As you wander around Argentina, it’s easy to see why Malbec was cast in the leading role of the country’s vibrant wine industry. Widely planted across the country’s rugged landscape, it delivers impressive wines that are dark in colour, rich in flavour and velvety smooth.
Better yet, the grape variety expresses different personalities depending where it is grown, from the bold spicy flavours from Salta to the brighter, fruity charm examples from Patagonia.
Even in Mendoza, the country’s largest and best-known region, Malbec can be distinctively different depending on where it’s grown. It’s capable of making simple, soft and fruity wines that retail for less than $10 as well as dramatic, complex and structured reds that sell for much, much more.
But for all of its many and obvious charms, Malbec isn’t the only grape of interest. There are other grape varieties that have star power and an incredible array of wines produced by blending different grapes to produce remarkable wines.
Any discussion of wine in Argentina is quick to single out Torrontés, a fragrant grape that was originally believed to be a Spanish, which is capable of producing exotic white wines. The vine is unique to Argentina and performs best in the high elevation vineyards in the northern most wine region of Salta.
Some winemakers looking to be kingmakers wishfully call Torrontés, the white Malbec. They hope it will follow in the wake of success created by Malbec, which has taken the world of wine by storm in the past decade.
But Torrontés’ intensely floral and spicy personality makes it too bold for many wine drinkers. Like Gewürztraminer or Muscat, it’s a love or hate prospect for many consumers. Such a polarizing character makes it a supporting character at best.
Locals are quick to order red wines made from Bonarda and Tannat to enjoy with their steak. These robust, tannic reds are the perfect foil for grilled beef, but they lack the smooth, supple texture that gives Malbec mass appeal.
The grape that comes closest to matching Malbec’s many splendors is Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s also made in significant volume to fulfill demand across Argentina’s vast export markets.
You can find terrific examples of Cabernet from across the country, with many memorable bottles that would sell in Canada for $15.
“We think Argentina is famous for its Malbec, but we think it can do fantastic Cabernet as well at very interesting price points,” says Andres T. Kemeny, export manager for the venerable Casa Bianchi.
Malbec will always have its place in the firmament, but wineries are increasing leery that it’s popularity with wine lovers will wane. They’ve seen Australia’s fortunes fall after Shiraz fell out of fashion and don’t want to suffer the same fate.
The next big thing that they are looking for is right under their noses.
Wines of the Week:
Domaine Bousquet 2012 Organic Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina
BC $15.99 | AB $14.99 | MB $14.99 | $12.95 (218875)
Here’s a good example of the enjoyable and approachable style of Cabernet that Argentina is capable of. It’s nice juicy fruit character has mass appeal, while the price and organic classification add to its attractiveness.
Domaine Bousquet 2012 Organic Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina
BC $15.99 | AB $14.99 | MB $14.99 | $12.95 (160952)
This is a great example of the bold, juicy fruit character that has made Malbec a star. A subtle spiciness adds interest to this easy-going and attractive red that’s a great option for entertaining around the grill.