By Celia Strong
Each week, when I introduce a new wine, I like to include a history of the region that makes the wine as well as background information about the winery and the winemaking process. Well, this week’s discussion is going to be a bit different in that the connection between the lesson and the wine is somewhat vague. But there is still a really good, new wine — the Fournier Urban Malbec-Tempranillo 2012 — and some new information about the grapes and its country of origin. After reading this we end up with more knowledge about wines in general, and hopefully, with a glass in our hands.
We travel to Argentina this week for a new winery and a new red wine. Although we have discussed the history and development of wine production in this country before, here is a quick rundown: The Spanish colonized Argentina, and the country’s wine industry faced difficulties during its formative years such as no markets, quantity vs quality, indigenous varieties before European grapes came, the building of a national railroad that let the wines come down from the vineyards to get exported from ports, the up and down value of their money, outside investments in their wineries, and economic and political instability.
Beyond this basic and somewhat dry history, there are some really interesting tidbits about Argentina. While most of us think of Argentina’s Spanish roots, ties, and cultural influences, the country also has a strong connection to Italy. Between 1857 and 1940, almost 45 percent of the immigrants into Argentina were Italians. Today, close to 60 percent of their population has some degree of Italian descent. In the decades before 1900, the majority of Italian immigrants into Argentina came from northern Italy (the regions of Piedmont, Veneto and Lombardy). After 1900, there was a shift toward more southern and rural immigrants — the regions of Campania, Calabria and Sicily. These were mostly male immigrants, aged 14 to 50, many of them agricultural workers and unskilled laborers.
After World War II, with much of Italy in rubble, a huge wave of Italian immigrants came to Argentina, almost half a million. It seems obvious, with these numbers, that a large part of Argentine language, customs and traditions are Italian based or influenced. Argentine food and wine were hugely influenced by them all. Pasta and pizza can be found easily all over the country. Cheeses like Provolone and Parmesan are common. Raviolis, polenta, tomatoes all have been added to what are now traditional Argentine dishes. Grapes such as Moscato and Bonarda have found homes in their vineyards.
Although our wine is not directly related to Italy, this information about the importation of cultural influences is important because in Argentina all of the food and wine is now connected, regardless of its specific origins. The truth is, our wine is a blend of a French variety, Malbec, and a Spanish variety, Tempranillo. And, the truth is, after we look more closely at it, our wine will go well with many styles of foods because of the background it comes from. In Argentina, like other European influenced countries, a wine is chosen for a meal because the food and the wine will taste better together — Spanish, Italian or French does not matter. What matters is elevating the meal with a quality wine.
Our wine this week is from O. Fournier winery. Just the name is typical of Argentina — a French name in a country of many backgrounds. This winery was established in 2000, and it is equipped with the latest technology. They have stainless steel, oak and cement vats that can hold almost 320,000 gallons of wine. Their underground cellar can hold up to 2,800 barrels. They also have their own laboratories for analyzing their grapes and wines. In the near future, they plan on building a luxury hotel so all can go visit and taste.
All their grapes are harvested by hand. The grapes are sorted, by hand again, and the stalks removed. Crushing and de-stemming are done by a stainless steel machine. Fermentation is at chilled temperatures to enhance the fruit-forward style of their wines. All of this geared to make Fournier a high quality wine producer at affordable bottle prices.
They make several tiers of wines — ours is the “Urban,” specifically the 2012 Fournier Urban Malbec-Tempranillo blend of two grapes with different origins.
The Malbec, as we know, is a red variety that has pretty much made the wine industry in Argentina. Malbec originally came from Bordeaux, France, where it is still used to soften the textures of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The grape travelled to Argentina in the mid-19th century when phylloxera invaded the vineyards of France. Luckily, for us, it found a wonderful home where it could thrive in the soil and climate of Argentina.
When the wine industry in Argentina moved from making a high quantity of wine into making high quality wines, Malbec was in the right place at the right time. The Argentine wines from Malbec have structure and a voluptuous smoothness at the same time. And they also have a great potential for aging, a characteristic unique to Argentine Malbecs. These grapes create wines that are characterized by deep color, purple and deep red, intense fruity flavors, plums, blackberries, black cherries, and a velvety texture. Delicious!
Tempranillo, our second grape featured in this week’s wine, originated in Spain. This grape probably came to Argentina in the 17th century with Spanish conquistadors. Tempranillo is a harder variety to grow, and, generally, makes better wines when blended with other grapes. In Spain, it is blended with Garnacha and Mazuelo (Grenache and Carignan). In Argentina? Malbec is ready and willing and able, but we don’t see too many wines made with these two grape varieties. Tempranillo wines have berry, plum, tobacco, vanilla and herb flavors. Tempranillo is often considered to be one of the most food-friendly grapes in the world. On top of its layers of flavors, it also has an earthiness underneath; earthy characteristics and food always go well together.
Our wine is made from grapes grown at 3,600 feet above sea level, a cooler elevation that allows the grapes to ripen a bit more slowly with layers of developed flavors. They are fermented in stainless steel tanks after 13 days with skin contact. Colors, textures and flavors, the wines are aged in French oak barrels for three months.
Even though there is no touch of Italian history related to this wine, it actually pairs well with most Italian food — anything with a tomato-based sauce, pasta, meats, seafood, lasagna, as well as any Italian cheeses, sausages and salami.
The Fournier Urban Malbec-Tempranillo 2012 is a delicious wine that wine writers have given 90 points and higher. It is an interesting blend of history and flavors that represents our multicultural global society — produced in Argentina, made with French and Spanish grapes, and paired well with Italian food. And now we can add a Lowcountry connection because it is available at Bill’s Liquors on Lady’s Island for only $10.99. Enjoy.
On Monday, May 19 from 7 to 8 p.m., Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island will have a wine tasting with 12 new wines. It’s a quick but easy way to try 12 wines, and they will be on deal that night. RSVP to Celia at 843-812-8466.