Dip into the variety pack
Published:  18 April, 2008

Malbec has won over UK wine drinkers with its friendly, fruity, fulsome flavour but, as a panel of experts compiled by OLN was keen to testify, Argentina offers a huge range of other varieties too

If you asked seven wine experts what grape varieties they found most exciting in Argentina, it's a fair bet

Malbec would come out in front. But that's not the only variety

making an impression. Argentina's rich selection of grape cultivars gives producers an exceptional box of tricks to work with, making it one of the most varied and diverse of all New World countries.

? Laura Jewell MW, agency director, HwCg

I think I would have to go for Malbec. It's a bit chicken-and-egg because Argentina has concentrated on it

as a USP

and they do it very well. It's obviously a grape that is particularly suited to Argentina - it seems to produce some really good wines. The Made for Meat campaign was a good one and quite different. It's a point of difference that Argentina can really hang its hat on.

Malbec produces quite a variety of styles, including some intense top-end wines that go well with oak. I think consumers are starting to understand Malbec as a grape variety. It's not just another red wine. It does have a particular characteristic all of its own: that bitter, cherry and slightly chocolatey character.

? Des Cross, chief executive, Las Bodegas

I think Malbec without a doubt is leading the way for Argentina. But I actually think the Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina in the past 18 months has become really competitive. It's kind of getting towards the French style. The Malbec tends to be very fruit up-front but the Cabernet tends to be a little bit more restrained and definitely needs to breathe for a little bit before it really opens out.

Torrontés is also gaining in popularity and there are so many different styles.

? Ian Jarman, partner, Cooden Cellars, Eastbourne

I suppose the most popular is Malbec, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon. But we're findin g Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and even a little bit of Tannat creeping through now. Malbec offers good prices and very ripe fruit and so it has the quality and taste profile that you want. I think they have caught the popular imagination.

It's quite strange because we're selling Cahors on the back of the popularity of Argentine Malbec . They're different beasts, really. People go for Argentina because the wines are ripe and very fruity and follow through nicely. But we sell Argentine Malbec for £20 and there's a good story to tell.

Torrontés is quite popular - we have Norton and a couple of others and we're beginning to see blends, Chenin/Torrontés and Chardonnay/Torrontés. It moderates, if you like, some of the more aggressive qualities of Torrontés. You've still got the rose-petal and floral notes but combined with the characteristics of other grapes. That's undoubtedly a good thing because the buying public likes to see that extra facet in a wine.

? Joe Fattorini, journalist and critic

I do think that they're doing some really exciting things with Malbec. There does seem to be a growing recognition that people will understand Argentina better if they understand its signature grape variety.

People are engaging the consumer with Malbec and it has all the quality levels - right up to iconic wines that really perform at the top end.

Around Mendoza, Bonarda is really good - I loved it. I would love to see a few of them try to turn it into a lower mid-market rosé. I haven't seen it yet but it's an absolute gift.

Patagonia seems to be the region for Pinot Noir but I found the Merlot there very exciting. There are some Merlots there which are Bordelais in their general style. Pinot is often peppery and dense: one of the most exciting wines I found was actually a Pinot/Merlot blend from Bodegas Schroeder.

I had a very long tasting session on whites with Oz Clarke. When the winemakers are confident to make Torrontés as proper Torrontés - aromatic, fresh, fruity - then it's very good.

? Simon Taylor, director, Stone Vine & Sun

Malbec is a fantastic grape, it's totally delicious and consumers love it. It's a better USP than Pinotage is for South Africa and I even think it works better for ­Argentina than Zinfandel works for California. I

love that briary, brambly fruit.

The other things that work well are Viognier and Shiraz. I think Argentina is probably the best source of cheap Viognier in the world. I like it fresh and floral, not blousy.

You do appear to be able to get Syrah, despite the heat, that is more European in style than, say, Chile or South Africa - so not too oaky and not too sweet. I'm afraid there is a sort of international style for Syrah and Argentina just seems to be stepping outside that.

? Thomas Woolrych, buyer, Laithwaites

Malbec is rapidly getting the potential to become Argentina's Shiraz. It can vary in style: it can be simple, fruity, attractive soft tannins or a bulky, black tannic monster that you have to keep for years. Although we in the trade have always been very enthusiastic, the consumer is now also getting behind it.

We're having some really good results from Argentina at the moment. We've just had a big success with Malbec with Laithwaites and with the Sunday Times Wine Club there was a Torrontés, Bonarda and Chardonnay. We've got 17 different varieties from Argentina in our range.

They're making very good Shiraz that's better value for money than Australia; we have a Pinot Noir from Patagonia and that's going to sell out really quickly - the only problem is there isn't enough of it. Bonarda makes super wines - consumers haven't quite embraced it yet but it makes very soft, juicy, commercial wine and you can blend it.

? James Griswood, product development manager for South America, Tesco

I love Malbec as a variety and think Argentina has it absolutely spot on. There are some good examples of this grape variety from other countries, France being the obvious one. However Argentina seems to excel with this grape. It becomes this juicy, plummy, fruity, luscious mouthful of a wine while keeping a bit of structure and tannin. It also has the amazing ability of not only making wonderful premium wines but keeping its character and knocking out really good entry-point wines as well.

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