What's next for Argentina?
Wine pundits have been posing the question for years, prompted by the runaway success of malbec, the country's callingcard grape and dominant export.
To many consumers, Argentina is synonymous with the gutsy red variety, which yields inky-purple wines with a fruit-forward, mouth-filling profile. Malbec has had a good run over the past 15 years, not least in Canada, one of Argentina's key foreign markets. (Per capita, Canadians consume four times more Argentine wine than Americans.)
Is there another ace up the gaucho's sleeve? Some people say it's bonarda, the country's other signature red, which ranks just behind malbec in production volume. I remain unconvinced. Of French origin, Argentine bonarda is better known in its homeland as douce noire, an offbeat grape often reserved for blending with other varieties. On its own, it's a decent source of jug-style quaffing wines for the Argentine market, but it's tough to grow well and only rarely exhibits the harmony to rank it a major contender in competitive global markets.
Others often cite torrontes, a floral-grapey white that resembles muscat. Much as I like torrontes, a crisp, easy-sipping gem, I doubt it will ever rival malbec on the North American hit parade.
The smarter money is riding on more familiar varieties, such as cabernet sauvignon and syrah, both of which shine in the dry heat of the vast Mendoza region. For my money, though, the most captivating way forward rests on the country's growing expertise with multigrape blends, often built around malbec and typically containing such varieties as tannic cabernet sauvignon, smooth merlot, peppery syrah and grapey bonarda. Many of Argentina's greatest wines find their structure and grace in that sort of grape medley.
I think of such excellent examples as Cheval des Andes, Nicolas Catena Zapata and Achaval Ferrer Quimera, all expertly blended to achieve the two-, three- and four-part harmony that distinguishes the great reds of Bordeaux. Not surprisingly, my favourite three wines from last week's spotlight on Argentina at Ontario Vintages stores fall into that malbecloves-company category.
Altamira De Los Andes Navigato Family Selection Grand Reserve 2008 (Argentina)
A blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and malbec, this concentrated red is layered and complex, with big cassis, plum-preserve, vanilla and dark-chocolate flavours carried on a well-structured frame. Grainy tannins impart lively texture and cellaring potential of 12 years at least – or try it now with juicy steak.
Available in Ontario.
Chakana Estate Selection Red Blend 2011 (Argentina)
Malbec gets top billing here (at 60 per cent of the blend), joined by cabernet sauvignon and syrah. Exceedingly ripe and syrupy-thick in a way that calls to mind California zinfandel, it shows notes of prune and raisin anchored by spice and toasty oak. The tannins are fine and well-integrated. Barbecued ribs would make a fine pairing.
Available in Ontario.
Familia Mayol Cuatro Primos 2008 (Argentina)
This red combines malbec with syrah, cabernet sauvignon and bonarda. It comes across with a cheerful, almost confected quality suggesting blueberry and wine gums. But beneath the candy-store fruit are intriguing hints of spice and mineral. The 15-per-cent alcohol becomes noticeable on the finish. Pair it with grilled red meats.
Graffigna Grand Reserve Malbec 2010 (Argentina)
Ripe and sweet with intense berry flavour, it's disciplined by fresh acidity and layered with spices and pipe tobacco. It is a good value and great for burgers or roast pork.
$20.79 in N.S., $16.95 in PEI.
Alamos Seleccion Malbec 2010 (Argentina)
This should appeal to fans of well-priced malbec, with its up-front fruitiness underpinned by toasty oak, earth and juicy acidity. I like the whisper of Old Port cigar that makes an appearance on the finish. It would flatter grilled red meat.
$17.95 in Que.
Crios Torrontes 2010 (Argentina)
Even by torrontes standards, this dry white is highly aromatic, with substantial weight for the variety. Expect a big essence of white table grape as well as spice and floral notes, carried on a rounded frame.
$16.99 in B.C., $15.57 in Nfld.
Urraca Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Argentina)
This one's ripe and showing its five years of age, revealing a hint of prune and underbrush rescued by lively acidity and spice. Try it with roast lamb.
Available in Ontario.
Algodon Estate Bonarda 2010 (Argentina)
Medium-bodied yet concentrated in flavour, this red delivers bright berry fruit, dark chocolate and not-uncommon bonarda traits of high acidity and bitterness. Burgers are in order.
Alamos Chardonnay 2012 (Argentina)
Rather sweet, if technically dry, this full-bodied white is a vanilla bomb, with butter and pineapple in the mix. Good balancing acidity, though.
$14.99 in B.C., $15.95 in Que., $14.99 in N.S.