Wines of Argentina Trade Show

Following last week’s Chilean event, the London fair took place on 17 September at Lords Nursery Pavillion. The weather was well suited to a day out, and there was a cricket match being played on the Nursery ground which we could glimpse between stalls.

I didn’t get to last year’s Argentina show, so the contrast with two years ago quite extreme. There number of wines and exhibitors has doubled, and the focus on premium wines was even more marked. As at the Chile show, I was concentrating on wines retailing for £10 or more, but the 60 odd I tried were well under half the number in that category.

Viticulture in Argentina spreads a long way from North to south – from 25 o to 40 o of latitude south. In northern hemisphere terms, that would be Sicily to the middle of the Sahara Desert . Virtually all vineyards are at altitude, however, ranging from 300 metres in the Neuquen and Rio Negro regions of Patagonia in the south to over 3,000 metres in Salta in the north. Thus most vineyards are hot in the day in the growing season and cold at night and in the winter. Soils are generally poor and rainfall in the growing season minimal. There is plenty of glacier melt-water for irrigation. Alternative uses for the land are scarce, so large plantations can be afforded on suitable sites for most grape varieties. The lack of rain, and the isolation of the vineyards, means that vine diseases are uncommon, and rot barely known, except around a new reservoir in the Mendoza region – even here, the grapes tend to get botrytis rather than the damaging grey rot.

Vines have been planted in Argentina since the days of the Conquistadors, and noble varieties were widely planted in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but immigrants from Europe . Old vines are thus quite common, albeit at lower altitudes than would be considered ideal today.

The classic grapes of Argentina are Malbec (a Bordeaux variety) for red wines, and Torrontes (which has been developed from a grape of Northern Spain ) for whites. Italian varieties are often used for wines for local consumption, and old Bonarda vineyards are beginning to be used for blending in premium wines. There are many 50 to 100 year old Cabernet Sauvignon vines, with some Chardonnay, Semillon, Torrontes, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Tannat vines of similar age, often exploited by boutique wineries. More recent plantings include Sauvignon Blanc , Riesling, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot. The last two red varieties are beginning to make some excellent wines – these will improve are the vines grow older and less productive.

Like Chile , Argentina has seen an influx of foreign groups, with many Bordeaux chateaux having a presence. Many of them have gathered in the highest part of Mendoza in the upper part of the Uco Valley . The group of seven estates ‘Clos de los Siete’ advised by Michel Rolland and including the Cuvlier los Andes operation owned by Ch Léoville-Poyferré (showing here for the first time) match the commune of Pomerol in extent. Nearby, there are vineyards owned by François Lurton , and boutique operations such as Gougenheim and Carlos Pulenta . Very high quality wines are being produced from an area where there were few vines a decade ago.

Some of the local producers seem to be in competition to plant vineyards at extreme altitudes – the current record (according to Guinness) is held by Bodegas Colomé, who’s highest vineyard in Salta’s Calchaqui Valley rises from 3,002 to over 3,150 metres: the owner comments that the Andes are twice as high as that! Other northerly regions such as La Rioja, are still mainly given over to wine for local consumption.

In Patagonia , where the climate is more equable, the vineyards grow a wide range of noble grapes, including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and commonly make blends. There are many new operations starting, but the long-established ones have a solid market position and get good prices.

Notes on some of the wines are in Ian’s Wine Log