Ar­gen­tinian whites

Its re­li­ably good reds are a de­fault choice for many, but these days Ar­gentina’s white wines also of­fer great qual­ity across an in­trigu­ing range of styles, says Pa­tri­cio Tapia

Decanter - - PANEL TASTING -

IT IS NOT dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand that Ar­gentina is con­sid­ered a pro­ducer of reds rather than whites. Firstly, be­cause Mal­bec is ob­vi­ously its star and the main rea­son why Ar­gen­tinian wines have be­come known in the world. And se­condly be­cause the heat of the places where the grapes have been cul­ti­vated (Men­doza, Salta, Río Ne­gro) is bet­ter suited to those ro­bust reds that are so en­joyed by the lo­cals with their asado cook­ing.

Let’s look at the fig­ures. There are about 40,000ha (hectares) of Mal­bec planted in Ar­gentina, which is roughly equal to the to­tal area un­der vine of all white va­ri­eties. Among the in­ter­na­tional grapes, Chardon­nay is the most pop­u­lar with 6,205ha, although the lo­cal Tor­rontés is the most widely planted, with 8,193ha. Both va­ri­eties are be­hind some of Ar­gentina’s best whites.

Tor­rontés – a cross of Mis­sion (Chile’s País) and Mosca­tel that has noth­ing to do with the Tor­rontés from Gali­cia, Spain – is a grape as flo­ral as it is tan­nic. In re­cent years, though, winer­ies such as Colomé or Su­sana Balbo have man­aged to tame it, achiev­ing wines of great char­ac­ter, but at the same time more ap­pre­ci­ated by a wider au­di­ence. If you like ex­u­ber­ant whites, try them.

‘As the re­sults with Chardon­nay and Sau­vi­gnon im­proved, Chenin and Semil­lon slowly dis­ap­peared’

With Chardon­nay, things are even more op­ti­mistic. Over the last decade, pro­duc­ers such as Luigi Bosca, Ru­tini, Sa­len­tein and no­tably Catena have suc­ceeded in ex­press­ing the Men­doza ter­roir, es­pe­cially those re­gions up in the heights of the An­des, cre­at­ing unique wines.

If there is a white grape to dis­cover in Ar­gentina today, it is Chardon­nay.

Some wine crit­ics will dis­agree with me, be­liev­ing that Sau­vi­gnon Blanc is the coun­try’s real in­ter­na­tional star. And they may be right. The oily, am­ple, volup­tuous style of the va­ri­ety’s tra­di­tional heart­land of Lu­ján de Cuyo, right next to Men­doza city, con­trasts with the sharper ex­am­ples from the Uco Val­ley. In less than a decade, Ar­gen­tinian Sau­vi­gnon Blanc has gone from be­ing a taste­less liq­uid to a source of de­li­cious, re­fresh­ing whites.

And then come the re­dis­cov­er­ies. Long be­fore Sau­vi­gnon Blanc or Chardon­nay be­came the ob­ses­sions of Ar­gentina’s wine­mak­ers, what was widely pro­duced (and drunk with broad en­thu­si­asm) was made from ei­ther Chenin Blanc or Semil­lon, the two pil­lars of fine white wines un­til well into the 1980s. But as the re­sults with Chardon­nay and Sau­vi­gnon im­proved, Chenin and Semil­lon slowly dis­ap­peared.

Today that is chang­ing, and winer­ies such as Men­del, Matías Ric­citelli, Ni­eto Senetiner and Pas­sion­ate Wines have made sure that Semil­lon can shine again, while at Gen del Alma they in­sist that Chenin Blanc will be the new white star in Ar­gentina – a coun­try of reds, but where more and more de­li­cious whites are emerg­ing.

Pa­tri­cio Tapia is the DWWA Re­gional Chair for South Amer­ica (ex­clud­ing Chile). These are the best wines of those tasted blind at De­can­ter’s of­fices in July

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