For the third straight year in Mexico, the Argentine Embassy and the Wines of Argentina (Wofa) institute hosted a (belated) World Malbec Day tasting festival at Hotel Live Aqua in Santa Fe on Saturday, April 30.
The tasting included a sampling of wines from 25 Argentine estates, including malbec (the country’s signature wine) and torrontés (its extraordinary white grape variety, known for its aromatic fruity aromas and smooth mouthfeel), as well as a buffet of cheeses, sliced meats and other delicacies and a series of seminars on the South American nation’s three main growing regions.
Argentina, the world’s fifth-largest producer of wine, has more than 26,000 estates, exporting $770 million worth of reds, whites, rosés and sparkling wines annually and embracing two realms of production — ambitious commercial vintners with wines of real quality at superb prices and equally ambitious artisanal wineries geared to a higher-end market of discerning consumers.
At last count, the Gaucho Nation was churning out no less than 2.7 billion kilograms of wine grapes a year, a weight that yields a total wine production of more than 1.5 billion liters, and roughly 40 percent of that output is composed of the inky hued malbec grape.
Mendoza, located in the far expanse of Argentina’s eastern Andean foothills in the Cuyo region, in the shadow of Mount Aconcagua, produces some of the highest winegrowing altitudes in the world, with the average site between 2,000 and 3,600 feet above sea level, allowing the region to produce not only excellent reds, but also surprisingly fragrant and crisp whites, such as its trademark rich and perfumed torrontéses.
But while Mendoza may be the commercial powerhouse of Argentina’s wine industry, the northern region is now beginning to come into its own as a world-class wine center. San Juan, which for decades has been producing plenty of mediocre wines from uninspiring grapes for purely local consumption, is now stepping up its quality and adding new blends to its ho-hum chardonnays, merlots, cabernet sauvignons and malbecs.
Unlike the Mendoza region, San Juan is at a lower altitude and the climate is much drier and hotter, making it an ideal place for syrah grapes, which are the star of this province. San Juan enjoys one of the sunniest climates in the world, with no more than 30 days of cloud-covered sky a year. Nights are cold and days are hot, creating a perfect range in temperature for the cultivation of grapes high in polyphenols and wines with intense flavor and fruit.
The wines of Patagonia, in Argentina’s far south, on the other hand, are known for their sharp minerality and intense aromas, thanks to their stressed vines and rugged terroir.
This vast range of geography and climates allows Argentina to produce a vast variety of varietals and wines.
But it is the signature, flagship purple malbec grape — with its intoxicatingly fruity bouquets and heady earthy flavors — that has become synonymous with Argentina’s wine production.
In the last 15 years, the once largely disparaged and maligned malbec grape (even the name is pejorative: “mal bec,” French for “bad break”) brought to Argentina’s western Mendoza province by French immigrants in the early 18th century, has won global renown for local vintners and have even begun to edge out the tango as the country’s national icon.
Consequently, in 2012, the WofA officially declared April 17 World Malbec Day in an effort to further position Argentine wines in the global market.
Each year, more than 60 countries around the globe observe the malbec celebration with Argentine food, wine and lifestyle festivities.