The Wines of Argentina

By Brian Lemay 4 comments


(lively music)>>(narrator)
Winemaking in Argentina stretches back nearly
half a millennium. But this history
has imparted more than just technical
expertise. The country also has a
rich wine-drinking culture that has contributed
to its status as one of the world’s
largest producers of wine.>>Winemaking in Argentina
is part of our culture. It’s the same as in
countries like Spain or Italy because of the
big European immigration that came to
Argentina. I think that people
who make wine who drink it,
make better wine. So, that’s one thing
about Argentina.>>(narrator)
Argentina is best known for Malbec, and for its
more inexpensive wines. Yet the country’s winemaking
tradition and its geography lend themselves to varied
and high-quality production. (light music)>>We have the Andes Mountains,
which is in Mendoza, the tallest mountains
in all the Americas. And these mountains
created a special climate and special type of soils
where we grow the grapes.>>(narrator)
Argentina’s winemaking history begins with the arrival of the
Spanish in the 16th century.>>We have vineyards
and viticulture since the Spanish people arrived
here practically 500 years. They came with
vineyards.>>(narrator)
These first missionaries and settlers began
cultivating grapes in the foothills
of the Andes. In 1816, Argentina
declared independence, and the following decade
saw an influx of Spanish and Italian
immigrants, who would help develop
the wine industry.>>You see people bottling
their wines in Argentina in the early 1800s, when there
was no bottling factories in the Americas. For three centuries,
wine was a huge thing for the economy of
these provinces.>>(narrator)
Production continued to grow with nearly all of
Argentina’s wine consumed within
the country.>>We arrived in
the middle of ’70s with more than 93 liters
per capita in consumption, which is huge.>>(narrator)
But as bulk production rose, quality dropped. In the 1970s and early ’80s,
political instability and a military dictatorship
further challenged the growing
industry.>>When you talk
about Argentina, the normal version goes, well,
Argentina had immigration, it focused on making
a lot of wine. In the ’90s, with
consumption crisis, it started focusing
on quality. And it is true. Argentina started
focusing on quality I would say in the ’80s
rather than the ’90s, but it is true.
(funky music)>>(narrator)
In the 1990s, so-called “flying winemakers”
from France and the US began visiting
Argentina.>>When people like my
father and other producers started
exporting wines, they were thinking of
high-quality wines. In order to make these
high-quality wines, we needed some
consultants, because Argentina really
was completely out of touch with the winemaking of
the rest of the world.>>Michel Rolland was a
very famous winemaker. Loved the place,
commented to Robert Parker, and Parker had
the predictions said that the Malbec
could be one variety very famous all
over the world.>>(narrator)
With the rise of quality and international attention,
exports grew. The devaluation
of the currency around the turn of the century
made Argentina’s wines even more attractive to
an international audience. Today, Argentina’s importance
in the global wine market continues
to grow. The Andes Mountain Range is the
defining geographical feature of Argentina’s
wine regions.>>The Andes is the key or
the explanation of the style or the expression
of our wines. First, because
the Andes Mountains isolate us from
the Pacific. So, we live in a desert
in high altitude.>>We grow the vineyards
in high elevation between 2,500 and
5,000 feet of elevation. That gives us an extra
sunlight intensity over the vineyards, and
produces concentrated grapes with a lot of
polyphenols, tannins, color, intensity,
and aromatics.>>The second thing that
the mountain gives to us is the water. Because we live in a desert,
the only way to cultivate is using the water that
comes from the snow.>>It creates this
continental climate because it acts as a
barrier between Chile, who’s on the
Pacific side and Argentina on the
other side, of course. So, it creates
this dry climate.>>(narrator)
Hail was a major threat unique to this side
of the Andes. The Zonda wind, which comes
down from the mountains, further intensifies
desert-like conditions and makes irrigation
a necessary practice.>>The characteristic
of the Zonda is that it’s a very dry, hot,
