Brush up on your terroir

21 March, 2008

Argentina is a relative newcomer on the UK wine market and its regions are not yet as widely understood as those of more established countries. Yet Argentina offers massive diversity and any retailer looking to

capitalise on the sales boom in its

wines should equip themselves with a basic idea of the regional specialities

Mendoza

The chances are that if you know one Argentine region, it will be Mendoza: hardly surprising, given that the area contains 156,000ha of vines, making it larger than Bordeaux. Seventy per cent of all Argentine wine comes from this province, with its high-altitude vineyards and western skyline dominated by the

Andes.

Malbec is the star of the show here, but don't be fooled into thinking that's all Mendoza is about. The varied terroir of this vast region means you will also find juicy, velvety Cabernet Sauvignon (some of the best examples coming from the Maipú area) and elegant Chardonnay (check out the wines from the Tupungato sub-region, the highest vineyards in Mendoza). Tempranillo is another speciality.

In terms of Malbec alone though, the

variety of terroir

and the resultant aromatic

wines, is astonishing. Check out the high altitude wines of Uco Valley for perfume, purity and minerality; the old vines of Alto Agrelo for wild herbs, spice and dark fruit, or Vistalba, the historic cradle of Mendocino wine,

for intense violets, plums and morello cherry.

Patagonia

Described by some wine critics as the "new Otago", Patagonia is Argentina's deep south. Antarctic winds make this a cool and disease-free region, much like its New Zealand rival - though

it has a lot more wine to sell, and at commercially attractive prices.

Malbec is here in abundance, but don't overlook the Pinot Noir - considered by many to be the finest

South America has to offer. "Patagonia in wine terms is divided into two provinces, Rio Negro and Neuquén: Rio Negro being the oldest, first planted in the late 1800s, and Neuquen in 2000," explains Hans Vinding Diers, winemaker at Bodega Noemia and Bodega Chacra.

"The valley is

an oasis in the middle of the desert. It is alive thanks to the huge Rio Negro river that spills out up to 2,000 cubic metres

of water a second. One can vinify from top class Pinot to top class Cabernet - that really sums up a great terroir," he adds.

San Juan

Argentina's second-biggest producing region, accounting for around a quarter of all wines, is hotter and drier than Mendoza - the sun shines on just about every day of the year.

Organic viticulture is universal and it must be the cleanest environment for grape growing anywhere in the world.

San Juan makes excellent Shiraz in a decidedly New World style at prices and a quality level that other countries can only dream about. Viognier also likes it here and there is

a lot of impressive Sauvignon Blanc to be had. Bonarda is also present in abundance.

Pernod Ricard, brand owner of Graffigna, says: "Shiraz is a clear strength of the San Juan region which is capable of producing a good range of wines from this grape variety - rich, juicy, plummy styles from the warmer lower altitude valleys to the more refined savoury styles in the higher altitude Pedernal Valley.

"San Juan enjoys a dry climate receiving as little as 90mm of rainfall a year, as well as an amazing amount of sunlight hours - around 3,500-plus per year. This, together with the high altitudes and resulting cooler temperatures, creates better colours in our reds, higher levels of 'good' tannins, lower levels of bitter tannins and greater floral-lifted concentrated fruit flavours. These positive characteristics are also a result of longer hang times that are possible in the region without the issue of overripe grapes.

Matias Bauza Moreno, of Bodegas Salentein, adds: "San Juan's low humidity, long periods of sun exposure, adequate temperature variation and sandy loam soil are similar to Australia's top Shiraz-producing areas and

with this in mind we believe we can produce fruit-forward, good value wines but also complex, character-rich Shiraz ."

Salta/Cafayaté

Now we're joining the real mile high club.

Salta boasts the highest vineyards in the world (the crown belongs to Altura Maxima, at 3,100 m above sea level) and the altitude has a profound influence . Expect wonderfully aromatic wines, ripe tannins and intense colour and flavour.

This may be the New World, but the vines here are among the oldest on the planet, producing distinguished Malbec and Torrontés. The Cabernet Sauvignon is so fruity and concentrated

it can often be enjoyed

young, without oak ageing.

Cafayaté was

the birthplace of Torrontés and is

home to the new wave of Torrontés

taking the UK and other markets by storm. The ultra-high altitude vineyards and

sunlight intensity

give the wines incredible aromatics and a

juicy,

acidity. New Zealand watch out, Torrontés could

be the new Sauvignon Blanc.

La Rioja and Catamarca

This is extreme desert viticulture

and, although they are not major contributors to Argentina's wine volumes, both La Rioja and Catamarca have proud histories and plenty to offer. Again, organic viticulture is the order of the day.

La Rioja is home to Argentina's biggest co-operative and Fairtrade operation, La Riojana, which is achieving major UK sales success.




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