For me, one of the most fascinating and compelling reasons for diving into the treasure trove of New World wines lies not just in the drum-roll of longer established flagship varieties and styles, but also with the emerging stars awaiting discovery. These are the wannabes and off-piste chancers, the New Kids on the Block, often delivering a profusion of unexpected aromas and flavours just when you least expect it. And after all, this is where the next generation of ‘New Classics’ will emerge, born of experimentation, innovation, occasional bouts of serendipity and even the stubborn revival of overlooked vines that have long languished as also-rans.
Barrels – Photograph by Andrew Catchpole
Argentina is no exception. Scratch the surface and look beyond the big red hitter Malbec and its aromatic white partner Torrontés, plus the more international Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and a whole world of other varieties begins to emerge.
The march of Syrah and Pinot Noir, especially from cooler spots, is already old news. As you’d expect in a country settled by a medley of Europeans, the mix of old vines and newer imports reflects the blend of modern Argentine culture. Bonarda and Barbera from Italy, Semillon, Chenin, Viognier, Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc from France, Touriga Nacional from Portugal, Tempranillo and Muscat from Spain and punchy Mediterranean grapes such as Grenache and Carignan are all to be found.
“Argentina has 10-12 great varieties but at the moment the limelight has been stolen by Malbec,” says José Manuel Ortega of O Fournier winery. “What we must remember is that Argentina is about high quality wine, not just Malbec, and this story of other blends and varieties needs to be told.”
O Fournier makes impressive Tempranillo from vines over 50 years old, also using Carignan in another high-end blend. Elsewhere, Trapiche shows what can be achieved with another rising star in Argentina, Cabernet Franc, with a typically juicy, berry-ish number that resembles its Loire cousins but with super-charged flavours born of ample sun and altitude.
More off-piste is the intense Touriga Nacional from Jean Bousquet, revealing all the shimmering intensity found in its counterparts in Portugal’s Douro Valley. Or the extraordinary Amarone-style Corivino-Malbec from leading Venetian producer Masi’s outpost in Tupungato.
Head to the cooler, higher and lower latitude extremes of this long, tapering country, and aromatic whites are increasingly coming into their own. From the heady heights of Salta to the north, by way of Mendoza’s Uco Valley, to the wind-blown expanses of Patagonia, there’s much to discover. Look out for varieties including apricot-scented Viognier, floral Riesling and crisp yet intense and citrusy Semillon, with great examples from wineries as diverse as Mendel and Humberto Canale and many others besides.
Another exciting development is the resurrection of Bonarda, a variety that abounds in the warmer vineyards of Mendoza and elsewhere. For a long time Bonarda was used as a workhorse grape to increase volumes in blends with other varieties. With a little TLC and lower yields in the vineyard, producers like Argento are discovering that Bonarda is perfect for making bouncy, juicy wines brimming with attractive red fruit flavours, attracting new attention from sommeliers, competition judges and wine reviewers.
Flying the Flag – Photograph by Andrew Catchpole
This is just another example of how Argentina’s winemakers, in true New World styles, continue to embrace a spirit of exploration and experimentation as they continue to work out what is best suited to their diverse combinations of varieties, climates and soils. And, of course, they have the added benefit that they are not restricted by the Appellation rules of the Old World, strictly dictating what can be planted and where.
To be fair, there is nothing particularly outlandish or new about the spread of varieties now emerging from Argentina. What is exciting, though, is that the essential character – the aromas, nuances and flavours inherent in each grape – is tasted through a different prism, that of Argentine climate and soils, which essentially creates a whole new subtle variation on the ‘original’ wine. Not better, or worse, but in many cases just a spot different, which adds to the fantastic variety of styles on offer from around the globe.
What is certain, now that Malbec and Torrontés have become welcome fixtures on wine lists and merchants’ shelves, is that Argentina should become better known for its growing band of often excellent wines from other varieties. And having sampled first hand the quality of many of these emerging wines, it’s a thought that brings on a thirst!
Latest posts by Andrew Catchpole (see all)
- Taste the Diversity: A Guide to Argentina’s Wine Regions - October 22, 2014
- The Global March of Malbec - October 1, 2014
- ‘Take 5’ Global Sommeliers: Argentine Food & Wine Pairings - April 16, 2014