By the time you read this, my three-week tour of Argentina will have ended. I'm writing and editing my notes from winery visits on my return flight from Buenos Aires to San Francisco.
This country's wine industry is dominated by one grape, Malbec, which is made into a variety of styles, extending even to sparkling wine. That's perfect, since Argentines are red-wine drinkers (about 80 percent of domestic wine consumption is red), which makes sense considering how much beef and meat Argentines consume.
Last week, on my first day in Mendoza, José Manuel Ortega Gil-Fournier took me on a tour of the area and its vineyards. For a first-time visitor anywhere it takes time to get oriented with the landscape. It's the same with getting acquainted with an area's wines.
Most wine tours began as ours did, with a look at the vines and grapes. Mendoza, and in this instance Uco Valley, is a vast, fertile, rocky, sandy and arid high desert. This being summer, Mendoza's fruit and produce are at their height of freshness.
The Malbec vineyards I saw that day looked as perfect as I've seen. Fournier, who owns O. Fournier winery nearby, walked me through one of the old-vine properties. Along the way, accompanied by his young winemaker, Julia Halupczok, we sampled berries—full, dark clusters. The grapes tasted ripe. Only a few more weeks before the grapes for harvest 2011 are picked and crushed.
I had my first Torrontés at a wine bar in Napa a few days before departing to Argentina for vacation. Here, it has become my go-to white. It has yet to disappoint. Having tasted dozens of different whites here, Torrontés has been the standout. Quality is high across the board. I have yet to find a bad one, nor a boring one. The wine is fresh, clean and aromatic at times, reminiscent of Viognier. Other times it is sleeker, with vibrant, juicy acidity and nectarine and mineral notes.
Torrontés is the kind of wine you don't have to think much about, yet it provides an alluring mix of flavors, drinks easy and works well with food.
Here in Mendoza, there's rain on the horizon during harvesttime, illustrating the danger of placing nearly all of Argentina's wine production--and success--on Malbec alone.
I expected Alex would deliver; Hector, no way.
Alex is an expatriate, a former Wall Streeter who moved to Buenos Aires in 2002 and bought into a boutique wine shop. Terroir Casa de Vinos is well-known for its selection of rare and hard-to-find Argentine wines.
His is a modest shop that caters to those seeking cutting edge wines made by a variety of producers that aren't exported. Anyone visiting B.A. would enjoy a visit; Alex is very knowledgeable about his wines and we bought a few bottles, hoping to find something magical. Hector is a taxi driver. He picked some friends and me up to take us to dinner my first night in Buenos Aires. His English is worse than my Spanish, but not by much.
First impressions are often telling. One thing I notice immediately: Wine is a huge source of national pride among Argentines. From the airline staff to taxi drivers to waiters and sommeliers in bistros and restaurants, wine is a big part of the psyche here. They are both proud of what wine means to their country's identity and comfortable with it.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions