The flight from Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza, Argentina, is short but breathtaking. Lasting not quite an hour, it takes passengers over a vast swath of the Andes Mountains and affords a view of the majestic peak of Aconagua if you’re seated on the port side of the plane.
Perhaps not so visually stunning, but breathtaking nonetheless, is the pace at which Argentine wine producers are kick-starting their industry after years of shaky economic times. Many delicious wines are available now from Argentina, and they offer a combination of flavor, finesse, and value that beleaguered fans of European wines, burdened by the effects of the eternally slumping dollar, should flock to.
Just in time for spring’s thaw is the thrilling Susana Balbo “Crios” Torrontés 2007 (Bacchus Importers Ltd., $10). Torrontés, a possible relative of the Mediterranean grape malvasia, has been in Argentina for ages and does particularly well in the high-altitude vineyards of La Salta, from where this example hails. I love this wine for its intriguing combination of delicate floral aromas, peachy but also citrusy flavors, and its dryness; it bucks the recent trend of leaving a little residual sugar behind to please American palates, and I’m fine with that. Consider it with shellfish, lightly dressed salads, or as a refreshing alternative to sauvignon blanc.
Another bottle that grabbed my attention for being a little wild was the Zolo Bonarda 2005 (Chesapeake Beverage Group, $12). Along with the expected plum and brambly berry notes is something akin to a cut of rare steak; it’s a little rustic, a little savage maybe, but what an engaging bottle of red for the money. Bonarda may be considered by some to be nothing more than a peasant grape, but in this example, the peasants make fine company.
Decidedly not a wine that associates with the peasants, Bodega Renacer Punto Final Malbec Reserva 2005 (F.P. Winner, $35) is a sleek, modern mouthful of malbec. Encased in a heavy, expensive bottle, dressed up with a hip, expensive label, this is malbec that’s ready to dine in the finest restaurants in town. It takes about a half hour’s worth of decanting for the wine to really show itself, but when it did wake up, it practically attacked me with a whirlpool of deep blackberry, red cherry, spice box, smoked meat, and toasty vanilla.
This wine isn’t shy, and is clearly an attempt to appeal to an international market, but I have to say it works. Malbec is obviously very much at home in Argentina, and indeed they are staking the industry’s reputation on it. Expect to see more luxury bottlings of it in the near future, and don’t be afraid to give malbecs a whirl. Many I’ve come across are exciting and engaging, and well worth exploring as we get into grilling season.