I am so excited to start having a discussion all about Argentina! Argentina has an incredibly interesting winemaking history that somehow seems very recent in comparison to Europe’s. However, they actually have been making wine for nearly 500 years! As far as being on the radar of other countries, Argentina’s history in the world of winemaking seems quite young. There are several reasons why their wine has recently reached such high acclaim and relevancy after seeming, for many, many years, to be almost non-existent on the foreign markets.
Argentina has a fascinating climate that has lent itself to, eventually, producing world-class wines. It is not widely known, but grapes do not produce the best juice when they are incredibly “happy”. They are actually prone to produce a higher quality juice when they are under just the right amount of stress. The environment present in the best growing regions of Argentina places the grapes under huge amounts of stress in the best possible ways. Approximately 300 days of sunshine, incredibly cool nights, limited rain, protection by the Andes Mountain range and extremely controlled irrigation all come together to keep the vines under just the right amount of stress to produce small clusters of grapes. This small-cluster grape production is called a “low-yield” and produces the most intense and extracted fruit flavors. This, in-turn, creates the deepest and richest flavors in the bottle and has made Argentina’s terroir famous in recent decades.
Before producing what is now considered the world’s best Malbec (only real rival being Cahors, France) Argentina had a bit of a tumultuous winemaking history. The vines themselves came to the country in several different ways, but the most commonly told tale is that the Spanish brought it to the continent in the 16th Century where they were planted all over the Americas, including Argentina. These early vines, and wines, were of very poor quality and they were only the beginning to the unfortunate beginnings of Argentina’s winemaking past.
Argentina is actually the world’s fifth largest wine producer. So, with such a lengthy winemaking history, why is it only in the past few decades, has Argentinian wine become relevant? Argentina has had a rocky past culturally, which directly affected its winemaking history. Only just over a few decades ago, Argentinians were consuming nearly a bottle a day per person. Now they are drinking less than half that amount per person while, in turn, the average American has increased their wine consumption.
There are several contributing factors to the decrease in drinking in Argentina. Most of those start with Chile. Winemaking was booming in Chile after major changes to both their growing practices and winemaking choices and Argentina decide to follow suit. They altered their practices to follow the guidelines used in Chile and immediately saw positive results in the quality of the wine produced. There was also, at the time, an increase in cultural and political unrest which rose to a focus and need for foreign exports and money. From this unrest and need for exports rose a need for a well-respected, economy-assisting winemaking industry. Quite a bit can also be owed to a single man, Miguel Pouget, a French agronomist, who brought several Bordeaux varietals to Argentina assisted by future Argentine president Domenico Sarmiento. Amongst those vines brought by Miguel was the Malbec varietal—which found a true home in the elevated desserts of Argentina and the Andes Mountains.
Come join us on Tuesday for a beautiful tasting through South America, including, of course, Argentina. Next week, we will dive more into the history of the Malbec grape and Susana Balboa.