It may be said without question that the mention of South American wine summons up two immediate thoughts: Argentina and Malbec (what lovely thoughts!). Not too shabby for a region and a grape that have really only been major contributors to the international wine industry since the late 1980s. (For you Millennials out there, that must seem like a lifetime.) So how did it all happen? What about Chile, Brazil, and Uruguay–can’t they play too? Of course; there’s room for everyone, and throughout the month of March we are going to taste and discuss South America’s wine regions and what they do best. This weekend we’re starting out with two tremendous selections from Argentina.
With its location at the Southern Cone of the continent, Argentina is situated in an exceptional place for growing wine grapes. The air is dry, and thanks to the magic of the Andes, snowmelt provides plenty of irrigation. Seemingly eternal sunshine and high elevations also lend a hand; the summers are hot, and the lack of humidity causes nighttime temperatures to drop significantly—this helps wine grapes retain acidity. Given these optimal conditions, Argentina inhabits the largest portion of suitable viticultural land in South America. Now here’s where the grapes come in…
The first wine vines were brought to the Americas by Spanish colonizers in the early 16th century. Catholic priests who came to these lands planted vineyards near their monasteries to make certain wine was always accessible for celebration of the Holy Mass. Most of Argentina’s population is of European origin, a large percentage being from Spain and Italy—naturally, wine would become an integral part of Argentine culture and everyday living. The arrival of these immigrants–and their use of lands that were well-suited to agriculture and livestock–laid the foundations for Argentina’s wine industry to become international.
It was in the mid 19th century when French vines (yes, one was Malbec) were introduced to Mendoza, a wine region in Argentina accounting for more than 70% of the country’s vineyard acreage. Currently, there are over 76,000 acres planted to Malbec in Argentina; in France there are 13,000—pretty impressive, huh?
Over the years, the winemaking model in Argentina went through many transformations. In the 1970s the industry was based on large volumes of low quality wines geared toward the domestic market. In the late 1980s a new era began, which saw Argentina become incorporated into the global market by new foreign and local businesspeople. These entrepreneurs geared the industry towards the production of small volumes of top quality wines made from top quality grapes (Yes, the big one was Malbec), both for export and domestic consumption. This, in combination with new and advanced techniques in winemaking and marketing, had finally placed Argentina’s wine industry in the international market.
This all brings us to the two amazing wines we are going to taste and, their producer, Finca Abril. Founded in 1996 by Gustavo and Maria Laura, the focus of Finca Abril is to produce limited editions of high quality wines. This project was conceived in a small part of an old farm in the Uco Valley in Mendoza, where vineyards had been planted to Malbec in 1922.
We begin with the Alhambra Torrontés, a unique and vibrant white coming to us from one of Finca Abril’s single vineyards in the Northern region of Salta. These vines were planted in 1974 and the Torrontés grapes that grow from them are always hand-harvested, with the utmost care, and farmed organically. This medium-bodied treasure boasts copious amounts of honeysuckle and orange blossom on the nose and palate. It is perfectly balanced with bright acidity and a long, creamy finish. Pair this Torrontés with spicy Thai dishes, pork chops, soft cheeses, roasted or fresh vegetables, and it will thank you (your mouth will, too).
If you would like, do a drumroll here…We bring you the Finca Abril Art Collection Gran Reserva. Aged for two years, this full-bodied blend of, yes, Malbec (71% to be exact) and Cabernet Sauvignon is a grand example of what Argentina, specifically Mendoza, can do with this French varietal. Coming from the Uco Valley, where Malbecs are more elegant in style and have a beautiful blend of spice and floral notes, the Art Collection is soft, yet robust in flavor. Malbecs from Argentina are notoriously dark in color, and this wine is almost black with hints of purple that glisten and shimmer through your glass. Enjoy this bold red with red meats, grilled meats, hard cheeses, and pasta dishes with tomato-based sauces.
And so we embark on our journey through the wines of South America. Come taste with us and discover remarkable Malbec, dazzling Torrontés, and many more. We’re glad to have you aboard.