Against a backdrop of some recent tricky growing seasons and the constant economic challenge of doing business in Argentina, the country’s best producers are making more refined, aromatically complex and vibrant wines than ever before – bottles that should satisfy even hard-core fans of classic European wines.
Within just the last six weeks I’ve experienced global warming up close and personal: 92-degree late-May weather in Burgundy, 102 degrees in Walla Walla before the end of June, and the steam heat of a New York City summer. But somehow Mendoza, Argentina’s engine of wine production, a semi-arid desert region that could not produce wine without irrigation from melting Andes snow, has not had a classically warm, dry growing season since 2012 – until this year, that is.
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Trailblazer Nicolás Catena launched his Nicolás Catena Zapata blend in 1997 to prove that Argentina could make a world-class Bordeaux-style wine with a long and graceful aging curve. My vertical tasting in September made it clear that he was successful from the outset.
Current releases from Argentina are strikingly different from the wines of just a decade ago. In recent years, Argentina’s top grape-growers and winemakers have sought out cooler, mostly higher-altitude sites and soils more conducive to making fresher, more complex, better-balanced wines. Moreover, since 2013 Argentina has experienced a succession of cool vintages, and this weather trend has further intensified the shift away from porty, high-octane reds with dried-fruit character. The result has been a greater number of outstanding bottlings than ever before.
Argentina, Cellar Favorites
If you think of Mendoza’s Malbec-based wines as rich and ripe but a bit chunky and best for early drinking, try the supremely elegant 2008 vintage of Poesia, a 60/40 blend of Malbec and Cabernet Franc from ungrafted vines planted in 1935.
The cool, extended 2013 growing season produced unusually vibrant and refined wines in the semi-desert Mendoza region, which accounts for the lion’s share of Argentina’s finest red wines.
Making vintage generalizations for this huge wine-soaked country is a tricky proposition--after all, we're talking about well over a thousand miles from Salta in the north to the main wine-producing areas of Patagonia in Argentina's extreme south
The U.S. market continues to be flooded with Mendoza malbec, as this wine has become as popular here--and as much of a brand name--as sauvignon blanc from Marlborough.
I was tempted to report that tasting through 800 or so new releases from Argentina in recent months was hard work, particularly as there is a great degree of sameness among the less-expensive malbecs