Argentina: More Than Just Malbec

  • by Tana Schwarz

One of my favorite moments while working in wine retail started with a young guest, asking me where the Malbec section was. They then stopped in their tracks and said:

“Actually, what’s hot in wine right now?”

“Not Malbec.” I answered. 

At the time I thought this to be true. Malbec was the canned tomato soup of wine. It was always great to have in the house just in case you needed it. Much like plain-old tomato soup, Malbec was a gateway into a wine region that had so much more to offer. (Just to note, now my tomato soup recipe consists of roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, parmesan cheese, and handmade croutons on top.)

Because we are in Colorado it only makes sense that we would find kinship in the wine regions of Argentina; both places exist in very high altitudes. Denver at 5,280 feet. Mendoza (one of many wine regions we will be discussing) sits at nearly 2,500 ft. High elevations are subjected to sporadic weather patterns, intense sunshine, and are home to diverse soil types. Needless to say, the odds are against you when trying to make wine. Luckily, Vitis vinifera lives for the struggle, and grape vines often thrive in poor growing conditions- could say it builds character. That’s what we love about Argentinian wines, they are full of character and perseverance. Grapes like Malbec and Torrontes, are the most common Argentinian wines here in the United States, and unfortunately the only wines wine professionals are tested on, but there are so many others we want you to try!

The story is as old as time: Spanish settlers brought cuttings over to Argentina for sacramental purposes and eventually people got thirsty. When phylloxera (root louse) hit Europe, winemakers flocked to the New World in order to salvage their profession, and those Europeans brought along new styles of winemaking techniques and their own expertise. Argentinean wines got the short end of the stick in the wine trade, for they had a bad reputation for being associated with bulk wine. Until political climates and public perception allowed for a few larger companies to pave the way for creative and unique projects to come onto the scene and elevate the wine in Argentina.

We totally get it, Malbec is delicious and it's a great value wine. It's usually higher in alcohol due to the warm climate which produces ripe fruity aromas with a bold mouthfeel. Some producers age the wine in oak which typically results in a fuller and richer style. Looking for California Cabernet Sauvignon on a budget and more chuggable? Try Malbec. Or perhaps, you’ve tried Malbec but want to see what other exciting wine things are happening in Argentina. Let I’d expand your horizons to the next level.

 are a few of our favorite Argentinian wines other than Malbec:

Durigutti “Proyecto Las Compuertos” Criolla Parral 2019

Pablo Durigutti celebrates the identities of individual small farms in Mendoza’s Andes Mountains. This wine is 100% Criolla Chica, otherwise known as Pais, or also known as the Mission grape. Their vines were planted in 1943 and the wines were fermented in concrete with native yeast. This wine is one of the best values in the shop; if you like cru Beaujolais, you should check this out. 

Alma 4 Blanc de Blancs Sparkling 2014

100% Chardonnay from sustainably-farmed, high elevation vineyards in the Valle de Uco appellation of Mendoza, Argentina. This Champagne method sparkling wine spent 50 months aging prior to release. An incredible value from an under-appreciated region for sparkling wine. Brioche, white flowers, and poached lemon aromas with an almond croissant finish.

Baja Tanga Sparkling Rosé

This wine was made to be enjoyed at the infamous night clubs in Argentina. You can dance until 8:00am and have fashionably delicious wine while you shake your booty. It’s 95% Chenin Blanc, 4% Torrontes and 1% Malbec. It tastes like all the gorgeous fruits waiting to be dipped into the chocolate fondue fountain at a fancy wedding. We’re talking figs, strawberries, and raspberries. Drink this with the strobe light on.

Escala Humana Livverá Bequignol 2019

Bequingnol is a pretty unknown grape that is aromatically similar to Gamay or Trosseau: Intensely floral with bouncy red berry aromas, bright acidity, and little spice to match. It’s a bit wild and funky, but you can handle it. Not to mention it comes from a single vineyard in the Uco Valley!

Ver Sacrum La Dama del Abrigo Rojo Nebbiolo 2018

 

Winemaker Eduardo Soler focuses on fresh, honest wines with minimal intervention. He has planted a variety of European grape varieties and this Nebbiolo is the fun oddball, because it's one of a few (excellent) examples you'll see outside of Italy! Ver Sacrum is the name of the vineyard and means "new tribe, new vineyard, new vines" representing the tradition of older generations sending the younger members of the community out to explore and find new villages and new grapes to grow.

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