Feb. 26, 2015 |
We in wine circles are always touting what we think is going to be the next ‘big’ thing. I do this quite often and I always beg my readers to take me seriously! And after a trip to South America, I’m convinced that the more esoteric varieties from Argentina are going to take off like a rocket around the world in the same way as their Malbec has over the last decade. Some of these wines are indigenous to Argentina, and others are actually native Italian or French grapes that must have been brought across when migrants first settled here.
In recent years, the Argentines have made Malbec their powerhouse, just as the New Zealanders have with Sauvignon Blanc. This is because Malbec is able to ripen fully in Argentina thanks to the intense sunlight. It allows the tannins to ripen, and the fruit flavours to develop completely so the resulting wine has fully ripe, soft tannins and rich fruity, slightly floral flavours. This is in contrast to Bordeaux or the Cahors region where the native Malbec hasn’t always ripened successfully.
Today, Malbec in Argentina is ubiquitous amongst most producers. The very best ones have decided to invest in other grape varieties. Of these, Torrontés is the most impressive. This white grape is native to Argentina — a cross between the highly aromatic Muscat, and Pais, another native white grape. The best examples are delicate and very perfumed (reminiscent of fresh grapes, jasmine and roses).
Susana Balbo, Argentina’s first woman winemaker, is generally credited as being responsible for creating the Torrontés style. Her winery, Dominio del Plata in Mendoza produces some of the most elegant Torrontés from the region, but the best examples come from the north, in Salta. Currently, two Torrontés are imported into India: FineWinesnMore have their own label MTB Torrontés, and Sula Selections imports a zippy Torrontés from Trapiche, an old family company now controlled by a private equity firm linked to Credit Suisse. Torrontés is perfect for the warm, humid climate in India, and pairs quite aptly with lightly spiced food.
Balbo also produces wines from the Bonarda grape (not the same as the Bonarda of Piedmont), which are rustic and savoury with an underlying dark fruit strain. The addition of Syrah (labelled as Sirah) gives the wine pepper and nutmeg spice. Balbo’s hand lends the wines a touch of elegance. And they’re not expensive.
Tannat is a very difficult wine to get your teeth around. Literally. This highly tannic grape from Madiran in southwest France is produced rather successfully in Uruguay, but the wines are usually chewy, savoury and incredibly high in tannin and extract. Somehow, the Argentines have discovered how to produce softer, fruitier examples and Balbo’s (still a trial) was one of the best I tried. The wine was balanced and firm in the mouth, but still with dark fruit and plushness. Again, very elegant.
Harshal Shah is a sommelier and former executive committee member of the Australian Sommeliers Association. He currently spends his time between Sydney and New Delhi, consulting to restaurants and hotels. Go to twitter.com/harshalshah.