Great wines from Argentina

Posted on: 06 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The land of silver turns out wine gold for our taster.

I had something of a wine epiphany last week. I attended a tasting of Argentinean wines, one for which my expectations weren't particularly high. Over the years I've tasted a lot of Argentinean wines and whilst many have won the qualified approval of 'good for the money', rarely have they got me as excited as the wines from neighbouring Chile or elsewhere in the New World.

This is curious as Argentina has the greatest spread of vineyards of any nation on earth, over 1600km, and has vineyards at every possible altitude with every conceivable climate so they should be capable of producing wines of absolutely sensational quality - quality I've always found wanting.

I think the problem has been that until very recently Argentina's quality wines were based on the Malbec grape, a traditional bit player in Bordeaux and one that Argentina has made its own, like the Tannat variety in Uruguay. Now don't get me wrong there's nothing wrong with Malbec, but I find that unless handled with great skill, its wines can be either hard and dry or overripe and sweet. Since I last tasted these wines en-masse it seems that matters have changed, and not just in the Malbec stakes. Recently 'new' varieties have come on stream and well trained and talented winemakers like Raul de la Mota at Weinert and Daniel Ekkert at Finca Las Moras have shown just how good this region's wines can be. Such wines as these are ones that will stop Argentina being referred to as 'the next big thing' and let it become just that.

The first wine this week is an old favourite of mine, a wine that even today I hold as one of the best value reds there is. It's the Argento Malbec (£5.69 Tesco) and for relatively little money you get an awful lot of wine. Hailing from the Finca Las Moras, whose wines' generosity of fruit and underlying complexity made them a big hit with me, the Argento is inky in colour, full bodied, spicy and gives you masses of sweet, ripe damson, currant and prune tones. Brilliant with hard cheese and red meats alike, any lover of big, good-time reds should give it a whirl.

Argentina's long been known for its reds, but in recent times they've been getting their collective act together on the whites too. A cracking wine (even at rather more than the £3.99 Majestic is currently asking) is the Finca Las Moras Viognier 2007. Full, ripe and packed to the cork with notes of peaches, honey and limes, it's great on its own and would be ideal with white meats and baked whole fish such as trout or salmon.

Bonarda may be a grape you're not familiar with, but it's another one that's showing great promise in the cool altitude of Argentina. Thought to be Italian in origin, it displays typical Italian aromatics, giving a bouquet of fresh cut flowers, red cherries and spices. On the palate you can expect good solid doses of red and black cherries, raspberries and red apple zest. Well worth seeking out if you're in the mood for something different, Oddbins currently have the excellent Zuccardi Reserva for £6.99, whilst the Finca La Moras (Everywine £6.53 a bottle) has just a touch more weight and some nice vanilla tones.

A great thing about Argentinean wine is that for not so much money you can taste the best there is - at the moment at least! In this category come the Wienert Cavas de Wienert 2000 (The Wine Society £8.95) and the luscious Clos de los Siete (£10.99 Oddbins). The former is a Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet, Malbec and Merlot and gives a beguiling mix of new and old world characteristics: ripe cassis and green peppers, with prune, damson and jam notes. Now fully mature, it's soft, complex and brilliant value for money, particularly with roasted red meat and tomato based dishes. The Clos de los Siete is somewhat more maverick in style and adds Syrah to its mix. This adds a dash of white pepper, even more weight and fantastic shot of spice to the finish. One for the cheeseboard.

Oh, one bit of bad news - for us, not the Americans! - the US wine trade has just discovered Argentinean wine so you can expect the prices to rise. So if you want to try these extraordinary wines, now is the time to do it!

More soon!

Theo.

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