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Argentinian Alternatives

El Esteco Harvest 1

Malbec has well and truly put Argentina on the wine map – it’s their star grape, like Sauvignon Blanc for New Zealand, Shiraz for Australia, and Chenin Blanc in South Africa.

Indeed, commenting on the success of this sun-worshipping varietal, Jo Gilbert of Harpers says: “One of the great New World success stories is the rise of Argentinian Malbec, which has become the go-to grape for both supermarket shoppers and trendy restaurants in the UK and also worldwide”.

It goes without saying that most restaurants and bars around town will have at least one Malbec on their list. Consumers have grown to adore the familiar, plush and velvety notes that are so often found in a glass of Malbec. The variety has lead the revolution of Argentinian wines; and has now cleared the path for what’s starting to unravel.harriet

Argentinian Buyer Harriet Kininmonth says: “Today’s UK market is evolving and consumers are increasingly on the hunt for provenance and distinction, craving a premium and enriching experience. To this effect, we are witnessing a newfound curiosity surrounding Argentinean wines beyond Malbec, with a shift in focus towards alternative varieties, regionality and altitude.“

So it’s settled; we’re experiencing an identifiable move beyond Malbec, but what exactly is next for Argentina in terms of varietals?

Phil Crozier, Director of Wine at Gauchos – also known to respond to the moniker Mr Argentina – has an idea. While he admits Malbec will always be king, he says there are a raft of exciting new wines vying for their time in the sun.

“In terms of white, we absolutely focus on Torrontes, since it’s an indigenous varietal. For me, Semillon has a great future in Argentina – there’s so much history behind the grape, and a few new winemakers are ensuring its revival. White blends, however, are the way to go. There’s more complexity, with Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Semillon and Torrontes, and they seem to blend very well. This is especially true of wines from the Uco valley, with lean and tight characteristics being the order of the day”, Phil says. 

“When you look at reds, an entry-level Bonarda is excellent value; I do find that an equivalent-priced Malbec doesn’t match the value of simple and pure Bonarda. At the higher end it also delivers, with rich, soft and silky tannins.

“Cabernet Sauvignon is a popular option, especially for those who have yet to be seduced by Malbec.

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“Without doubt, Cabernet Franc is the runner-up in the Argentine steaks. It will take a while, but I think this varietal can go where Malbec goes too, in terms of quality and identity”, Phil says.

Phil’s not alone in his sentiments on Cab Franc; indeed, Argentinian wine writer Joaquín Hidalgo says it’s the promise on everyone’s lips.

When looking to pinpoint what might be the next big thing to come out of a wine producing region or country, the source of truth can, more often than not, be traced back to winemakers themselves and what they’re drinking from the area.

In recent years, the murmur among Argentinian winemakers is that Cabernet Franc is that next big thing; it’s what they’re all drinking.

Change however, won’t come quickly, nor will this upshoot of exciting new wines knock Malbec off its perch; however, what can be surmised is that the future is bright for alternative Argentinian varieties.

Compared with last year, we’re seeing growing number of Enotria&Coe customers thinking outside the box and expanding their Argentinian lists to include the likes of Torrontes, Cabernet Franc, Bonarda and Tannat.

Looking at our Argentinian portfolio, Harriet says: “We are very excited about our range, which boasts unprecedented diversity, equipped with some of the most desired brands in the market. From Bonarda to Torrontes, from Tannat to Cabernet Franc, our new selection can cover all the new trends and demands, and proves that Malbec isn’t the only Messi in the team.”

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Head of Winemaking at Peñaflor Daniel Pi has embraced the movement towards wines of finesse that express the nuances of their terroir: “This year [2016] we’ll be making wines which we have been fantasising about: reds armed with freshness, slightly thinning in the mouth. It’s not what we’re used to, but it’ll surprise the consumers”.

Earlier this year, Tim Atkin MW, spent three weeks in Argentina tasting hundreds of wines for his annual report. During this time, he caught wind of the changing landscape of the country’s wine industry, noting as much in his conclusion of the trip.

“Stylistically I noticed that the wines are finer, lighter and more elegant than in other times. There is good structure in most reds, but there is less oak and alcohol is beginning to decrease. There is a turn towards gastronomic wines, wines to accompany a dish instead of wines that are a meal by themselves. In many cases, I found wines that are fresh and easy to drink. These allow for better appreciation of the personality of the place where they are made. If we’re talking about trends, this is what stands out for me in Argentina today and I really like it.”

When it comes to Malbec, Tim notes that without a doubt it’s very important, but pointed out the fact that it represents just 10% of the total vineyards in the country.

“From my point of view, Argentine wine producers have two ways to go, not one or the other but both simultaneously. With Malbec, continue to work with precision on the origin. There is a lot of diversity to show the world about these wines. We must begin to explain that a Malbec from Perdriel, San Pablo, La Consulta, Salta, Gualtallary, Río Negro, Las Compuertas or Altamira is not the same.

“The second path is the diversity of types of wines that are produced in the country. There are almost a hundred different cultivated grapes that give the possibility to elaborate very different wines, and it has to be shown. This year I tasted Albariño, Verdejo, Mourvedre, Grenache, unique wines that are very enthusiastic and will surprise many. In addition, other grapes, such as Assyrtiko, Furmint, Nero D’Avola, Vermentino or Mencia, can be cultivated and should work very well.

“While Malbec is the best-known variety in Argentina, those who search a little deeper are surprised by the huge amount of styles and wines that exist,” Tim said.