and sometimes very strong wind. When we have in
general this wind, it’s snowing in
the Andes Mountain, because you have a compression
when the air is coming down.>>(narrator)
Runoff from the Andes Mountains has created a series
of alluvial fans, providing ideal soil conditions
for the cultivation of grapes.>>The origin of the soil
is mostly alluvial soil. It means that the water
transported the material from the Andes to the
different valleys, where we grow
the grapes.>>(narrator)
Argentine wines can be labeled by Indicaciones Geográficas,
most of which were created based on political
boundaries. Today, new IGs
are being defined by differences in
soil and climate. (light music) The heart of Argentina’s
wine industry is the broad Cuyo region,
which includes the provinces of Mendoza, La Rioja,
and San Juan.>>Mendoza’s in the
center of the country. We produce 70% of the
grapes of the country. Then you have San Juan
that produces the other 20% of the grapes
of the country.>>(narrator)
Mendoza’s importance to Argentina’s wine industry
was further solidified when a railroad line to the
capital city of Buenos Aires was completed
in 1885. Mendoza can be divided
into three regions– Maipú, Luján de Cuyo,
and the Uco Valley, all of which are
dominated by Malbec. Further east, Maipú
is flatter and hotter than the
other regions, and historically
known for Bonarda and high-yield
production.>>So Luján de Cuyo, which
is a slightly lower altitude– it’s around 3,000
feet elevation– also has predominantly
clay soils. These soils are a little
more friendly to the vines, and those wines have
a mid-palate and a texture that’s very different
from the Uco Valley.>>Luján de Cuyo is
well known in Mendoza as a land
of Malbec. The characteristic of the
Malbec from this region is the complexity,
the elegance, the finesse, and
the red fruit.>>(narrator)
While Luján de Cuyo is Mendoza’s
historic center, just southwest, the Uco Valley
has captured attention for its quality wines, grown
from high-elevation vineyards.>>It’s a valley that is in
front of a very big mountain, but the mountain
is not one. You have, like,
two chins. One that is the
frontal cordillera and the second, the
principal cordillera.>>It’s almost like
two different regions, because if you go towards the
west, towards Tupungato, you have the
higher altitudes, you have the sunlight effect on
the thickening of the skins. If you go further south,
you have more shallow soils, less stones because we’re
less near the mountains. So, the soils
are different. You have less of the
sunlight influence.>>You get nice acidity,
fresh acidity, and higher tannin concentration,
violet profiles.>>(narrator)
North of Cuyo, the Calchaquí Valley traverses
the northern provinces of Catamarca,
Tucumán, and Salta, with vines planted at the
world’s highest elevations for grapegrowing.>>(speaking Spanish)>>(narrator)
Salta consists of four
winegrowing regions– Cafayate, San Carlos,
Molinos, and Cachi. Although it makes up less than
2% of Argentina’s production, Salta is well known to fans
of the white grape Torrontés.>>(speaking Spanish)>>(narrator)
North of Salta and adjacent to the
Bolivian border, winemakers are also exploring
the province of Jujuy. On the opposite side
of Argentina the provinces of
La Pampa, Neuquén, Río Negro, and Chubut comprise
the winegrowing regions of Patagonia.>>In the 1930s, there
was about 30,000 hectares of vines planted. Today, there are
only 2,000 left. Recently, in the last 15 years,
it’s being rejuvenated but at a slow pace.>>In Patagonia, the borders
are being pushed to the south. We’re seeing vineyards
in the parallel 45, which is way
down south.>>(narrator)
Patagonia’s southerly latitude allows for high
light intensity, critical for
ripening its grapes.>>Over here, we
get more sunlight because when the sun
sets on the west, we don’t exactly have
the Andes hiding the sun. If you’re at the
foot of the Andes, you lose
some hours.>>(narrator)
Grown in every wine region from north to south, Malbec is
Argentina’s best-known grape.>>Malbec is our flag,
is our identity, is the variety that
represents Argentina in the rest
of the world. It’s a variety that is
very important for us, because we use
our Malbec to make the iconic and the
best wines from Argentina.>>(narrator)
Malbec is a French grape brought to Argentina by
agronomist Michel Pouget, in the mid-1800s.>>When you take a look
into Malbec in Argentina, everybody knows Malbec,
