Argentina: good at football, better at wine?

I think it’s fair to say that the World Cup has been all-encompassing since it started last month. Millions of hopeful fans have avidly been following the progress of their national team (or, in the case of England, unenthusiastically supporting another team while bitterly complaining about our poor yet predictable performance). World Cup coverage has dominated the press, the TV and the radio. Social media has gone crazy following Germany’s shock obliteration of the host nation in yesterday’s semi-final. Businesses have unabashedly used the footie as an opportunity self-promotion (including Grapeful...shhh!). I don’t even need to mention the fact that the Brazilian government has spent a stunning $14 billion hosting the tournament.


World Cup wine glass – not quite a Riedel but still good fun…

To borrow an old cliché, all good things must come to an end. We’ll soon be down to the last two nations standing – tomorrow Argentina will battle it out with Holland for the other coveted place in the final (although judging by yesterday’s 7-1 carnage, I’m not sure I would want to play football against the German team). Fun fact: did you know that the Argentine football team is nicknamed “La Albiceleste” which translates to “the white and sky blue”?

I’m not normally a betting person, but I have just placed a bet on Holland to win tomorrow. If it were a wine tournament, however, my money would be on Argentina.

Many people don’t realise that Argentina is an important contender on the global wine stage: it is the world’s fifth largest producer of wine. The country has a strong vino culture and almost four years ago the Argentine government decided to declare wine the national liqueur.

mendoza-vineyardsApproximately two-thirds of Argentina’s wine comes from one area in particular: Mendoza (doesn’t this image above make you want to book a flight out there right now? I’m browsing deals on Expedia as I type). Apparently the locals affectionately refer to Mendoza as “la tierra del sol y del buen vino” – the land of sun and good wine (okay, now I’m definitely booking my ticket).

The unique thing about Argentina is that it boasts incredible high-altitude vineyards. The average altitude of Mendoza’s vineyards is 900 metres and many exceed 1000 metres. The area of Salta boasts the world’s highest vineyard at a jaw-dropping 3000 metres (for context, this is more than double the height of Britain’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis).

The high altitude of the region means that Argentine winemakers don’t have to contend with insects, fungi and other grape diseases that many European winemakers have to combat. To give you an example, the deadly insect phylloxera devastated French vineyards during the Great French Wine Blight in the 1800s and put every vine in Europe under risk. Yes that’s right – one tiny bug cost the French economy a shocking amount of money – and the damage could have been significantly worse.

grapes argentina

But now I’m truly at risk of entering geek territory, so I’ll move on to a brief round-up of the wines that make Argentina so special (more information on each wine style is on the app Grapeful – had to throw a shameless plug in there).

(1) Malbec has become a national variety of Argentina (although it was originally brought over by the French). It produces full-bodied, tannic reds associated with flavours of blackberry, plum, cherry, leather, earth and tobacco. Expect robust, intense reds if produced on its own, or slightly softer styles when blended with grape varieties such as Merlot or Petit Verdot. The classic food pairing is steak, but it also works wonderfully with other meats such as lamb and veal. Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 01.29.58

(2) Torrontés is a grape variety known for producing aromatic white wines. Expect concentrated aromas and refreshing acidity and hints of flowers and spices. This grape can produce deliciously fruity and floral wines, making it a fantastic companion to Asian cuisines. It is delicious with Indian, Vietnamese and Mexican dishes (including guacamole!). It is also a great summer barbecue wine – you could drink it with grilled chicken or shellfish.

(3) Bonarda is a lesser known wine style but it is Argentina’s second most planted red grape variety (it is referred to as “douce noir” in France although not much of it is grown there). It is generally a bit lighter in body than Malbec and offers juicy fruit flavours. Delicious with lamb chops, veal milanese and beef burgers.

I’m not really doing Argentina justice by whizzing through its whole wine proposition in such few words. The best thing to do is check it out for yourself – whether you are in the mood for white, red or rosé, Argentina offers plenty of variety and many at pretty good value. Just watch out for Malbec – with its ABV often hitting 14.5 – 15.0%, you may find yourself slurring after a glass or two!

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