Argentina's vintners are breathing a sigh of relief, thanks to a 2018 growing season that delivered high quality and a good-sized crop following several problematic years plagued by cool and abnormally wet weather. Some in the Mendoza region were downright exultant, comparing 2018 to the 2013 vintage, which produced some of the best wines of recent memory.
"Overall, and going by what I tasted in barrel, I'd say that 2013 is the benchmark against which to value the 2018s," said Santiago Achával of Matervini. "I will know in a few months if they will shape up to what I think was the best year ever in my experience. Right now, I only can say that '18s could be as good as '13s if they keep on track in barrel."
Susana Balbo, whose Dominio del Plata is in Mendoza, agreed. "The 2018 vintage delivered normal quantities and was a real relief after three short vintages. The only challenge was a very early frost during harvesttime."
According to Laura Catena of Catena Zapata, 2018 was "El Año Mendocino" or the Mendoza year, based on the conditions in Argentina's leading winemaking region. "After a small, cool vintage in 2017, which we call 'El Año Bordelés' [the Bordeaux Year] and a small, very cool and rainy year in 2016, 'El Año Bourguignon' [the Burgundian year], we finally got a vintage that is classically Mendozan: dry, cool, sunny and with moderate yields in every region from the lowest to the highest altitudes."
Following a cold winter, budbreak came late in the spring and was followed by a dry growing season and an early harvest. "The dry weather gave us cold nights and a very good thermal amplitude," said Sebastián Zuccardi of the Familia Zuccardi group, based in Mendoza. "The balance in the grapes was very nice. I think '18 will be one of the greatest harvests in Mendoza, at the level of or even better than '13."
Conditions were only slightly less optimal in the northern regions of Salta and Cafayate, as cold weather at the beginning and end of the growing season reduced yields. The harvest was down about 10 percent compared to normal at Bodega Colomé in the far northern reaches of Salta high in the Andes.
"We had a cloudy summer with low rain," said Colomé winemaker Thibaut Delmotte. "So we had very healthy fruit on the vine. At the same time, the cloudy days delayed the ripening process and kept freshness in the fruit. Since the ripening of the Malbec was slower, we have very complex and elegant wines, very floral, with great freshness and good body."
In Cafayate, the conditions were generally warmer, but also quite dry. "This was a spectacular harvest in terms of quality and quantity," said Alejandro Papa, chief winemaker at El Esteco. "We had a cool summer that offered a slow ripening process. April was warmer, [which raised] quality to outstanding levels," he added.
Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.