email:
Nose: Blackberry, black cherry with earth tones.
Palate: Blackberry, blueberry with some bitter cherry flavours. supple with nice mouthfeel. Good length.
Familia Zuccardi Malbec 2006 (Dionysus Wines, A.Patinos email:
Nose: Red and black fruit notes like raspberry, blackberry, plums black cherries.
Palate: Ripe red fruit and sweet tannins, some coffee and cedar (wood)
Trapiche Malbec 2006 (Philippe Dandurand, A. Babak email:
Nose: Somewhat closed, some vanilla, tobacco, earth, plum, cherry
Palate: Plum, cherry, somewhat jammy, tannic, long finish
Don Cristobal La Nina Malbec 2007 (Ruby Wines, T. Gibb email:
Nose: Still somewhat closed with cherry and plum with some blueberry
Palate: Plum land dark fruit, earth and medium to strong tannins. Excellent length.
Alta Umbres, Malbec 2007(Case For Wine, Lloyd Evans
Nose: Forward, ripe red fruit and vanilla
Palate:Immediately pleasing, generous fruit on palate. Soft, supple. Nice length.
Lagarde DOC Malbec 2006 (The Case For Wine, email:
Nose: Somewhat closed but red and dark fruit evident such as strawberry, plum and nuances other black and red fruit.
Palate: Nicely layered with similar fruit as nose. Foreward tannins and nice length.
Bodegas Norton Malbec Reserva (PMA, Doris Anest, email:
Nose: Cedar, vanilla, black cherry, some cocoa.
Palate: red fruit, taut tannins and nice length.
Final Opinion
The wine tasting was an excellent experience with much to be seen and tasted. Argentina is certainly a country that will be heard from in the future and one that will offer excellent prices on wines---some of which are already at ultra premium levels in quality. Congratulations Argentina!!!!