December 16, 2017

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Opinion

Argentine terrain offers unique tastes

Juan Marcó of Finca Decero winery near Mendoza, Argentina, explains soil variations in front of Malbec vines. Malbec is the star of the show in these parts – It's Argentina's signature red wine grape.</p>

BEN MACPHEE-SIGURDSON

Juan Marcó of Finca Decero winery near Mendoza, Argentina, explains soil variations in front of Malbec vines. Malbec is the star of the show in these parts – It's Argentina's signature red wine grape.

MENDOZA, Argentina — When the mercury starts to plunge in Winnipeg come the end of November, there are certainly worse things to do than head south to Argentina.

Such is the Herculean task I have undertaken. As you read this, I’m wrapping up a 10-day trek through the South American country’s wine regions. The trip, arranged by the Wines of Argentina trade organization, has so far seen me and a group of other Canadian writers visit the northern Salta and Cafayate regions as well as the Uco Valley and Mendoza, the heart of Argentine wine production.

Most Argentine grape vineyards are nestled against the Andes Mountains, and are on average the world’s highest-altitude vineyards. Vineyards in the Salta and Cafayate regions are located around 1,600 metres or more above sea level, with some spots pushing nearly double that elevation. That height exposes the grapes to more intense sunlight and UV rays, creates drastic swings between day and night temperatures and causes changes in mountain soils as you climb up the hillsides.

As most wine drinkers know, Malbec is the star of the show in these parts — it’s Argentina’s signature red wine grape, and practically everyone makes one (and my teeth feel like I’ve tried them all). The grape typically produces dark, full-bodied reds with plenty of brambly black fruit and chocolatey notes. Other red grapes produced in larger quantities here include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and the relatively obscure (at least in our market) Bonarda.

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MENDOZA, Argentina — When the mercury starts to plunge in Winnipeg come the end of November, there are certainly worse things to do than head south to Argentina.

Such is the Herculean task I have undertaken. As you read this, I’m wrapping up a 10-day trek through the South American country’s wine regions. The trip, arranged by the Wines of Argentina trade organization, has so far seen me and a group of other Canadian writers visit the northern Salta and Cafayate regions as well as the Uco Valley and Mendoza, the heart of Argentine wine production.

Most Argentine grape vineyards are nestled against the Andes Mountains, and are on average the world’s highest-altitude vineyards. Vineyards in the Salta and Cafayate regions are located around 1,600 metres or more above sea level, with some spots pushing nearly double that elevation. That height exposes the grapes to more intense sunlight and UV rays, creates drastic swings between day and night temperatures and causes changes in mountain soils as you climb up the hillsides.

As most wine drinkers know, Malbec is the star of the show in these parts — it’s Argentina’s signature red wine grape, and practically everyone makes one (and my teeth feel like I’ve tried them all). The grape typically produces dark, full-bodied reds with plenty of brambly black fruit and chocolatey notes. Other red grapes produced in larger quantities here include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and the relatively obscure (at least in our market) Bonarda.

Reds with the "reserve" designation on the label have a minimum of 12 months in barrel, and many of the premium reds — single-variety Malbecs, or other grapes, or blends — see much more time in oak. As is the case in many winemaking regions, the premium reds tend to be aged in oak even longer than that. Those bigger, woodier examples are certainly age-worthy, but can be a bit rough without some time in a decanter (or even just poured in a glass and left to sit for a while). That means many of the newly released top-tier reds we tried were probably tasted too young, but that’s unavoidable.

Aside: a highlight of the trip was tasting a bottle of the 1974 Norton Malbec, the first commercially made example of the grape to come from Argentina. It was still drinking surprisingly well, and was a real treat.

Many of the Malbecs I’ve enjoyed the most while in Argentina have been the ones that see less time in oak barrels and/or those that are aged in previously used oak barrels that impart less flavour. Many producers are aging Malbec in concrete eggs or vats, which is essentially neutral, flavour-wise, and allows the bright, brambly black fruit the wines tend to bring to shine through.

Among white wines, Torrontés reigns supreme. The grape produces light, fresh, highly aromatic white wines that offer stone fruit and spice notes, sometimes with a hint of sweetness. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are other white wine grapes that get some decent attention here.

There’s also some really decent sparkling wine being made in Argentina, from traditional Chardonnay/Pinot Noir bubblies being made in the traditional method perfected in France’s Champagne region to other examples made from Malbec, Torrontés and any/combination of grapes.

I’ll have more on this trip once I’m back in Winnipeg and am able to pore through my chicken-scratch notes.

uncorked@mts.net

Twitter: @bensigurdson

Read more by Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson  .

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History

Updated on Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 8:45 AM CST: Corrects reference to Juan Marcó

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