YES, Malbec may be the grape—and wine—of the moment, but there are other offerings on the Argentine wine list. This was the gist of the wine exposition organized by the Embassy of Argentina last month at the Rockwell Club. Philippine importers and distributors of Argentine wines were invited to present their selections and set up tasting tables, but before the event, Minister Jaime Goldaracena, the embassy’s trade attaché, made the rounds of hotels and restaurants to personally invite chefs, restaurant owners, food and beverage directors and wine buyers.
Argentina now ranks as the world’s sixth biggest producer of wine, Mr. Goldaracena is quick to point out. Mendoza, where 70 percent of the country’s total wine output is produced, is the largest wine region with more vine acreage than that of New Zealand and Australia combined. The other major wine regions are Salta, in the northernmost part of the country, and Patagonia, the most southerly. In Salta, where high-altitude vineyards rise from 5,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level, Torrontés, the Muscat-like white grape, reigns supreme. In the provinces of Neuquèn and Rio Negro in Patagonia, it is the Pinot Noir grape that excels. But in all Argentina, Malbec is still the most widely planted grape variety, flourishing in the country’s arid climate and sandy soil, while capable of expressing the unique terroir of each region. As Laura Cátena (of the renowned Cátena wine-producing family) writes in her book Vino Argentino, “...a Malbec from San Carlos is so different—blacker, more floral and more mineral—from the jammy and smooth old-vine Malbecs of Lujàn de Cuyo.”
Malbec has its origins in France and was a major component of the Bordeaux grand cru blends until the plant louse phylloxera ravaged vineyards in the 1860s. The grape never truly recovered in Bordeaux (though it continues to be the main grape in Cahors, southwest of Bordeaux) but even before the deadly vine disease, Malbec had already made its way to Argentina via vine cuttings brought into the country for the Quinta Nacional, the vine nursery established in Mendoza in 1853. In time, dedicated vignerons began to focus on quality, led by Nicolas Cátena who spearheaded the fine tuning of Malbec, and whose award-winning wines sparked the worldwide interest in the Argentine wine industry.
Apart from Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda, Merlot, Tempranillo, Syrah and Pinto Noir are Argentina’s staple red varieties. And while Torrontés is the leading white grape, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat of Alexandra make up the roster of primary white varieties.
Examples of all of these are available in the Philippines through local wine importers who presented their Argentine portfolios at the Rockwell Club. Up for tasting were bottlings from Altos Las Hormigas, Domaine Vistalba, Filus, Finca Flichman. Kaiken, Lagarde, Terrazas de los Andes, Salentein, Viña Doña Paula, Trapiche and Trivento. Malbecs were a-plenty, from the juicy, easy-drinking style to the more concentrated, dense and muscular types.
Not lost in the maze of Malbecs were the Cabernet Sauvignons, marked by rich cassis and dark plum, subtle herb notes and ample tannins. There was a lovely Torrontés from Salta—delicately perfumed, with orange and melon notes framed by bright acidity—from the Lagarde Winery, imported by young entrepreneurs Carlo Lorenzana and Bob Tenchavez, The two are very new in the wine import business, but the Lorenzanas have known the owners of Lagarde (the Pescarmona family)—and thus their wines—for years. Also from Lagarde was the Altas Cumbres Brut Chardonnay, the only Argentine sparkling wine at the tasting and the rated “Henry Gran Guarda Mendoza,” a muscular yet supple Malbec blend produced only in outstanding vintages.
With Malbec leading the way, there is no doubt that there will be heightened interest in Argentine wines. There is no doubt too that here in Manila, the Argentine Embassy will make sure that happens. (Already there is talk about celebrating World Malbec Day in Manila in cooperation with the trade organization, Wines of Argentina.)