I am frequently asked what the next ‘big thing’ in wine will be. I do think that we in this country are slowly moving back towards the old world in terms of style, but there is one giant that has yet to really make it in Ireland and elsewhere. Argentina is the world’s fifth largest wine producer. Largely populated by Italian and Spanish immigrants, it has a wine culture going back almost five hundred years. Until recently, it had its own individual style of wine, aged in oak for long periods, which was distinctly lacking in fruit to European palates. However, it was very popular at home, where over 90% of the market lay (Argentina is still the world’s eighth largest consumer of wine). It was only in the late 1980’s that the wine industry began to look seriously at the export market, and helped by the devalued peso, began producing high quality richly fruity wines that made the world take notice.
Argentina has a lot to offer, so it is surprising that it has not had a greater impact on our tastes. The quality of wine has improved dramatically, and prices are very competitive. Yet my local supermarket has only a few shelves devoted to Argentina compared to a huge array from Chile, Australia and South Africa. One problem it does have is a lack of Sauvignon, currently the most fashionable grape variety. There are a few decent examples on the Irish market, but the hot sunny weather in Mendoza, where over 80% of the countries wine is produced, is not ideal for this cool-climate grape. Instead, Argentina can offer its own indigenous aromatic white grape, Torrontés. There are some very tasty wines, the best of which tend to come from the cooler vineyards in Salta to the far north, or more recently from Patagonia in the deep south. Think of a cross a cross between Sauvignon and Gewürztraminer, aromatic and refreshing with succulent ripe fruits. In addition to Torrontés, there has been some success with Chardonnay and Viognier in particular.
The country also has a few special red varieties; most of you will be familiar with Malbec, a French grape variety that Argentina has made it’s own in recent years. The less expensive versions have lovely supple ripe dark fruits; the more expensive are full-bodied and powerful, packed with explosive meaty dark fruits. Provided they aren’t too heavily oaked, I am very fond of both camps. The Bonarda grape was thought to be related to the Barbera grape of Piedmont, and was assumed that it had been brought over by Italian immigrants. More recent studies show it to be the Corbeau of Savoie, also known as Charbono in California. Bonarda is usually full of colour, with plenty of acidity and tannins too. If the winemaker succeeds in taming the tannins, it can be a very attractive refreshing red. Together these two semi-indigenous varieties make up almost 50% of red plantings. But with all the noise about Malbec, it is sometimes forgotten that Argentina makes some very good Cabernet, and increasingly, some very stylish Syrah too.
I am slightly mystified why Argentina has not been more successful as it appears to have everything going for it. Perhaps 2010 will see a real breakthrough. In addition to the wines below, Trapiche, Alamos, Argento and Pascual Toso are both widely available and reliable.
Michel Torino Torrontés 2009, Calchaqui Valley
13.5% €9.99 Michel Torino are based in the cooler northern vineyards of Cafayate. Their wines usually have an elegance and freshness about them. This is a very perfumed Torrontés, with aromas of honeysuckle and a lovely light but concentrated fresh palate with succulence and zip.
Stockists: The Wine Boutique, Ringsend; Dunnes Stores; Matsons, Bandon; Sandyford House, Dublin 14; Deveneys, Dundrum; Redmonds, Ranelagh.
Tesco’s Finest Argentina Shiraz 2009, San Juan
14.5% €5.99 The Callia winery in San Juan, a few hours drive north of Mendoza makes some impressive Syrah. This has savoury chewy liquorice and dark fruits, plenty of power and surprisingly good length. Tesco have this at €5.99 on promotion for August and September, so snap it up as it represents a fantastic bargain.
Luigi Bosca Bonarda 2009, Mendoza
13.5% €10 A nicely aromatic juicy red with very attractive succulent tangy blackberry fruits and a smooth finish. Perfect on its own but better with cold meats and charcuterie. Serve cool but not chilled.
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Ardkeeen, Waterford; Swan’s, Naas; Mac’s, Limerick; Fahy’s, Ballina; Market 57, Westport; Next Door, Salthill; Next Door Kilkee; Red Island, Skerries The Vintry, Rathgar; Sweeneys, Glasnevin; Redmonds, Ranelagh; Next Door, Thomastown; Gibney’s, Malahide; Next Door, Enniscorthy.
Doña Paula Los Cardos Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Mendoza
14% €9.99 A fragrant svelte velvety Cabernet with a sweet new oak and ripe cassis fruit, and good value at €10. Try it with roast lamb.
Stockists: Tesco; Next Door; Nolan’s Clontarf; Eurospar, Dalkey; The Carpenter, Carpenterstown; Fagan’s, Phibsborough.
Altos las Hormigas Malbec 2009, Mendoza
14% €14.99 A fresher style of Malbec with a generous amount of fresh juicy dark fruits, good acidity and a lingering finish. Going slightly towards Europe in style, this would go nicely with medium-bodied red meats.
Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule; Red Island Wine, Skerries; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St.; Wine Cellar, Sandyford Business Park; J M Vintners; Next Door Enfield; Drink Store, Manor St; Donnybrook Fair; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Simply Wines and Martins, Fairview.
Bodega Lurton Malbec Reserva 2008, Mendoza
14.5% €18.00 A meatier style of Malbec, but beautifully done; masses of rich swarthy dark fruits overlaid with some spice, and excellent length. A wine of immense power and depth that calls out for a steak.
Stockists: Redmonds, Ranelagh; Thomas, Foxrock.