Introducing The Wines of ArgentinaFoodies Corner
Argentina is famous for its vibrant culture, passion for football and beautiful landscapes. Perhaps lesser known is the fact that the country is the eighth largest producer of wine in the world. Recently, Bistro Garçon at Plaza Senayan hosted an exclusive wine pairing dinner that showcased a selection of wines from Bodega Norton, a 19th century winery in the Mendoza area of Argentina. Attending the event was Argentinian Ambassador H.E. Ricardo Luis Bocalandro. He speaks with NOW! Jakarta on his country’s growing reputation for fine wines.
What makes Argentine wines so good?
To begin with, wine is very close to us. It has been declared the national drink of Argentina. We are the biggest wine producer in Latin America, rank eighth in the world, and ninth in the world as wine exporter. Although if the first wines in the country can be traced as far back as 1536, the expansion of the production only started around the second half of the 19th century with the influx into Argentina of millions of European immigrants, particularly from Spain, Italy and France.
The French immigration established in San Rafael, Mendoza, was a fundamental impulse for the development of wineries in this region. Toward the second half of the 19th century, the Argentine wine markets expanded nationally, fostered by national-scale railway networks to carry our agribusiness exports to the ports.
The quality of Argentine wines has been steadily improving, specifically in the last decades. By 2011, Argentina has reached one billion US dollars in wine exports; notwithstanding, the country still remains a strong number of per capita consumers in the world, as apparently we still prefer to drink most of our wines rather than selling them abroad.
The wines of Argentina obtain much recognition in particular for the excellent chemical composition of soils, low humidity of terroir, exceptional water-quality, big spread in temperatures between day and night and for the huge difference in altitudes in which wineries are located.
What are some must-visit destinations for good wine in Argentina?
In Argentina you have three main wine regions: North, Cuyo in the central and Patagonia in the South. In all of them you will find wineries with lodging facilities.
Within Cuyo Region, the Province of Mendoza is the cradle of Malbec. Framed by impressive snowed mountains that are also home to the highest peak in America, wineries of Mendoza have already enjoyed worldwide fame. The oldest wineries in Argentina can be found there. Compared with European wineries, they are far more isolated and in an oasis-like environment, therefore solitude and magnificence are quite good descriptions for them.
Certainly, to lodge in one of those wineries around the mountains is a unique experience. From the tourist point of view, Mendoza is the zone that offers the greatest variety of choices, not just in terms of wine but also in lodging, cuisine and alternative activities such as ski, mountain climbing, rafting etc.
Within Cuyo, you also have San Juan—which produces very good Shiraz, Bonarda, Viognier and other varietals—and La Rioja, the cradle of our Torrontés.
In the northern region, you will see a different type of mountains—not so high, not so snowy, but in a moon-like panorama that is astonishing. The valleys of Salta and Catamarca are impressive and worth a visit. Salta, Catamarca and Rioja Torrontés are magnificent wines and have been awarded many international prizes in France.
What are some of your personal favourites?
My special one has always been Torrontés, I’ve loved it since I was young and my French grandfather encouraged me to try it. But let me explain a little bit more.
The landmark red grape of Argentina is the Malbec. Malbec originated, and was for centuries cultivated, in Cahors, in the southwest of France. When the Phylloxera epidemic destroyed French viticulture towards the end of the 19th Century, Malbec fell into oblivion. However, a culture of appreciation of Malbec had already consolidated and laid the foundations for the development of Argentinian Malbec some time later. Malbec is, let me so define, “necessary” when enjoying our legendary Argentinian barbecue—it’s common for each person to eat one kilogram of steak—and also our renowned Patagonian Goat barbecues.
Regarding whites, there exists in Argentina a unique grape called Torrontés that can hardly be found in other countries. Torrontés is delicious, a fresh and fruity white of an incredible, believe me, incredible and unique smell. For us, Torrontés is special for pairing with fishes and seafood, which we also barbecue.
Would you recommend a holiday to Argentina to visit the wineries?
Our wineries are placed in a setting of intense magic and loneliness. I especially love Cafayate in Salta, but all the valleys in Mendoza, Salta, La Rioja and Catamarca offer impressive views, solitude, high peaks and very good dry weather all year round. We’re famous for our horse-riding tours that may last for days, polo clinics, mountain climbing, skiing and for our cuisine.
In the cities, fun goes on deep into the night until you must stop for breakfast.
Patagonia is breathtaking. On the coast, there’s whale watching, penguins and sea lions. Then you can drive one thousand kilometres. Inside the desolate inner country, hardly seeing a person, a car, a city, a curve on the road or even a tree, only solitude and wind blowing. And then, suddenly, you fall into a postcard Switzerland-like valley, with pines, green lakes and blue skies. To all that, add the wines.