There are many extreme places on the wine map: ones that define a particular character. Chardonnay for Chablis in France, and the uniqueness of Pinot Noir in Central Otago, New Zealand.
These wines are unique for a couple of reasons: on one hand there is the producer and style of the wine, and on the other, the possibilities that the terroir offers. So while it would be impossible to make a Cabernet Sauvignon in either of the two regions mentioned (it would never mature), they could both have Chardonnay, but with only one specialising in that grape and wine style.
According to this reasoning, Argentina has three of its own styles to develop unique wine other than Malbec. These are areas that are under exploration and, therefore, do not necessarily have their products defined. There is a golden opportunity to offer the world their own flavour and, at the same time, a specific origin.
High altitude, continental Chardonnay
There is a universe of whites making a name for themselves in Argentina. As the vineyards move upwards in the Uco Valley, reaching heights of 1,600m and over, an extreme area for the cultivation of Chardonnay is beginning to form.
In short, we’re looking at producing a white in cold but sunny conditions, exactly the antipode of what is being produced on the world market. These whites require a definition of flavour, and the wineries are working to achieve this, because the difficult part of the equation is to get freshness and maturity.
There are already some examples;
Jose Galante, a legendary winemaker in Chardonnay, found a special balance point for his Salentein Single Vineyard 2015, where the acidity is well tamed with the volume, thanks to lees and oak. Another good example is Catena Zapata White Stones 2012, in which the ageing and the grapes are well assembled. The same with Domaine Bousquet Reserve 2015 and Dedicado Chardonnay 2015.
Compared with others in the world, the richness of volume, the maturity of aromas and the intensity of freshness are a point of differentiation for Argentina. The interesting thing is that this could work for other varieties, which should be explored: from Pinot Gris to Sauvignon Blanc and others, such as Verdejo.
Cold and sunny Cabernet Franc
The different flavours of this variety, which have earned it its reputation over the years, seem to have found a new expression in the high deserts. Until now, most of the oenology applied to obtaining reds with Franc respected the vegetal component, which does not disappear at high altitude – but instead demands concentration.
There is, however, another way to understand Cabernet Franc, where altitude could be key to offering freshness and a lighter red. Some of that can already be seen in the domestic market: Rompecabezas Cabernet Franc 2014 and Polígonos de Valle de Uco, San Pablo, 2016. Unlike the rest of the native Francs, they propose freshness as the main attraction, medium bodied and a new aromatic fruitiness. The point of maturity is the crux, and the result is a continental red with a mature palate, but with a similar freshness to oceanic reds. A rarity that could give the varietal its very own flavour.
And, strictly speaking, it could be possible to do the same with other reds like Merlot and Syrah.
New Calchaquí reds
In general, the Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon of the Calchaquí valley offer sufficient differential when it comes to selling them in the market. Now a new type of balance has been added that opens the palate of the region to other consumers. In particular, with Cabernet Sauvignon and its blends.
In the extreme conditions of the valley, which include a lot of sunlight, very warm temperatures and high altitude – this new approach is aiming to fine-tune the wines: rescuing that singularity, but not exaggerating it, and the new Calchaquí Cabernet begins to emerge with elegance.
In particular Malbec and Tannat now offers reds with their own aromas, ample and juicy in the mouth, combined with elegant and polished tannins. The key is to understand that altitude achieves a natural concentration effect and does not require artifices to enhance it. Wineries such as El Porvenir for its Laborum 2014, El Esteco in Chañar Punco 2012 and Finca Quara with Alpaca 2014, are working with this understanding. In this new stylistic trait, seduction, not intensity, is the key.
Whichever path Argentina follows in terms of a wine like Malbec, which has already blazed its own trail, these three styles of unique wines should be good starting point to recognise that ours is a country of specialties.