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Scientists reveal Malbec terroir secrets in Mendoza

Chemical analysis of Malbec wines from more than 20 vineyard sites has shown how terroir exerts its influence across different vintages, says a new study.

Defining terroir has long caused debate in the wine world, but a new study on Malbec in its Mendoza heartland in Argentina may shed new light on the issue for wine drinkers and producers.

Published in peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports, the Malbec study ‘irrefutably proves the existence of terroir and its persistence across vintages’, according to the Catena Institute, which led the research.

Scientists analysed the chemical make-up of 201 Malbec wines from 23 different vineyard parcels across Mendoza in Argentina.

Wines from the 2016, 2017 and 2018 vintages were chosen for the Malbec terroir study, and researchers found they could identify tell-tale characteristics of different vineyard sites.

‘We were able to predict with 100% certainty the vintage of each wine of our study through chemical analysis,’ said Dr. Laura Catena, who founded the Catena Institute of Wine in 1995.

‘Mendoza is one of the few places in the world with strikingly different wine terroirs within short distances,’ said Dr Catena, who is also fourth-generation winemaker at Bodega Catena Zapata.

‘For the first time, this study shows that the terroir effect can be chemically described from vintage to vintage in larger regions as well as in smaller parcelas (parcels),’

Out of the 23 vineyard parcels involved, 11 could be identified with 100% accuracy by analysing the wines.

The other 12 parcels were identified 83% of the time, said the Institute.

All the wines were produced under standardised conditions, and 12 geographical indications in Mendoza were represented among the 23 vineyard parcels – which were all under one hectare in size.

‘Our study gives credence to what the Burgundian Cistercian monks called ‘cru,’ simply defined by [wine writer] Hugh Johnson as “a homogeneous section of the vineyard whose wines year after year proved to have an identity of quality and flavour”,’ added Dr Catena.

‘Today, for the first time in the scientific literature, the French “cru” gets a Spanish name, “parcela”, because the wines studied at the Catena Institute of Wine were from Mendoza, Argentina.’

See the full study in Scientific Reports (a Nature Research Journal)

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