Wine for me Argentina!

Argentinian wines haven’t graced my table recently. So, when invited to an Argentinian barbeque, it awakened the gaucho in me. I remember the first Argentine red wine that really impressed me – a 2004 Zolo Cabernet that sold for 8 bucks.  Another was the little known white grape named Torrontés, the perfect summer wine.

Did you know that Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world, well-known for its beef, soccer teams and wine?

This large country with mountains that provide water to lush valleys and a big city that’s the most visited city on the continent, easily supports almost 2,000 wineries. From the Salta region in the north to Patagonia in the south, Argentina produces enough wine to rank 5th worldwide in wine production.

In between Salta and Patagonia lies the heart of Argentina’s wine country – Mendoza. Lying at the foot of the Andes, Mendoza wineries are spread across more than 350,000 acres and produce 60 per cent of the country’s wines.

The high altitude, long hours of sunshine, and sandy soils comprise the ideal conditions for the production of wine both bulk and premium. Torrontés, Bonarda, Malbec, Cabernet and Merlot are grown on ungrafted original rootstock, unlike most northern hemisphere wine producing countries where phylloxera can devastate a vineyard planted on original rootstock.

My search for a white wine to pair with the oysters took a few days. I knew what I wanted – Torrontés, a white grape that is easy to come by in Argentina but not so much in Kitsap. But what I did find wowed the crowd.

Torrontés is totally Argentinean and the only country to produce it really. Mainly because, after DNA testing, it was found to be a cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica, a grape that was widely planted there and still used in bulk wine production.

It’s very aromatic, with notes of citrus, flowers, pear and peach, not unlike Viognier. The flavors are similar with structure and acidity that keep you coming back for another sip. It’s a summertime wine that’s best enjoyed while young unless you happen to run across a version that is late harvest.

Zolo Torrontés is very aromatic with aromas of citrus, white flowers and pear with a crispness that was perfect with the oysters. Zolo wines are sustainably farmed and very affordable. To further entice you to these wines, one of the winemakers, Jean Claude Berrouet, was the former winemaker at Petrus in Bordeaux.

The name of the winery comes from owner Patricia Ortiz’s lifestyle. She spends much of the week working in Mendoza, leaving her husband solo – Zolo – in Buenos Aries.

Another unusual grape, originally from Italy but now widely grown in Argentina, is Bonarda. It’s kind of like Beaujolais – not the Nouveau type – fruity with little tannins. It’s a wonderful wine to pair with the spicier dishes because the tannins are so minimal.

Altos Los Homigas produces the Colonis Las Liebres Mendoza Bonarda Classica, another bargain at $10 and great for an afternoon’s barbeque. It paired well with the empanadas another Argentinian staple. Empanadas are hand sized pockets stuffed with any combination of meat, cheese and/or vegetables.

We also enjoyed the Finca la Celia Tempranillo with the empanadas. A Chilean owned winery making one of Argentina’s top kosher wines in Mendoza. Tempranillo is a Spanish grape grown all over that country but Rioja is its best known version. Aged 3 months in oak, this wine had the typical cherry and herb flavors. Another bargain under $10.

The other grape that Argentina made famous is Malbec. In the late 20th century, the wine industry shifted its focus from jug wine made from Chica Criolla to premium wine production for the export market.

But it’s Argentina that most of us think of when we hear Malbec. Malbec is Argentina’s most widely planted red grape variety followed by Bonarda, Cabernet, Syrah and Tempranillo. It’s typically deeply colored with intense black fruits and a smooth mouthfeel.

Malbec is indigenous to Southwest France, where it is still widely grown in Cahors and in Bordeaux where it’s blended for its deep color.

With the three Malbecs presented, we devoured the classic dish, Matambre Arrollado which roughly translates to “rolled up hunger killer.” Created to feed guests while the rest of the food was grilled, it’s a flank steak slathered with chimichurri, stuffed with hardboiled eggs and vegetables, rolled up, skewered, grilled and sliced. The presentation is colorful and the dish is delicious.

Catena Zapata is 100% Malbec from a blend of three high mountain vineyards. Founded in 1902, Catena Zapata was instrumental in raising awareness of Malbec and other Argentinean wines worldwide. The pyramid shaped winery stands against a backdrop of striking mountains and vineyards. Their Malbec is no less impressive.

Another Mendoza Malbec we tasted was Espuela del Gaucho Reserve. This wine reflects the land of the Gaucho like this one with its full flavors of dark cherries and plum mingle with subtle notes of vanilla. I liked the balanced acidity and smooth tannins. Stylish and affordable for under $10.

Finally, the king of the flying winemakers, Amancaya Reserve red. A blend of Malbec and Cabernet and a collaboration between Lafite Rothschild and Nicolas Catena. This wine is earthy, plum and blackberry with a hint of pencil lead is a rich blend of 85% Malbec and 15% Cab that was aged for 12 months in oak.

Flying winemakers is a term used to describe those wine makers from one hemisphere flying to the opposite hemisphere to make wine in their off season. Harvest in the northern hemisphere occurs in the fall as it does in the southern hemisphere. The difference being September for the former and February for the latter.

The art of the flying winemaker helps winemakers share old techniques and modern techniques from the world’s wine regions. For example, Champagne producers making sparkling wines in California and Australia. French and Italian winemakers in Argentina and German winemakers in Washington state.

And we benefit from all this shared knowledge. Cheers!