It’s not all about Malbec in Mendoza

Wines from Mendoza
Wines from Mendoza

Argentina has been making wine since the mid 16th century, but it is really only in the past 15 years or so that it has begun to make a name for itself in the world of wine.

Historically, Argentina had a very healthy domestic market with nearly all it produced being consumed within the country.

When this began to decline export markets started to open up, which in turn led to a significant increase in quality wine production.

The country has now established a reputation for top quality reds, and a great deal of foreign investment has occurred, notably from some of the top French wine companies. The far western region of Mendoza is the heart of the Argentine wine industry, producing between 70 and 80 percent of the country’s wine. Mendoza is close to the Andes mountain range and the best vineyards are located at altitudes of 3,000 ft and more. The altitude lowers the temperature and creates ideal climatic conditions for high quality wines.

There are several subregions of Mendoza, those of particular note in terms of quality wines being the Lujan de Cuyo in the upper Mendoza Valley and the Uco Valley, south-west of the city of Mendoza itself. The one Argentine grape variety that every wine drinker knows and undoubtedly tasted at some time, is Malbec, which has been tremendously successful. So much so that it has somewhat overshadowed the other grape varieties and wines that are deserving of more attention.

Mendoza is known mainly for its red wines, but it also produces a range of fine whites from high altitude vineyards. Some of these are from grape varieties not often associated with Argentina, such as Chenin Blanc, once grown widely, but now more of a rarity. La Primera Revancha Mendoza Chenin Blanc 2017 is made by Roberto de la Mota, one of Argentina’s top wine-makers, from low-yielding, old vineyards at over 3,000 ft altitude. Using 20 percent barrel fermentation, a delicious, fruity wine is produced with tremendous intensity of ripe, peachy fruit, with a fresh, dry palate. Amazing value at £12.50 from The Wine Society, which has an outstanding selection of Argentine wines.

The old bodega of Mendel makes a very interesting white from the Semillon variety, from 70-year-old vines in the cool, Altamira district of south Mendoza. Wonderful flavours of greengages and light oak, from partial barrel fermentation. Wine Society £12.95. Chardonnay also does well in Mendoza, such as Zaha Tunuyan Chardonnay 2016 grown at nearly 4,000 ft. No oak is used at all, producing a taut, steely character wine with excellent structure, body and elegance. £18 from The Wine Society.

With red wines from Mendoza, it is difficult to avoid Malbec, yet there are many wines where Malbec is but one of several red varieties used, with other varieties blended in to great effect, adding more dimensions.

The Zaha winery, for example, which also makes the wonderful Chardonnay, blends Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot with the Malbec, producing a silky, complex wine with fine structure. Cavas de Weinert, one of the highest acclaimed wineries of Argentina, uses Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the blend. The 2007 vintage is complex with notes of leather, cigar-box and tobacco, with deep, satisfying, dark fruit flavours that linger on the palate. Old style Argentinian red. Both available from The Wine Society – £25 and £20 respectively.

Another hugely successful blend is Clos de los Siete, a project started by the top Bordeaux wine consultant Michel Rolland, uniting seven different producers and many different Bordeaux vineyard owners. Malbec is blended with Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, resulting in a wine of exquisite intensity, complexity and finesse. (Sainsburys £17).

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.

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