By Celia Strong
Argentina is the fifth-largest wine producing country in the world, behind Italy, France, Spain and the United States. The first grape vines were brought into Argentina in 1557, when Spain was trying to colonize the Americas — 72 years before the first vinifera vines came to the United States. In time, Italian immigrants came to Argentina, too, and brought vines and winemaking skills. To this day, Argentine food and wine are influenced by both Spanish and Italian traditions, with touches from France — the source for their Malbec vines.
The quality of Argentine wines was slow to develop. Originally, quantity was more important than quality. Combined with the extenuating circumstances that included high transportation costs to move wines from way up in the Andes to areas with more people and exporting facilities, tariffs imposed within the country on some of their own products, and very high consumption rates by their own population, the Argentine wine industry remained on a slow and difficult growth curve. Fortunately, in the late-20th century, with financial investments from other wine-producing countries and more and more experts in growing and winemaking coming in from other countries, things began to improve. Now, Argentina’s best wines compete with those from other countries — and often win.
Terrazas de los Andes is a winery that was founded in 1996 by Moët-Hennessey. It is located in Luján de Cuyo, a superb sub-region in Mendoza. Their emphasis is on Malbec, though they also make Cabernets, Chardonnays, Torrontes and red blends. Their vineyards are planted on terraces (hence the winery name) at various altitudes on the eastern foothills of the massive Andes Mountains. With research, including soil analysis and electro-conductivity mapping, they have determined the best elevation and climate for each variety. In recent years, Terrazas has expanded its portfolio to include an upper tier of single vineyard and parcel designated Malbec wines, a collaboration with Ch Cheval Blanc from Bordeaux that produces Cheval de los Andes, a red blend, and, for everyday drinking, a less expensive tier — Altos del Plata.
Our wine this week is the Altos del Plata Malbec. Its name, roughly translated, means “high place of silver” — a reference to the silver-colored snow-covered peaks of the Andes. These grapes are grown in high elevation vineyards in Luján de Cuyo and other parts of Mendoza. These vineyards, which are about the same altitude as ski slopes in the Rockies, get very warm during the sunny days and much cooler at night. We’ve learned before how this daily up and down of warm and cool lets the grapes develop extraordinary flavors, textures and complexities. And, because these high-elevation vineyards tend to be on the dry side, the vines’ roots are forced downward, deep into the soil, again producing more flavors, textures and complexities. The grapes are hand harvested, some at the end of the day when their flavors are the fullest, some during evenings when their acidities are more balanced. The grapes are de-stemmed and maceration lasts five days. Fermentation is done with selected yeasts and lasts about 15 days, then the wine is aged for about eight months in French oak barrels. The wine is clarified, filtered and bottled early to maintain its freshness.
The Altos Malbec is an intense red/purple color. It has aromas and flavors of red raspberries, blackberries, plums, black cherries, figs, vanilla and caramel. There are also hints of eucalyptus and herbs. All intense but still balanced. The texture is smooth, rich and juicy, with ripe tannins. This is a structured, balanced wine with an exceptionally long finish. It pairs excellently with beef, as well as aged cheeses, stewed meats, grilled meats and poultry, pasta dishes, seafood and more. All for $9.99. Enjoy!
Celia Strong works at Billís Liquor & Fine Wines on Ladyís Island.