but the Malbec in Argentina has nothing to do with
most Malbec in France.>>It was brought from
Europe before phylloxera, so we have a population
of Malbec, very antique, that produces a usually low
yield with small grapes.>>(narrator)
Malbec accounts for 21% of grapes planted
in Argentina. The second most planted grape
is the red variety Bonarda at 9%, known elsewhere
as Charbono.>>One of the biggest grape
varieties in Argentina, which is Bonarda, we’ve
always thought it was Italian and it’s really
French.>>Bonarda really has
a very good adaptation to our weather, so grows
a lot near to Malbec, but, in general, has
been very focused on the lower
altitude areas. The challenge for us
today is cultivating high-altitude
situations.>>It has a lot of
natural acidity. It’s very
fruit-forward. It’s very light. It makes me think of a
Dolcetto or even a Nebbiolo. It has this sort of
Italian-ish character.>>(narrator)
Among the earliest grapes to arrive in Argentina
was Criolla Chica, known in Chile
as País and in Spain’s Canary Islands
as Listán Prieto.>>Listán Prieto, which
is actually Criolla Chica, what we have here, everything
started in Argentina with our Criolla
varieties.>>(narrator)
Red varieties such
as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are
finding success in Mendoza, while Patagonia is
developing a reputation for its
Pinot Noir.>>People think of
Malbec, Bonarda, but actually, Cabernet
Sauvignon and Cab Franc came to Argentina at the
middle of the 19th century, at the same time
as Malbec.>>Torrontés is Argentina’s
most planted white variety. A highly aromatic grape
descended from Criollo Chica and Muscat of
Alexandria, Torrontés is most
famously grown in the northern
province of Salta.>>(speaking Spanish)>>Even if Torrontés is
not very well known, I think it’s just
such a delicious wine. So floral,
so aromatic.>>Torrontés
is a tricky one, because it’s really
not just one variety. It is actually
three varieties. We have Torrontés Riojano,
Torrontés Sanjuanino, and Torrontés Mendocino.>>(narrator)
Beyond Torrontés, French white grapes such as
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon have also
found success in Argentina.>>I definitely think
that Chardonnay can make very ageworthy
site-specific wines, but the real profound,
mineral, floral, distinctive Chardonnay is
coming from the Uco Valley.>>Sémillon has been
traditional in the Uco Valley, and we have to recuperate
this tradition.>>More and more people in
Mendoza and in Patagonia, particularly, are planting
and making high-end wines with Sémillon, and I think
there is a big argument to make with Sémillon, both
on its own and in blends. (lively music)>>(narrator)
Like any historic wine region, Argentina’s food and wine
cultures have evolved together, and the two
marry well, particularly when
it comes to meat.>>It is a true fact
when people say that the local food goes
with the local fruit. Patagonian lamb, which is
probably the best in the world, sincerely, and that goes
incredibly well with a Malbec.>>Argentina is
famous for beef. So, I think our wines
match very good with meat. Is part also of
our culture. In Argentina, when you meet
your friends or your family, always it’s with a grill,
fire, and a beef. So, I think we have a
very good match with meat.>>(narrator)
The traditional preparation is asado, in which beef,
sausage, and vegetables are grilled on an
open-flame parrilla.>>The asado is part
of Argentine culture, just like Christmas and New
Year’s is for other cultures. It happens every Sunday
to every family.>>(narrator)
The empanada is another staple of Argentine
cuisine. The recipe for this
stuffed pastry varies from
region to region, with empanada fillings
ranging from beef or chicken to fish, spinach, sweet corn,
and dessert variations. (lively music)>>I think wine is a
generation activity. Every generation needs
to put one brick over the generation
before it.>>(speaking Spanish). (light music)

4 Comments

meltingtomato

Apr 4, 2019, 5:42 pm Reply

I'm guessing something was wrong with the episode the last time it came out? Didn't notice any technical glitches when I watched it, but who knows.

account 308

Apr 4, 2019, 8:30 pm Reply

Thank you for what you are doing!

carlos francisco peredo castrillo

Apr 4, 2019, 10:40 pm Reply

amazing info about argentina thanks for sharing it

Klng5hlt

Jul 7, 2019, 1:08 am Reply

can i get a job there

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