Don't cry for Argentina's wine

Fresh styles, low prices attract U.S. wine consumers

 

Bodega Septima, an Argentine wine. (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / May 11, 2010)

Sorry, Evita, if there's any crying going on in Argentina these days, it's likely to be in the vineyards. And they're tears of joy.

Sales of Argentine wine continue to build strongly in the United States, according to The Nielsen Co., a market research firm. The amount of Argentine wine sold here increased 29 percent in the last year (May to May), Nielsen reported.

Why Argentina? Why now?

"Best value, best quality, best-looking women, although the last one is just a fringe benefit," quips Steve Weinberg of World Wine and Spirits, a wine brokerage based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Weinberg, who includes Argentine wineries among his accounts, recently was in Argentina, where he tasted wine from more than 25 wineries.

"The majority of the winemakers are young, under 35," he said. "Several are expatriated Americans, and at least three were women."

One of these ex-pats is Jeff Mausbach, former wine education director at Bodega Catena Zapata. An Argentine resident since 1996, he now is launching a wine line called Manos Negras.

"The Argentine wine industry has finally matured and learned that investing in quality, both in the vineyard and in the winery, will pay off in the long run," he wrote in an e-mail from Argentina. "We have hit our stride."

Mausbach said two factors make Argentine wine special: climate and value.

"Argentina has a very diverse collection of wine-growing regions, from Patagonia in the south to Salta in the north, spreading some 1,800 miles along the Andean corridor," he noted. "Despite these huge swings in latitude, there is one constant: a unique combination of sunny, dry desert conditions with very cool day and night temperatures. If you think about it, this is a very unique character. Most sunny places are hot and most cool places don't have a lot of sunshine. I like to call this concept 'refrigerated sunshine.'"

As for value, the cost of winemaking is low. "As responsible Argentine producers have learned to plow this advantage back into the price-to-quality relationship in their wines, they have increasingly won over U.S. consumers," he said.

Weinberg said he plans to target the so-called Millennials, the wine-savvy generation that came of age over the past decade, with Argentina's "$9.99 great value malbecs, torrontes and fantastic cabs."

"A $9.99 wine from Argentina will fit the American taste profile better than most $15.99 Old World choices," Weinberg said. "Argentina has more similarities than differences to America. Just as Italian immigrants were a major factor in the California wine industry, they also are a driving force in Argentina."

Malbec is Argentina's hot red. Mausbach hopes more consumers will learn about how the wine differs throughout the country, even within the various provinces.

"There is a lot of work to do here in terms of defining regionality," he said. "I think this will help to establish malbec as one of the great varieties, as opposed to being a flash in the pan."

Mausbach (and Weinberg) believes Argentine cabernet sauvignon will be rediscovered.

"I also like the odds for pinot noir from Patagonia, great site and great expression," Mausbach said. "We also have to keep bonarda in mind, the second largest planted red behind malbec. (It has) a very friendly style, ripe fruit, soft tannins, good acidity."

"So, in a nutshell, Argentina has a very attractive style of wine that is a real reflection of its terroir, its growing conditions," he added. "This style of ripeness with freshness is what is taking the world market by storm, especially in the U.S."

wdaley@tribune.com

Grilling mates

Think Argentine reds if you're cooking up something bold and beautiful on the grill for Memorial Day. Whether you're cooking T-bone steaks, curry-rubbed chicken breasts or Korean short ribs, a red from Argentina will have the fruit, the fragrance, the attitude to handle them.

The tasting panel tried five Argentine reds, four of which were malbecs or malbec-heavy blends. The fifth was a bonarda, originally an Italian red grape.

2007 Bodega Septima Gran Reserva: This Mendoza winery, an arm of Spain's Codorniu Group, produces a plummy blend of malbec, cabernet sauvignon and tannat. Big, chewy texture and rich, almost candied, notes of plum and raspberry. Lots of tannins, but the wine can handle it. Serve with grilled T-bone steak, Chinese-style spare ribs. ✭✭✭ $25

2008 Bodega Colome Estate Malbec: This wine from the Calchaqui Valley in far northern Salta province is colored an inky plum and sports a nose heady with cedar and berry scents. The flavor profile is a bit dusty with tannins, but there's a balancing note of black fruit and black pepper. The wine is 85 percent malbec with the remainder being tannat, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and syrah. Serve with grilled lamb loin chops, hanger steak. ✭✭✭ $25

2008 Clos de los Siete: Billed as a wine "by Michel Rolland," the world's best-known wine consultant, this Mendoza red is a blend of malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petit verdot. Purple tinted, the wine has a berry nose and a lively sweet-ish cherry flavor with a peppery tannic finish. Serve with grilled pork loin, spice-rubbed chicken breasts. ✭✭ $19

2008 Diseno Malbec: A bright Mendoza red with plenty of sass. The nose is of berry and oak, the fruit flavor is countered by notes of leather, tobacco and spice. Serve with Korean short ribs, leg of lamb. ✭✭ $9

2008 Argento Bonarda: An Italian red grape was used for this Mendoza red. Look for violets, cherry and hay on the nose. The flavor offers blackberry and anise notes with a touch of tannic bitterness on the finish. Serve with grilled sweetbreads, cheeseburgers, salmon. ✭✭ $10

You want that wine. But your store or area distributor may not carry it. State law may prohibit you from ordering a wine online. What to do? Ask your wine retailer for a wine similar in flavor, style and price. Remember, too, prices vary.

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