Snapshots from Argentina: More Than Malbec in Mendoza

In Vineyards and Cellars

Snapshots from where wine comes from.

Editor's Note: It's harvest season in South America, so I headed down South (way South) to visit wineries in Chile and Argentina with a press group led by importer Winebow. Here are some of my snapshots and Argentinian wine discoveries. Want to read about Chile? Those snapshots are over here.

The easiest way to market a wine region is to identify it with one signature grape. People know what to look for and what to expect: Oregon Pinot Noir. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Australian Shiraz. But a single-grape message sometimes means you're betting the farm (literally) on a boom-and-bust. What if Shiraz isn't popular anymore and you've associated your region with it exclusively? What if there's some movie that makes a grape seem totally uncool? (Ha, like that would ever happen.) Focusing on just one type of wine also cuts short a young region's experimentation—figuring out which grapes thrive in which areas is an ongoing process that helps raise quality.

Yes, those are all malbec vines at Catena Zapata. [All Photographs: Maggie Hoffman]

When I say Argentina, you probably think Malbec, and there's definitely a reason for Argentinian Malbec's popularity. On my recent visit to Mendoza, I did see Malbec everywhere I looked, and I tasted some delicious examples. But there is much more to Argentina than Malbec.

What should drink if you're interested in exploring the rest of Argentinian wine? Here are a few other grapes to look out for, and some bottles to seek out. Want to see what wine country in Argentina looks like? Click on over to the slideshow.

Not malbec! Cabernet sauvignon grapes at Nieto Senetiner

Here are a few non-Malbec grapes to look out for when you're exploring the wines of Argentina.

Bonarda: This grape was once used only for blending but it can make both fun, fruity wines as well as more complex, ageworthy examples. Zuccardi's Emma Zuccardi Bonarda (2010) is particularly memorable: a yummy blueberry pie-like wine that's both juicy and complex. We also tasted a vertical range of Bonarda from Nieto Senetiner that demonstrated the graceful development of this wine as it ages. Over the years, the bottles evolved from grapey and fresh, with lush, velvet fruit in cool years, to increasingly savory and meaty, with touches of soy sauce and earth in decade-old bottles.

Cabernet Sauvignon: We tasted a number of lovely Cabernets, and bottles like Catena Zapata's dense, spicy Cabernet could certainly compete with pricier options from Napa.

Torrontes: This white grape is known for its floral, aromatic side, and it's one of my favorite wines to pair with sushi. Alta Vista's Premium-line Torrontes (2011) is very pretty, with refreshing acidity and medium-rich weight from 3 months resting on the lees. Rutini's Trumpeter Torrontes offers easy-drinking peach flavors for around $10.

Chardonnay: Catena Zapata's remarkable White Bones Chardonnay is impressively mineral (think Chablis) and totally delicious, but quite pricey. Alta Vista's fresh, bright Chardonnay was a favorites in the under-$20 category.

Tempranillo: Zuccardi's Q Tempranillo (2008) is silky and spiced with nice cranberry-tart acids and good tannin. Zuccardi is also experimenting with a number of grape varieties from Spain, Italy, France, and Portugal, planting an acre or two of each and making test wines to see whether they seem to be a good fit for their vineyard locations.

Blends: Though once focused on single-varietal wines, Argentinian winemakers are producing more and more blends. Ernesto Catena of Alma Negra refuses to include grape names on his bottles, hoping customers will taste the wines with open minds, rather than pre-judging them based on assumptions about whether they like the grapes. In a collaboration with Allegrini from Italy, Renancer makes Enamore, an Amarone-inspired wine made with naturally dried Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bonarda. It's rich, deep, and supple, with a subtle sweetness—perfect for sipping with salami, hard cheese, or duck. In Rutini's Encuentro Barrel Blend, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot come together with an beautifully herbal result, as if the wine were spiced with fennel seeds, mint, and dark chocolate.

Take a Look

Have you been drinking Argentinian wines lately? Want to see where they come from and how they're made? You can check out the vines and peek behind the scenes at the winemaking process in the slideshow here. (Warning: a visit to Argentina isn't complete without tasting at least 5 different kinds of empanadas.)

About the Author: Maggie Hoffman is the editor of Serious Eats: Drinks. You can follow her on Twitter @maggiejane.