By Celia Strong
This week we’re going Southern in more ways than one — all the way to Argentina in the Southern hemisphere to introduce two new wines. I’ve noticed, and I suppose you have too, that we’ve done two wines a week several times now. It makes our repertoire so much bigger, so much faster, doesn’t it? A good thing, I think.
Argentina is a large country that’s full of all kinds of history. Unfortunately, we are limited to looking at just small pieces of it, little bits at a time. But, it’s interesting and all of it comes back, in part at least, to play a part in the Argentine wine industry — geography, climate and people. You may remember that, in the beginning, Argentine wine makers were more interested in quantity than quality. Ninety percent of the wine they made was drunk by their own citizens. In the early 1990s, Argentina produced more wine than any other country outside Europe. Too bad most of it was not worth even trying to export. But, the beginning of exportation in the 1990s encouraged the industry to make better wines, and the devaluation of the Argentine peso in 2002, opened the door to major investing in their wineries, lower operating costs and tourism to introduce their wines to the world. Mendoza is the best known Argentine wine region, located in western Argentina, right next to the Andes Mountains. It produces about 60 percent of all the wines made in the country.
There are many different grape varieties grown in Argentina, also evidence of their complex and varied history. The French brought Malbec, which became the country’s great red wine making grape, as well as Syrah, Chardonnay and others. The Italians came with Bonarda, a red variety that we don’t see all that often from anywhere else, but is worth searching for in Argentine wines. (Actually, there is some mystery about this grape in Argentina and its exact origins and which exact form of the grape is there. But, I’m sorry to tell you, too much mystery for us here today.) And, Argentina itself has Torrontes, a member of the Malvasia grape family, known for aromatic white wines.
In Mendoza, archeological studies show that the first inhabitants date from the Holocene age, but not enough remains of them to really know how they lived. The earliest sites of human occupation are twelve to thirteen thousand years old. In 300 BC, a group of people lived near the Atuel River, hunting and growing corn, pumpkins and beans. These people were the predecessors of the Agrelo culture, in turn the ancestors of the Huarpes.
During the 15th century, the Huarpes interacted with the Incas. Then, around 1550, the first Spanish conquerors arrived in Peru. Mendoza was founded in 1561, by the conquistador Pedro de Castillo.
Viticulture was introduced to Argentina by its Spanish settlers and the Christian missionaries who closely followed them. In 1556, father Juan Cedron established the first vineyard in Argentina with cuttings from the Chilean Central Valley. Ampelographers — experts in the study and classification of cultivated varieties of grape — suspect that the grapes that came were related to Chile’s Pais and California’s Mission varieties. During the second half of the 16th century, settlers and missionaries not only planted vineyards in Mendoza, but they also constructed irrigation channels that ran water (melting snow) down the mountains to their vines. Some of these are still used today! In 1885, Argentina’s first railway was completed, in large part to make it possible to move wines down from the provinces to coastal cities. With the coming of many more European immigrants in the 19th century, they then had customers. And, further, the immigrants, many of them leaving vineyards in Europe because of the devastation of phylloxera, brought skills and knowledge to Argentina’s new industry.
The mid-1990’s gets us to our winery for this week’s two wines. Concha y Toro, one of Chile’s leading wine companies, announced their purchase of a collection of vineyards in Argentina, about 3,185 acres, in Mendoza. Rumors on both sides of the Andes were numerous that the winds of change were blowing. Very soon after the purchase, a state-of-the-art winery was built. It has all the most modern and up-to-date equipment. Wine maker and staff from Chile, Argentina and Europe were hired. Today, the winery is a prime example of how good high altitude viticulture can be. So what is the winery? Trivento. Named for the three winds that blow around their vineyards. At Trivento, like so many other wineries, they make several tiers or levels of wines. We are going to their lower tier. Lower, though, refers only to lower price, not lower quality. Amado Sur means “love of the south.” And we get a red wine and a white one.
Amado Sur red is labeled as a Malbec. In fact, it is a blend, mostly Malbec, with small amounts of Bonarda and Syrah — if that’s not a perfect example of the blend of Argentine heritage! The exact percentages of each grape vary some from year to year, but they tend to stay in that order. Every bottle has the exact blend on it so you’ll always know. This wine is a deep red color, with hints of dark purple. The aromas are full of dark fruits mixed with black pepper, anise, cinnamon and chocolate. The flavors are plump and juicy, plums and berries, with smooth tannins and a long finish. At Trivento, they believe the Malbec grape has found in Argentina the rich soil it needs to make decadent wines. Only in the beloved south!
Amado Sur white is also a blend. Predominantly Torrontes, with small amounts of Viognier and Chardonnay. Again, history in a bottle. The percentages of these grapes also vary from year to year, and they are also on the label so you know. We just have to remember that, in both these wines, by adjusting the percentages, Trivento can maintain similar flavors and textures in the wines vintage after vintage. Amado Sur white wine is a delicate yellow color with hints of green. Its aromas are floral, including roses and jasmine, with lemon notes. The wine has a refreshing acidity, but it’s also lush with white peach, apricot and orange peel flavors. The acidity follows these flavors through to the crisp finish. The three varieties in this wine also develop their best in these Mendoza vineyards.
Both of these wines are terrific when you first taste them. But they are both really well suited to a wide variety of foods. Another tug from their history? The Malbec is well suited to meats, beef, lamb and pork, some spicyness and fruit sauces. The white will go well with seafood, salads, Thai and other Asian flavors and more. For me, the first thing I thought of for them was Thanksgiving dinner. Their weight, textures and flavors all just hollered turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, beans and more and more. And, at $10.99 each, they can keep us all pretty well covered. So think Southern, in more ways than one. Enjoy!
By Celia Strong