The Modest Malbec and Rise of Argentine Wines

February 27, 2012 by

Day Trips, Things To Do, Tours & Activities

Mountains of Mendoza, Argentina. Photo courtesy of fainmen via Flickr.

Mountains of Mendoza, Argentina. Photo courtesy of fainmen via Flickr.

The long, luxuriant days of the Argentine summer are upon us. Even in the cooler Mendoza highlands, verdant rows of ripening grapes glow in the afternoon sunlight, as if in anticipation of the early March harvest. This is Argentina’s wine country – most famously home of the increasingly popular Malbec.

The roots of Argentina’s winemaking industry are primarily Spanish, with a few other European vintages aging in the arid Andean foothills of western Argentina, which produces about two-thirds of this nation’s wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Criolla Grande, Tempranillo, and Cereza grapes are all pressed into export-quality bottles that get plenty of international press. But it is a modest French grape, back home usually mixed with better vintages into hearty table wines, that is making a fuss.

Malbec, a small, dark, juicy grape, was original bred to be blended with Bordeaux. When it arrived in Argentina in the late 1800s, it was planted at much higher altitudes up to 1100 meters (3610ft) above sea level. No one could have predicted that the arid heights would help the modest Malbec develop into a thick-skinned grape of enviable acidity and tannin levels, worthy of its own robust pure varietal. With plums, cherry, and currant flavors, spiced up in oak casks for hints of violet and vanilla, Malbec was enthusiastically welcomed to the sommelier scene late last decade.

Competitive prices and award-winning bottles have only made Malbec and Mendoza more popular. Today there are more than a dozen different strains carefully tended at several top vineyards, many of which offer tastings, tours, and even restaurants and lodging.

After more than a century of perfecting Malbec wine, Mendoza itself is aging gloriously into one of Argentina’s most popular attractions, particularly among the culturally conscious and luxury markets.

Viator makes all the arrangements for you on their Argentine wine-tasting tours, which leave from the city of Mendoza. The pretty town is convenient, with a wide selection of excellent restaurants and lodging options for every budget.

Of course, there’s more to Mendoza than wine tours; pair yours, perhaps, with a trip whitewater rafting in the Cordillerano de Potrerillos; to the hot springs of Cacheuta; or hiking the spectacular landscape of Ischigualasto Provincial Park.

-Paige Penland

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