Wines of Argentina Annual Trade Tasting 15/09/09

Once again, the Autumn season started with the Wine s of Argentina tasting at the Lord’s Nursery Pavilion. This year about 90 producers were represented, often by the owner or winemaker, and in most cases by their UK agent. The number rises every year with the increasing popularity of Argentine wine in the UK market.

I tasted a wide selection of wines, and found many that were good value for money, particularly in the £10-12 range. This is in marked contrast to some other regions, where wines in this price bracket are stolidly commercial.

As well as stands dedicated to the individual brands, there were three themed tables, one showing old vine wines (some from vines over a century old). While most of these are Malbecs, two Torrontes wines (from Etchart and El Porvenir de los Andes ) showed a good depth of fruit character. Bodegas Chacra were showing very high quality Pinot Noirs from vineyards planted in 1932 and 1955. O Fournier include some old vine Tempranillo in their B Crux, and Michel Torino showed a very interesting Tannat made from old vines growing at very high altitude.

The second table showed ‘wine bar’ wines wholesaling at £5-8 a bottle (and available to sell at £2.50- £4.00 per 125cl glass). These are unserious, but generally well-made wines, and ready to drink as soon as they arrive in the country, even the Malbec and Cabernet styles.

Last of the themed tables presented a range of Malbecs ordered by the altitude of the vineyards, mostly from the 2007 vintage, for comparison. All the notable Argentine vineyards are well inland on rising ground, so climate conditions are continental, with hot summers and cold winters. At altitude, nights are also cold in the growing season. Malbec seems to thrive at low altitudes (200-300 metres) in Patagonia in the south of the country (equivalent to the latitude of the South Island of New Zealand). The best vineyards then rise along the Andes from 800-1,600 metres in Mendoza (peaking at Tupungato ), to nearly 2,000 metres in San Juan and considerably higher in Salta – Bodegas Colome has a vineyard at over 3,100 metres, right up to the snow-line. The wine region is north of the Tropic of Capricorn, at the same latitude as Rio de Janiero.

What the display showed was that good growers can produce fine wine grapes anywhere that is suited to the vine. There was no marked difference between the wines at the top level, with house styles seemingly more important than altitude differences. What it marked out was that the vineyards which were lower in altitude than their neighbours produced coarse and flabby wines by comparison. The outstanding wines were from Bodegas del Fin del Mundo in Patagonia , Pulenta in the lower Mendoza region, Dominio del Plata in the mid region, and Jean Bousquet in Tupungato . The top Salta wines were marked by subtlety and freshness, especially the Bodegas Colome.

In the main hall, I concentrated on wines from Patagonia , where the range of varieties planted expands by the year. The wines are still relatively expensive by the standards of Mendoza , given the isolation of the area and the recent spending on planting and new wineries. Makers such as Universo Austral and Fin del Mundo are starting to show some quality in their middle price wines, although the entry level ones are generally green in taste due to the immaturity of the vines. Pinot Noir is an important grape, although the complexity of the wines (apart from the 70 year-old vines at Chacra) is not up to Burgundian standards or New Zealand ’s Central Otago plantings. Merlot is producing some excellent fruity wines, especially at Humberto Canale, but the Cabernets that I tasted seemed to be made from young vine grapes. White wines from the region, especially Chardonnay, show considerable promise.

Tasting notes on many of the wines can be found in Ian’s Wine Log