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
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