Malbec (and More) from Mendoza, Argentina

Named for “argentum” (Latin for “silver”), Argentina was likely named for the early Spanish explorers’ hopes of what was to be found in this magical country. Although silver was never discovered here, Argentina has become one of the world’s top wine producers. Argentina is the second largest country in South America after Brazil and is also the eighth largest country in the world.

Argentina’s most famous wine region is located in the province of Mendoza almost 700 miles from Buenos Aires and the Atlantic Ocean. Mendoza is closer to Santiago, Chile, than to Buenos Aires. Snuggled in the foothills of the Andes, Mendoza has a semi-desert-like climate. The area only receives eight to ten inches of rainfall per year! Irrigation is a necessity in order for vines to thrive. The snowmelt from the high peaks of the Andes provides plenty of water for irrigation.

Argentina’s signature grape varietal is Malbec. Malbec is a member of the Bordeaux family of grapes — think Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot — and was brought to the area from its homeland of France. Malbec, however, finds its most divine expression in Argentina. Plush black and blue fruit, soft and fine-grained tannins, usually with a touch of new oak barrels, makes Malbec a crowd pleaser. Malbec also makes an excellent accompaniment to the local food passion: beef! Grilled, broiled, fried or boiled. Chimichurri, a sauce of parsley, garlic, red chili pepper, onion and olive oil, is the “ketchup” of Argentina. It’s easy enough to make at home for a smart dinner party of Argentine food and wine!

When the first Europeans arrived in South America, they did not find native grape vines growing as they did in North America. Vine plantings had to be brought from Europe. The missionaries needed wine for the sacrament, and water was not safe to drink. The first vines planted in Argentina were likely brought by missionaries crossing the Andes from Peru. The first recorded vineyard, Santiago del Estero, was founded in 1557.

Wines other than Malbec are also made in Argentina. White wines from Torrontés (really only found in any quantities in Salta in northern Argentina) and Chardonnay (because the world needs more Chardonnay…tongue-in-cheek) are grown while Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda (the same as Charbono grown in California), Syrah and Merlot are the top reds. Cereza, the most widely planted grape in Argentina that you’ve never heard of, is a pink-skinned grape that is considered inferior. It is used in the production of bulk wines that don’t leave the country. However, there are some lovely dry rosés to be found from the grape. Argentines consume approximately 75 percent of the wine made in their country, leaving little for export. The United States is one of the top export markets for the wines of Argentina. So, don’t be afraid to try something other than Malbec!

Argentina has a long and storied history, and a large part of that has involved the production of wine. Live life on the edge tonight! Open a bottle of Malbec, have a beautiful grilled NY Strip steak and dance a tango!

About the author: Dinah Leach is the Wine Director and Sommelier for Angelina’s Ristorante of Bonita Springs. Please feel free to contact her with any wine questions at dinah@epicfoodconcepts.com.

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