Early wine production in Argentina was an isolated affair. For around 300 years wine made in the west of the country, in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, had to be transported by wagon to major population centers such as Buenos Aries in the east. All that changed in the 1880s when the completion of railroads to Mendoza helped connect Argentina’s winemakers to Buenos Aries and the international markets. Unfortunately however, it appears that nobody was producing anything worth buying.
The arrival of large numbers of European immigrants with winemaking skills in the late 19th and early 20th centuries helped to turn Argentina into the world’s largest wine producing nation outside of Europe. However much of the wine produced in Argentina was of mediocre quality and most of it went to supply a domestic market with a seemingly insatiable appetite for cheap vino de mesa.
However, the 1990s saw a revolution within Argentina’s wine industry. The industry benefited from a new wave of foreign investment, an increasingly aggressive export policy and a growing emphasis on quality and the application of new winemaking techniques. Today Argentina is the world’s fifth-largest wine producer and, increasingly, the wine industry is capturing a growing share of international exports. This transformation of fortunes for Argentina’s wine industry has been described in Ian Mount’s book, The Vineyard at the End of the World. In it, he tells the story of how wines which once had a reputation for being highly unpalatable experienced a dramatic turnaround to the extent that, in 2001, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec blend beat all of its contenders in a blind tasting contest, which included top wines from Bordeaux and California’s Napa Valley.
Although some Argentinean producers blend Malbec with other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (see Making section of the website for more information) standalone Malbecs continue to capture and attention and wallets of international consumers. Experimentation with the production of Malbec using higher altitudes and advanced winemaking techniques has helped to elevate the status of this grape.
This week’s Drinking and Pairing sections of the Drake Vine explore the key characteristics and perfect food pairing partners of Malbec and Argentina’s signature white grape variety Torrontés. A perfect picnic wine – or as an ideal accompaniment to the Wimbledon final – some of the best Torrontés is produced in Argentina’s northern Cafayate region, home to the world’s highest vineyards. Remember to scroll to the top of the page and click on the Growing, Making, Pairing and Drinking tabs for more information on the grapes and wines of Argentina.