Saturday, July 12, 2003

Wine producers

Those of us who pay attention to the world of wine occasionally find ourselves looking at tables of the largest wine producing countries in the world. This one, for instance. One thing that we often notice is the very high place that Argentina takes on the table. The country is the fifth largest producer in the world, and yet most people have never tasted an Argentinian wine, and know nothing whatsoever about Argentian wines. (Books on the subject often note that Argentinan wines are mostly consumed domestically, and leave it at that). On the other hand, Chilean wine is very readily avaliable in Britain, and I believe it is even more readily avaliable in the United States. However, Chile is not even listed in the top ten producing countries given in the table.

However, it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good, as I discovered yesterday reading this article in Slate on Argentinian wines. Thus, one consequence of the recent dramatic devaluation of the Argentinian peso is that Argentinian winemakers can get much better prices in domestic currency terms for wine exports, and as a consequence wine exports are way up. (The article also mentions that Argentina's large Spanish/Italian middle class is responsible for there traditionally being a large domestic market in Argentina).

The other interesting thing mentioned is the grape variety. Apparently the best Argentine wines are made from the Malbec grape, and come from the Mendoza region. Malbec is a blending grape in France and Australia, and is particularly blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux or Bordeaux blend wines. A varietal Malbec is not something that Australian or French winemakers would tend to do. (Chile tends to concentrate on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, too, probably because these are popular in the export markets).

Interestingly enough, when I was in Sainsbury's this afternoon, I found a cheap Argentinian Malbec from the Mendoza region. So, it so happens that I am about to test the Slate article myself. It's a 1992, so very young. A cabernet or even a merlot that age would likely still be very closed. Let's see. Moderate in colour. Not especially dark, but not a summer wine either. Not much of a nose at all. On tasting it, it lacks the concentration of a cabernet, and doesn't have the blackcurrenty quality of a cabernet either. Fruity, but lacking the spiciness of a syrah. Goes down the throat nicely, and a very pleasant aftertaste. This would be lovely with a nice steak. (I'm about to have it with a spicy pizza). The wine is maybe a bit unremarkable, but is obviously well made. Not a huge amount of complexity, no potential for ageing, but few people would ever complain about it.

That said, it only cost four pounds. One isn't generally going to get a wine with a lot of complexity for that price. For comparison, I now need to taste an Argentinian Malbec around the ten pound level. Maybe Oddbins would have one of those.

Hopefully, though, the exports will continue. Another wine country to explore the products of is always a fine thing.

Update: Having drunk a bit more of it, it seems to have opened up still further. I think I would add "jammy" to the previous comments. It's going down pretty well, on the whole.

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