Wine Consumption Gone Global
Argentina has a wine growing tradition that is nearly 500 years old and the country is now recognised as one of the leading international wine producers, exporting wines to a number of countries around the world.
Its largest consumers are closer to home in nearby Brazil, but Argentinian wines can also be found in the United States and Europe as they have increased in quality and become a highly competitive product.
As well as producing and exporting good wine, Argentina also has a population that like to drink it too, making it the sixth largest consumer of wine in the world! There is nothing better than sitting down with a huge cut of beef and a bottle of red, most definitely an Argentine ritual we have adopted and love since our travels in South America!
The Heart of Argentina
Mendoza, in the central Andes, laying to the west of Buenos Aires, is Argentina’s main wine producing region, having close to 360,000 acres of grapes under cultivation.
Around 50 types of wine are produced here, the most common white being a Chardonnay and red varieties being that of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It is the ‘Malbec’ however that is Argentina’s most famous and popular local variety that has seen a dramatic increase in both exportation and home consumption, as the process by which it is made continues to improve.
No visit to Mendoza is complete without a trip to the bodegas (wineries) where a tour of the vineyards and a talk from the winemakers gives an insight into how it all comes together, from planting the vine, to picking and pressing the grapes, to tasting the final product.
During our trip we visited three wineries around the Maipu region. Each was different based on production and target market. The first winery we visited used traditional methods of production, hand picking grapes for instance, whereas the second winery on our agenda was a relatively new wine growing region that used machinery and modern techniques to produce what are known as ‘young’ wines. The third winery was more exclusive, concentrating on mid-range to top-end fine wines that had been left to mature in French oak barrels.
The Wine Making Process
We learnt about the process involved in making red and white wines and how this differs. For red wines it is all about the tannins from the barrel which give red wines their rich but dry flavour. For red wine, the whole grape including skin and pips are pressed and left to ferment. To produce white wines however, the grapes are skinned and pips removed before pressing.
It’s All About The Tasting
After a short talk about the winemakers techniques, the best part at each of the wineries was being able to taste what was on offer! Typically each bodega selected both a white and red wine for us to try. At each establishment, these were young wines that were relatively inexpensive and we were given the same varieties to taste – a chardonnay and a Malbec.
But before we could take a sip we were taught the correct techniques for sampling. First you have to check the colour. For whites it should not be too yellow, whereas reds, the richer the colour the better, which should leave a subtle red film on the glass. Next, you should gently rotate the glass in your fingers allowing the wine to spin up the glass to release the aromas, which you should duly inhale. Finally, you should take a sip of the wine to taste the flavours. (We were given a spit bucket on our table that we declined to use!)
Each wine had a distinct flavour despite being labelled as the same variety. We could definitely taste the difference in wines from each bodega, and could make comparisons based on the different production processes. What we also noted made a difference in taste was the temperature at which the wine was served. Reds ideally should be served around 18-20 degrees, whereas whites should be around a cool 8 degrees, at the point before condensation occurs on your glass.
Having tried 3 whites and 3 reds, our favourite was the cool, crisp Chardonnay from the second winery.
Olive Oil Processing
During the tour we were also taken to an olive oil processing factory where we could try a whole array of olive oil products from soaps, lotions, and cosmetic products to delicious tapenades and mixed oils infused with different ingredients such as chili, sun dried tomato and basil.
Finally, we got to visit a chocolateria where we enjoyed tasting a variety of handmade chocolates and other sweet delicacies on offer.
All in all, a great day trip with lots of tasting opportunities on offer and a must-do in Mendoza!