Argentina comes to Canberra

Imports of wine from Argentina barely register in Australia. But they’re growing rapidly from a small base says President of Sommeliers Australia, Ben Edwards.

Argentina’s Second Secretary Trade, Juan Ignacio Roccatagliata, confirms a doubling of exports to Australia to $1.4 million in the period January to September 2011 versus the same period last year.

It’s not a big figure. But the sudden growth reveals a concerted export push from Argentina’s once domestically focused producers. And for Australian drinkers it expands the choice from Argentina’s signature red, malbec, to include the country’s number two red variety, bonarda, and its distinctive white, torrontes.

The latter two give Argentina a unique wine offering – something to grab our attention. And they did at a Canberra trade tasting last week, hosted by Argentina ambassador Pedro Villagra Delgado.

Edwards, recently returned from Argentina and aided by a panel of importers, moderated the event, attended mainly by local restaurateurs.

We started the tasting with six torrontes whites, one from Mendoza, Argentina’s largest growing region, the others from Cafayate, Salta, in the north.

Few of us in the room, apart from the panellists, had tasted the variety before, so we held few preconceptions.

While the wines varied considerably in style, several common threads connected them – strong aromatics, characterised by the musk-like and lychee-like flavours we associate with gewürztraminer and other muscat-influenced varieties; fresh but very soft acidity; and a textural richness we also associate with the muscat varieties.

Generally the wines appeared bright and fresh, separated stylistically, broadly speaking, by the extent of muscat influence in the flavour and texture. Different tasters preferred different styles – some of us favoured the lighter, delicate, less muscaty wines; others preferred the more rounded flavours and textures.

My top wine, by a fair margin, was Trumpeter Reserva Torrontes 2009, a Mendoza wine imported by Wines of Chile and Argentina (www.winesofchile.com.au). I detected a bit of apple-like freshness in the otherwise muscat-driven aroma and flavour, with a delicate, fresh and soft finish – a wine of some finesse in this line up. It’s a unique style and very enjoyable.

Torrentes is generally regarded as an Argentinean variety. After prolonged debate about its origins, DNA profiling eventually identified the three dominant torrontes strains as distinct but closely related varieties, all derived from separate crossings of mission with muscat of Alexandria.

Ben Edwards says he’s observed a finessing of the style in recent years as producers seek greater brightness and freshness while preserving the unique varietal characteristics.

We moved from torrentes to a bracket of six reds, including five made from bonarda, Argentina’s second most important red variety (after malbec), and thought to be either bonarda piemontese or bonarda novarese, originally from Italy.

Retail prices of the wines varied from around $15 to $135 and once again preferences among tasters varied widely. We didn’t know the prices as we tasted. My top two wines were the second most expensive and the cheapest – the latter attracting wide support among tasters.

They appealed for different reasons. Felipe Rutini Antologia XXIV 2008 (about $90), from Tupungato, Mendoza, combined plummy fruit, with a pleasant dusting of oak adding a layer of complexity, through both its savoury tannins and flavour input. While I liked the wine in the line up, I wouldn’t pay this much for it. (Imported by Wines of Chile and Argentina).

On the other hand, the $15 Mi Terruno Uvas Bonarda 2010, from Maipu, Mendoza, revealed a bright, fresh, fruity, medium-bodied, easy-drinking side of bonardo – an affordable delight. It’s imported by Untapped Fine Wines (www.untappedwines.com.au).

A run of 15 mostly delicious malbecs, the last four from individual vineyards, put us back into familiar territory.

At its best this variety delivers full, juicy, delicious flavours and really silk-smooth tannins – a winning combination.

The line up varied from the fruity, simple and inexpensive to the quite complex, featuring layers of flavour – but all within the juicy, silky malbec context.

My favourite of the juicy, inexpensive wines was Tahuan Tahuantinsuyu Malbec 2009 (about $20) – an aromatic, pretty wine, full of buoyant, lovable fruit flavours. (Imported by JED Wines – www.jedwines.com).

Of the more layered wines, I particularly liked Ernesto Catena Siesta Malbec 2008 (about $25), imported by JED Wines; Achaval Ferrer Malbec 2010 (about $45), imported by Departure Lounge Wines (www.departureloungewines.com); Felipe Rutini Malbec 2008 (about $36), imported by Wines of Chile and Argentina; O. Fournier Alfa Crux Malbec 2007 (about $64), imported by Untapped Fine Wines; and Mi Terrunao Mayacaba 2007 (about $58), imported by Untapped Fine Wines.

Over coming months I’ll write full reviews of these wines. There’ll also be a follow-up story on Argentina’s unique, high-altitude vineyards, hugging the eastern slopes of the Andes along about 17 degrees of latitude.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
First published 7 December 2011 in The Canberra Times

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