Until recently, it’s been relatively easy to pigeonhole the wines from Argentina. All you really needed to know was the malbec grape and the Mendoza region and you had a solid (if overly simplistic) handle on a country that ranks as the world’s fifth-largest producer of wine.
Despite a 400-year-old tradition of winemaking, Argentina is a relative newcomer to exporting its wines. Local thirst was sufficient to consume the majority of production coming from local vineyards until the 1990s, when the country faced a steady decline in national wine consumption. Suddenly, there was a serious need to find alternate sales channels.
Wineries in Argentina proved to be a quick study and effectively used their signature grape, malbec, to open global markets. Those plush, ripe and often oaky mass-market red wines made such an impression, it was a challenge to engage consumers on another level. That didn’t matter, as malbec pushed aside Australian shiraz to become the world’s “It” grape in the 2000s.
Today, as consumer tastes continue to evolve, there’s been considerable effort to showcase what Argentinian wine is truly about.
A major spotlight at LCBO outlets across Ontario, which wraps up this weekend, and promotional efforts in other provinces show increasing interest in the bigger picture of what’s happening across Argentina, including in wine-growing areas to the north and south.
Mendoza remains the country’s largest and most prolific wine-making region, accounting for more than 85 per cent of the country’s wine production. There’s a large amount of malbec planted across Mendoza’s dramatic range of vineyard districts, but there are also bonarda, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, tempranillo and merlot grapes that add to the ready supply of enjoyable red wines. The focus is shifting from affordable table wines to high-quality reds that showcase a specific vineyard or growing region.
The Mendoza region is also home to a range of white varieties, led by chardonnay and torrontes riojano, the latter of which is considered the best clone of the aromatic grape variety that’s unique to Argentina. The extreme altitude of the vineyards combined with abundant sunny days and cool nights allow winemakers to successfully ripen a range of grapes for complex and compelling white, red and rosé wines.
This week’s recommended wines are some of the standouts from a recent tasting of 30 selections from Argentina. The focus here is to show affordable wines that you can enjoy now or throughout the year. Most of these wines hail from Mendoza, with some well-made examples of classic malbec in the mix. But it’s the unexpected bottles, including noteworthy cabernet sauvignons and a provocative white blend, that go to show what else wine lovers can expect from Argentina going forward.
Alamos Malbec 2018 (Argentina)
This full-bodied and fruity red wine zeros in on the crowd-pleasing nature of malbec from Argentina. It has an easy-to-appreciate smooth texture, with ripe fruit and spicy aromas and flavours. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price ($14 until Aug. 16), $14.99 in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, various prices in Alberta, $17.99 in Nova Scotia, $18.99 in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.
Argento Seleccion Pinot Grigio 2019 (Argentina)
This is an enjoyable dry white wine that’s fruity and enjoyable. It offers pleasant floral, peach and melon notes that make it a solid everyday sipping wine. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price ($10 until Aug. 16), $13.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $14.99 in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.
El Esteco 1947 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (Argentina)
This aromatic and nicely structured cabernet is made from pergola-trained vines in the winery’s Las Mercedes vineyard in Cafayate Valley, located in the north of the country’s wine regions. Its aromas and flavours suggest spice, herbs and dark fruit notes. Fermented and aged solely in concentrate, the flavours aren’t overwhelmed or obscured by oak barrel notes. The finished wine is balanced and complex with nice smooth texture that’s approachable now but promises to age gracefully. Drink now to 2027. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (Argentina)
Made in an appealingly ripe and enjoyable style, this is a great example of how good cabernet sauvignon grown in Mendoza can be. This delivers classic cabernet character, with plum, berry and herbal aromas accented by cedar and spice notes from oak barrel aging. Drink now to 2026. Available in Ontario at the above price, $16.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $14.99 in Manitoba, $16 in Quebec, $17.99 in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.
Salentein Portillo Pinot Noir Uco Valley 2018 (Argentina)
Consumers might be surprised to see a pinot noir coming from vineyards in Mendoza’s Uco Valley, but it’s a timely reminder that the region is capable of more than just malbec. Made in a soft and fruity style, this wine’s ripe berry and cherry notes make it an attractive summer red. Drink now. Vegan-friendly. Available in British Columbia at the above price, $16.95 in Ontario, available as a case of 12 direct from azureau.com.
Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2018 (Argentina)
This consistently captures the bold fruit and concentrated character of malbec from the Uco Valley. Its core of blueberry and plum fruit is rounded out by chocolate and spice notes. The texture is creamy and smooth with freshness and acidity to balance. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario at the above price, $16.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $18.99 in Saskatchewan, $15.99 in Manitoba.
Susana Balbo Signature White Blend 2018 (Argentina)
Winemaker Susana Balbo is responsible for a number of well-known brands, including Crios and BenMarco. Her Signature portfolio represent some of the most innovative and exciting wines being produced in Argentina, like this provocative and compelling barrel fermented blend of semillon, sauvignon blanc and torrontes. This white successfully manages to be both rich and refreshing in nature. Complex and mouthwatering. The end result is stunning. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario.
Trapiche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (Argentina)
This seriously structured and enjoyable red is one of the best-value cabernets available right now. Its mix of juicy dark fruit and spice notes are nicely enhanced by a smooth texture and a refreshing finish. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $13.60 in Quebec, $14.79 in New Brunswick, $14.99 in Newfoundland.
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