Argentina is a New World wine producer with an Old World sense of history and culture and this is just one of the many paradoxes of this unique nation. American journalist turned Buenos-Aires resident, Ian Mount delivers a through examination of Argentina’s oenological history in this new book rest will appeal to any wine lover who has fallen for Malbec.
It’s a known fact that the best wines often come from vineyards where grapes must fight to thrive;therefore it’s no surprise that Argentina’s soil produces the complex and flavorful Malbec wine. The Argentine climate was a natural for vineyards but it took Michel Aime Pouget, a mad scientist of a Frenchman with a incredible aptitude for agriculture to usher in the rise of fine wine in Argentina during the 1800s.
As railways snaked across the rocky terrain cattle flourished and the local aristocracy saw the chance to bring local bodegas into the modern era utilizing French techniques of viticulture. just as French winemaking faltered, devastated by the phylloxera epidemic. The spread of this vine-destroying parasite across Europe led to Italian and Spanish winemakers journeying to Argentina to seek their fortune amid unspoiled vineyards.
Unfortunately, early success bred fraud and much of the Argentine wine that made it out of the country was watered-down and adulterated. By the 1970s it bore little of the rich flavor that today’s prized Malbecs offer to the world. It took winemaking scion Nicolas Catena to return Argentine winemaking to the roots of its early promising start. Catena began being motivated by profit, promoting established brands with new ad campaigns. Then, while taking a break from the wine world and studying economics at UC Berkeley, he discovered Napa and a fresh passion for wine was born. Like many other winemakers aspiring toward new levels of quality, Catena turned toward UC Davis and its world-famous viticulture and oenology department, hiring winemaker Paul Hobbs. Bodega owner Arnaldo Etchart turned to the Old World summoning renowned French consultant Michel Rolland to teach the ways of Bordeaux.
The Judgement of Paris, which forever changed global attitudes about California wines, also paved the way for other New World wines. Like Napa, Argentina would need to prove itself with more familiar varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay before showcasing high-quality Malbec. Growers learned to prune more ruthlessly and water less leading to fewer grapes but greater flavor. Today we tend to think of Malbec as a strictly Argentinean creation but it has its origins as one of the six core varietals of Bordeaux. Now however, French winemakers must rely on Malbec from Argentina. Malbec from Argentina with its inky color and big jammy fruit flavors has become very popular n the United States spawning new generations of wine entrepreneurs, using the latest advances in viticulture and wine blending technology.
For fans of wine documentaries like Mondovino and books such as The Billionaire’s Vinegar or George Taber’s account of the Judgement of Paris, this book will be pure pleasure. Familiar names such as Robert Mondavi and Robert Parker Jr. make an appearance but it is the Argentine winemakers who are the characters to remember in the story of the rise of Argentina’s fine wine industry.