Five years after her last trip to Argentina, Jancis Robinson, the most famous Master of Wine in the world, returned to Mendoza to find out what has been going on in the wine industry in recent years. Organized by the consultancy Jump Start, the objective of her new trip was to taste more than 250 wines across a wide range of varieties, price segments, regions and styles.
Renowned and respected across the world, Jancis Robinson is advisor to the wine cellar of Queen Elizabeth II, writes the wine column for The Financial Times and has written essential wine tomes such as The World Atlas of Wine which she has edited along with Hugh Johnson since 1971.
The articles and points scores that arose from the trip can be seen at www.jancisrobinson.com (published on 19 March). In them she hails the changes that have been occurring recently in Argentina paying special attention to the quality of the whites. She also mentions changes with the reds, especially Malbec and the hard work being done to identify soil types and micro-regions to categorize Geographic Indications.
Below is a brief but enjoyable conversation with Jancis Robinson:
It’s been 5 years since your last visit to Argentina: How do you feel the Argentine wine industry has developed in that time?
In a way I was grateful that I had a good five-year gap between visits because it made me so aware of the vast evolution of Argentine wine from big and chunky wines to much fresher more graceful and geographically-informed reds.
What changes have you noticed in the Malbecs?
There´s a change of style, especially Malbec – and, importantly, Malbec blends. The big, bold oaky Malbecs that were once so popular in the US market in particular have been joined by a completely new style of Malbec, often the produce of high-elevation vineyards but also the result of new winemaking techniques, not least fashionable concrete and even clay jars.
And of the less traditional varietals you tried, did anything stand out?
In my opinion Argentina is making better Cabernet Franc than the Loire, and Petit Verdot more reliably than Bordeaux. As well as the wine styles noted above, I was impressed by a few Bonardas and even the odd creatively made Criollas. There is quite a fashion for Pais in Chile and Mission in California – all the same grape variety.
What did you think of the whites, especially Chardonnay?
I was extremely impressed by some white wines and reckon that the quality of Argentina Chardonnay can be truly outstanding.
Among wine professionals there is new respect for Sémillon and Chenin Blanc, especially for those made from old vines. And white blends are all the rage, too. I tasted a few blends of recently imported white Rhône varieties which I thought were very successful.
Coming back to Chardonnay, I have long believed that Argentine Chardonnay can be quite exceptionally good – even if it’s only the third most planted white wine grape after Pedro Gimenez (PX) and Torrontés Riojana and represents no more than 3% of all vines planted. Grown on a relatively cool site and made well, it would really challenge the best Margaret River Chardonnays of Western Australia (and that is high praise). I should also add that some of the most exciting wines I tasted were three Chardonnays aged under flor.
What advice do you have for Argentine wineries on improving their performance in the UK and the US?
I would say price fairly. Carry on with the lovely labels and ease up on the heavy bottles!!
You’re very interested in sustainability, how do you think the Argentine wine industry is doing in that area?
I like the sound of the official sustainability initiative that was described to us during the Catena visit. Individual wineries can sign up and be audited to ensure they improve every year. This is a bit like the international iniitaive IWCA, International Wineries for Climate Action.
Mendoza is shifting towards the differentiation of soil types through geographic indications, especially in the Uco Valley. Do you believe that this will have a positive effect on the consumption of Argentine wine?
I think it is definitely in the right direction even if it will take the consumer some time to understand them. But I am impressed by how far along the track of genuine geographical delination (as opposed to political boundaries) that the Argentine wine industry has already travelled compared to some other non European wine producing countries.