Argentina is a big country. As a matter of fact, it is the eighth biggest country on earth. It enjoys all the climates from tropical in the North to artic in the Patagonia region. Mountains, large plains, forests, deserts, it has it all. Its population is as diverse as it climates, from the native Incas to the more recent waves of European immigration. It is said that Argentina is a country were Spanish is spoken with an Italian accent.
Malbec, Argentina’s signature wine, is a native grape of Cahors in France. Relatively unknown in France, Malbec found its fame in Mendoza, where it became a lighter, juicier wine than its French cousin.
Argentina’s wine industry, unlike Chile, has always been aimed at serving its domestic market. Hence the wines have a strong sense of place. They are not a cheaper version of Californian wines. The vineyards tended to be smaller, and produced more idiosyncratic wines rather than a polished product designed for the international market. Although today most commercial vineyards are large industrial plantations, there is a real culture of winemaking and a sense of “terroir” that guide the industry. Let’s be cautious here however, everything in the wine world is changing so rapidly.
Since the end of the Peron dictatorship, the Argentine wine industry has been enjoying a gilded age. Malbec is an American superstar and the number of new wineries is growing exponentially. The other important varietals are Bonarda, a softer lower acidity red wine, and Torrontes, a light-bodied, dry aromatic white wine. In my view the best Argentinian wines are the inexpensive ones. When they go much over $25.00 a bottle they tend to be excessive in all aspects; heavier, oakier, more alcoholic. My advice: Stay with the cheapies.
The wine region used to be concentrated around Mendoza at the foothills of the Andes. San Juan, La Rioja, Cafayate, and Rio Negro are the new places to look for.
Argentina’s gastronomy has many mothers: Spanish, Italian, German, and also Irish (yes, Gaelic is still spoken in some remote Patagonian valleys), as well as the BBQ tradition from the Gauchos. For those of you interested in the art of cooking over a fire, I strongly recommend Francis Maillmann’s book “Seven Fires”. Inspiring. It will revolutionize your Sunday barbeque.