2016-09-01 / Wine Notes

No Need to Cry for Argentina

Robert D. Richards, CSW

For much of its wine history — and it dates back more than 500 years — Argentina made wine mostly for itself. Until the 1990s, much of the wine produced there was consumed within its borders. In the early 2000s, however, Argentine wine exports began to soar, and the industry has never looked back.

The vineyards, located in valleys formed by glaciers in the shadows of the Andes, the world’s largest mountain range, today produce top-quality grapes. Glaciers stripped the soil of organic materials. While that may not sound like a good thing, the poor soil quality turns out to be a great asset for grape vines because the roots of the plants are forced to burrow deep into the ground for nutrients. Those deep roots help to create the intensity of flavors that the vines pour back into their fruit.

One of the reasons the Argentinian wine industry has flourished in the past quarter century is a visionary vintner who recognized that the country had the ability to take its place on the world’s wine stage.

Amid political turmoil in the early 1980s, Nicolás Catena left Argentina to join the economics faculty at the University of California, Berkeley. While there, close to California’s famed Napa Valley, he took his winemaking inspiration from California vintners whose soils and climate, in key respects, were not unlike his own native turf.

Upon returning to Mendoza and his family’s wine business, he planted Malbec vineyards, now the country’s signature red grape. Catena worked to develop a clone of this French varietal that would flourish in Argentina’s soils. His daughter, a Stanford-trained physician, took over cultivating the Malbec vineyards and, under her direction, the quality continued to soar to new heights, quite literally, by planting high-altitude vineyards that took advantage of the region’s microclimates.

Today, Laura Catena keeps a foot in both camps — practicing emergency medicine in San Francisco and running her own winery in Mendoza — all while remaining general director of her family’s winery, Bodega Catena Zapata. For his efforts, Nicolás Catena was voted the decade’s top “Argentine Wine Personality” earlier this year.  The rest of us get to enjoy Argentina’s contribution to the wine world: Malbec. •SCM

Manos Negras Malbec Stone Soil Select Argentina 2010
(#72499, $16.99)
This wine gets its name from the gravely soils that help stress the vines. There are hints of black cherry in its pleasant aroma.
Catena Malbec
Mendoza Classic 2012

(#72673, $18.99)
This wine displays Malbec’s characteristic deep purple color, along with notes of dark fruit and hints of chocolate and tobacco.
Susana Balbo Signature Malbec Valle de Uco 2012
(#72704, $22.99)
Hints of both chocolate and vanilla grace the finish of this powerful wine that reminds us why Argentina is a great place to grow Malbec.

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