The success of Argentine wine can be attributed to a number of factors: diversity, sustainability, history, culture and an authentic wine heritage, extremely high quality grapes, a unique geography and climate, and the highest altitude and most southerly vineyards in the world, all of which come together to produce unique aromas, textures and flavors, enhanced by the creativity of well-trained local professionals.
The future is looking promising and this encouraging trend is substantiated by the hard fact that today Argentine wines are better than they’ve ever been in the viticultural history of the country. Of course, there’s still plenty of work to do if the industry is to continue growing and this is where its efforts are being focused right now.
But it’s not just Argentinians who say so: six global experts with vast experience and extensive knowledge of the industry, the agronomists and oenologists, wineries and regions and vineyards of the country, have shared their views on the Argentine wine scene. So what is argentine wines according to the experts?
Argentine wines according to the experts
Tim Atkin, a leading wine writer and Master of Wine (United Kingdom); Fongyee Walker, the first Master Of Wine from China; Michael Godel, the head critic at WineAlign.com and Director of the website godello.ca (Canada); Madeline Puckette, Director of Design at Folly Enterprises and co-creator of WineFolly.com (USA); Jorge Lucki, a specialist and columnist for different media outlets in Brazil and the co-author of the Descorchados South America guide and Madeleine Stenwreth (Sweden), Master of Wine and Panel President at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) in London, all shared their opinions with us.
Noting the industry’s progress in recent years, they identified the talent of agricultural and oenological teams and expanded knowledge of the terroirs as key factors for further growth and the development of new opportunities for grapes other than Malbec. Below, we present a point by point summary of these global experts’ opinions of Argentine wine.
Evolving toward quality
Tim Atkin presents an extensive overview: “I think that it has improved for several reasons: the rediscovery of several terroirs and better working methodologies in different areas, the rise of a new generation of very talented oenological and agricultural teams, the use of drip irrigation in vineyards on slopes, less reliance on oak, later harvests and better care of the vineyards.”
Jorge Lucki says: “I think that Argentina has achieved these high quality standards due to a change of mentality, especially that of a new generation with a more expansive vision and greater energy, which was an important step once they realized that consumers wanted more balanced, meaningful wines. But they never turned their backs on their roots.”
Madeline Puckette hails the evolution of Argentine wine: “It was in the 2000s that the world discovered that Argentina makes great wines; we fell in love with Malbec and Torrontés. Today the country is pushing its own boundaries, getting progressively more refined in their approach to making great wines. For example, the creation of Geographic Indications led producers to focus on wines from a single vineyard that emphasize the unique qualities of a specific area.”
The key lies in getting to know the soils and climate
All the experts agree that one of the central pillars of the new Argentine wine scene is greater knowledge of the soils and climate of each region.
Michael Godel admires: “The enthusiasm of agricultural engineers who dig down into their soils to find out what each section of their vineyard is made of and identify its geological age, the rocks in other words, so as to forge a connection between the physical and chemical worlds, which is extremely important.”
Similarly, Jorge Lucki says: “It’s no longer enough to talk about Mendoza, altitude or, even going a little further, the Uco Valley, Altamira or Gualtallary. Today they’re differentiating between parcels and making wine from each according to its specific characteristics.”
Malbec and more
As Madeleine Stenwreth rightly says, “Malbec will always be the queen. No one has managed to bring out the beauty of Malbec as spectacularly as Argentina.” However, there are plenty of other varieties and styles to explore.
The Swedish expert offers up some tips in this regard: “Cabernet Sauvignon still needs to shake off its classical profile. Maybe Cabernet Franc is the next real star. I also like how some producers have started to approach Criolla and Torrontés, producing some stunning examples.”
Fongyee Walker offers these thoughts from China: “I think that experimentation with Malbec to produce different styles (Blanc de Noir, natural wines, etc.) is the most exciting trend. Although they’re not always entirely successful they’re an important step toward allowing Argentine oenologists to understand the potential of the grape. I’ve also been impressed by several Argentine sparkling wines.”
Tim Atkin says: “I think there are styles for everyone, but I’m inclined to favor balance in wine. By that I mean not having too much of anything. These styles tend to work better with food and age more gracefully.”
Puckettea agrees: “We’re starting to see more expressions of Malbec that are suitable for aging, with nuanced styles similar to the variations one finds in Pinot Noir throughout the Côte d’Or (Burgundy).”
Argentina, looking to the future
Argentine wines according to the experts, across the country’s different wine producing regions, have enormous potential for future growth. Mendoza is the leading wine producing province in Argentina but far from the only one. Both Fongyee Walker and Michael Godel agree that Salta is a region to get very excited about.
“Salta is very convincing not just because it’s unique in terms of grape cultivation but also because it has a fascinating ancestral culture. Also, the natural beauty of the mountains and the rural lifestyle make the region extremely attractive. It’s an amazing place to visit, talk about and drink wine,” says Walker.
Godel agrees: “In Salta and the Calchaquí Valleys, the effect of solar radiation and temperature fluctuations can’t be exaggerated when it comes to producing to some of the spiciest, most exciting and rewarding wines in the world.”
In addition to Salta and the Uco Valley, Puckette says “one can’t leave out Pinot Noir from Patagonia. Although the region still feels like a ‘secret side project’ of most wineries, some unique producers might very well arise specializing in the variety.”
From Brazil, Lucki says: “I think that it’s worth following San Juan, but I’ll never stop following the sub-regions of the Uco Valley, not just for Malbec but also Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (which has never been so good) and a few white varieties such as Chardonnay and Semillón”.
Stenwreth adds: “There’s a lot of excitement across the country outside of the Uco Valley, which itself would appear to be a never-ending source of as yet unexplored micro-terroirs with potential to produce incredible quality. I’d also suggest keeping in mind Primera Zona in Mendoza, where everything began.”
Atkin enthusiastically reveals that he’s interested by all these regions, “but I’d pay special attention to Barreal, Cachi, Calingasta, Chapadmalal, Chubut, Las Compuertas, Sarmiento in the Uco Valley, Uspallata and Vistalba”.