While I usually spend the holiday season at home with family and friends, going from one festive meal to another and always carrying a bottle if not two of Israeli wine, this year I decided that it was time for a change. After brief planning and extensive negotiations with my boss trying to find suitable dates to go on vacation, I booked a flight to Argentina and after spending a couple of nights in Buenos Aires where I indulged on some excellent traditional asado and prime steaks (check out La Cabrera in Palermo), I made my way to Mendoza, heart of the Argentinian wine industry. Other wine regions in Argentina include: Salta, Rio Negro, San Juan, La Roja and even the southern province of Patagonia has limited wine production. Accounting for some 2/3 of the country's wine production, the province of Mendoza is located in the eastern foothills of the Andes, shadowed by Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America. Vineyards in this wine region are also planted at relatively high altitudes often with a backdrop of the impressive Andes mountain range. Compared to Buenos Aires, the city of Mendoza is rather quaint with beautiful parks, wide avenues, good restaurants (for some fine dinning and wine pairing visit Azafran – situated a couple blocks down from Plaza Indepencia) and impressive plazas.
Over the past 10-20 years the Argentinian wine industry has undergone a major quality revolution. From a country primarily focusing on bulk and table wine for local consumption, today Argentinian wines are receiving recognition the world over and the share of exports and inbound wine tourism is constantly on the rise.
As far as the grape varieties cultivated in Mendoza are concerned, one can find traditional (relatively speaking of course) grape varieties alongside classic noble grape varieties. A large number of hectares are usually dedicated to the Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, due to Mendoza's vast size and climate, many vineyards are also producing pretty good Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah. Salta's wine region in the north of Argentina is known for its high quality Cabernet and for growing the Torrontes grape – a green skinned grape producing aromatic white vinos. In the Rio Negro region, cooler climates allow for the production of cool climate varieties like Pinot Noir and high quality Sauvignon Blancs. Sparkling, Champagne style wines are also increasing in popularity and are primarily produced from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and even some Malbec.
While in Mendoza one can rent a car and head out on daily winery visits; other options include organized excursions or simply rent a bike and head out to the various villages and adjacent towns stopping by at the various wineries along the way. It is important to note that most wineries are closed on Sundays and some require advance reservations. Recommended wineries include: Ruca Malen, Bodega Carmelo Patti, Catena Zapata, Pulenta Estate, Bodega Caro, Bodegas Escorihuela Gascon and Trapiche.
Most wineries that I visited take great pride in their Malbec wines and for me this was a very interesting and educating experience. While in Israel many wineries used small percentages of Malbec for blending, here I was exposed to a wide array of Malbec wines varying in style and character. Originally grown in the Southeast of France, today is considered by many as the national Argentine grape variety producing wines that usually range from medium to full body, dark purple in color with distinctive earthy and black fruit notes and even some leather.
At the Tarpiche winery (represented in Israel by the Scottish Company) an extra emphasis is put on Malbec wines, offering a Malbec to meet every pocket and every palate. From the entry level varietal label to the premium Single Vineyard label, I found Trapiche´s Malbec wines to be very interesting and diverse. If you are looking for an elegant, complex and age worthy Malbec, I would strongly recommend trying the winery´s Single Vineyard wines which are produced annually from vineyards that have demonstrated exceptional results and quality. Winemaker Thomas Hughes also takes great pride in this label - ¨every year we sample Malbec from all of our vineyards and after careful examination and several tasting sessions, select the wines that are worthy of entering this series. This is also an opportunity to thank the growers who are an inseparable part of the wine production progress. The names of the growers are indicated on the labels and one can also compare the differences of the terroirs´´. But Trapiche isn´t only about Malbec; the winery produces some 30 million bottles per annum with 60% intended for export (primarily to North America). Other wines that I enjoyed were the Trapiche, Medalla, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 – a firm, full bodied and complex cab that is definitely worth trying. The Pinot Noir from the Broquel label was also quite interesting showing good varietal characteristics while being quite different then French or other ´´New World´´ Pinots. My favorite white wine was by far the Torrontes, Broquel, 2010 – light straw in color, this is a rather aromatic wine with notes of flowers, spices, dried apricots and white peaches. Judging by the nose, I would have thought that this would be an off dry wine, but the palate was dry, crisp and smooth with good balancing acidity – an ideal summery wine that will go well with light vegetable or fish based starters or simply serve chilled on its own. Last was the winery´s flagship vino Manos (hands in Spanish). Manos is dedicated to all of the´´ hands´´ and various laborers involved in the production process – from the vineyards through bottling and sales. Ttapiche´s Manos 2007 is made from 100% Malbec and is a complex full bodied red wine with layered aromas and flavors of black berry fruits, plums and sweet spices all coming together nicely on the long and mouth filling finish. Serve with a juicy steak and you are in for a treat.
As far as I am aware the only varietal Malbec in Israel is produced by the Teperberg winery. Teperberg, Malbec, Terra, 2008: Deep ruby toward purple in color, this wine is medium bodied with soft tannins and pleasant acidity, suggesting aromas of various red berries, raspberries, young plums, oak and a hint of chocolate.