Understandably associated with Malbec, it’s in white wine that Argentina is really making strides, with winemakers across the country now producing a broad variety of fascinating and fruit driven styles. Andy Howard MW is impressed on a recent visit...
Wines of Argentina recently hosted a visit to this dynamic country, inviting 41 Masters of Wine from around the world for the first such tour since 1988. I was fortunate enough to be included in the number. Having been a retail wine buyer for many years, it was an ideal opportunity to see whether there had been any changes since my last visit six years ago. The answer was that Argentina’s wine industry has made huge steps forward, with a reinvention of wine styles, development of exciting new areas, and major investment in modern facilities.
At the same time, the Argentine people remain hugely welcoming to visitors, and rightly proud of their country. Argentina over-delivers in terms of scenery, great wine values, and a slightly wild side which makes its wines different and compelling.
Times are certainly changing here. Since my previous visit, the growth in Malbec plantings (and volume of wine produced) has moved from rapid to stratospheric. Introduced to Argentina in 1860, plantings had peaked at 60,000ha by 1960. Between 1970 and 1990 this declined to 20,000ha, yet today the area under Malbec is more than 40,000ha. Of the new plantings, 88% are in Mendoza, and Malbec is now Argentina’s most widely planted variety. Malbec has become to Argentina what Sauvignon Blanc is to New Zealand – and in Argentina, too, there are exciting alternative wine choices that wine lovers should consider.
Despite the perception of many consumers that Argentina is primarily a producer of reds, some of the most exciting developments relate to white wines. Just a decade ago, most professional buyers would not have considered Argentina as a source of anything but cheap, wholesome wines made predominantly from Chenin Blanc, or hefty, oaky Chardonnay modelled on Californian wines in the 1980s. Since then, wine producers have pushed the boundaries with plantings in new sites, often in areas considered unviable for production 10 years ago. At the same time, wine styles have radically changed.
Scroll down for Howard’s pick of cutting-edge Argentinian white wines
Argentina: know your vintages
2017 A classic, high-quality vintage, with low yields but very healthy grapes. Some great Chardonnays with balance, intense white flower aromas, finesse and the ability to age.
2016 An El Niño year, with a warm, wet spring requiring lots of work on the canopy to avoid health issues. Late frosts affected the harvest in Uco Valley, Mendoza. Lower alcohols than normal with very fresh acidity.
2015 A warm year, but higher rainfall and humidity presented challenges. Sites with better drainage performed more strongly.
2014 Late spring frosts reduced some Chardonnay yields by 50%. Very high early summer temperatures were followed by cool, wet weather. A long ripening season saw very good freshness and aromatics.
2013 High quality. A cool spring, followed by mixed summer weather which then turned cool for the ripening period. Lower alcohols and greater freshness from natural acidity.
Argentina’s white grape variety plantings (2017)
- Torrontés Riojana 8,200ha
- Chardonnay 6,100ha
- Moscatel 2,650ha
- Sauvignon Blanc 2,100ha
- Ugni Blanc 1,550ha
- Viognier 780ha
- Semillon 750ha