Hello from Mendoza, Argentina. Mendoza accounts for 85% of wine production and 90% of exports in Argentina. According to Steve Tanzer, US export sales in the 10 months ending October 2008 were up 18% in quantity and 40% in dollars. This gain adds to the increase of 75% in volume and 50% in value achieved in 2007. Argentina is the fifth largest producer of wines in the world, following Italy, Spain, France and the US.
I've spent the past four days tasting hundreds of wines from Mendoza, with four more full days to come. Thus far, I've been most impressed with the polished wines of the sophisticated Pulenta and the very attractive and well-priced Dona Paula lines. In addition, the Crios line, by Susanna Balbo, offers good value. The styles range from rustic and elegant to overly oaked and fruit forward. A balance exists. Only 17% of Argentina's wines are exported and producers are still discovering the tastes of the international palate, as the export market is still newly emerging for this long domestic-driven market.
Malbec is the most recognized red of Argentina. It accounts for 45% of cases shipped and 53% in dollar value. It is a medium plus thick varietal. When youthful, it has intense ruby and purple colors. Typical aromas include plums, spice, violets and boysenberry. Soft, plush tannins are a trademark of this grape. Alcohol levels are high. Alcohol reduction technology comes to mind. Spinning cone, a vacuum evaporation technology that reduces the alcohol content in wine without sacrificing the quality of the aromas and taste, is legal, but not available here, according to Bodegas Norton, who employs reverse osmosis to reduce alcohol, limited to a 0.5% reduction. Spinning cone is common in California and other new world areas. Malbec can either be aged in a neutral vessel such as stainless steel or cement tank with more expensive, higher quality wines seeing oak.
The 2009 Mendoza vintage will result in 20-30% less wine as a result of both lower rainfall and warmer temperatures.
I've revised the below notes from Terrazas de los Andes, who I'll meet later this week.
Mendoza is a continental, desert dry region with only 7 inches of annual average rainfall, compared to 24 inches in Napa Valley and 34 inches in Bordeaux. Irrigation is absolutely necessary.
Unique in the world of wine, elevation, rather than proximity to a water mass, moderates Argentine vineyard climate. The humidity coming from the Pacific is blocked by the Andes(acts as a rain shadow). Thermal amplitude varies, from 16°C/61°F for the highest elevation vineyards of Chardonnay at 3,900 feet, followed by 14°C/57°F for Malbec vineyards at 3,500 feet, and 13°C/55°F for Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards at 3,200 feet.
Geologically, soils are mainly alluvial deposits. Soils closer to the Andes generally tend to feature more shallow soils, with larger stones closer to the surface. Soil composition within the vineyards also varies greatly, from low to medium levels of nitrogen (growth stimulation), potassium (nutrients), and phosphorus (energy generation and fruit concentration), to high levels of gravel and sand, and varying lime deposits.
La Piedra, early summer hail
$40,000 USD plus per acre. Lujan is the most prized area, with a higher elevation.
Aside, the food here is very good but very red meat-heavy. I love grass fed beef but not for lunch and dinner everyday. My best meal has been at the Grill Q at the Park Hyatt Mendoza, where I had a great salad and an outstanding parrillada, or grill, with delightful pieces of pork belly, ribs, hangar, tenderloin, blood sausage, chorizo and throat glands. The ice cream was mediocre. I spent Easter Sunday running, eating salads and grilled chicken.
I spent Saturday and Sunday reading about yeast spoilage, tca and volatile acidity -- common wine flaws. The subject matter is very interesting.