Argentina: President at Argentine Sommelier Association
Argentina: the new stage of revolution and sense of place
Comments by Matias Prezioso, President of Argentine Sommelier Association
Argentina is a very special individual country. The country has a very strong wine culture, although 99.99% of the wine consumed is national. The habit of drinking local wines, the high taxes on imports and the high value of the dollar in relation to the Argentinean peso make the supply of international wines very small in Argentina.
The full half glass* is that what gives the possibility to sommeliers, restaurateurs and consumers to know a lot about the Argentine wine. Argentina has experienced three stages in its winemaking history. For decades Argentina has been a producer of volume and low quality. In the decade of 1970, the country consumed more than 90 liters per capita and the way of consumption was different (the wine was taken with ice or sparkling water – called ´soda´ in Argentina, and the quality was no more than acceptable). In that context there was a moment of breakdown. During the 1990s and the first years of the 21st century, the Argentine wine made a historical qualitative turnaround. The arrival of investments, the modernization of work technologies in wineries and vineyards and the knowledge of outstanding foreign professionals allowed us to begin to position ourselves in the world. This is how Malbec started to be appreciated, Mendoza began to appear strongly in international markets and local wine began to be at the level of tango, meat and soccer.
That moment was the key to being where we are today. But Argentina is now entering another stage. Its way seems to have two horizons: diversity and sense of place. And both ideas are not abstract, but based on deep convictions and determinations.
Diversity is expanding production areas, planting varieties and styles of wines. It would be an error today to speak of "wine from Mendoza" for the generality that it represents, as well as to include under the name "Patagonia" multiple regions such as the Alto Valle del Río Negro, the coastal zone of the Atlantic, San Patricio del Chañar, or the incipient and venturesome vineyards of Chubut province. We are beginning to see new varieties, or the reinvention of the already known, now with focus on quality. From the revaluation of the Creole grape in the east of Mendoza to the northwest of Argentina, the growth of the Semillón with its long history and its ancient vineyards, to white and red grapes of short cycle in areas such as Chubut and the province of Buenos Aires, where recently it was unimaginable to think of quality wines.
And from the hand of diversity, comes the sense of place, looking inside oneself. As it happened in the gastronomy, the Argentine professionals have learned and they were trained with foreign trends for many years. All that knowledge is now being enriched with a look of its own, which seeks to reflect places that are more than land and height, but also tradition and culture.
And that's where Malbec enters as the undisputed protagonist, where diversity and sense of place begin to be conjugated as two pieces of the same puzzle. Malbec, with its generosity and versatility, is the link that allows you to find the origin inside a glass. Valle de Uco does not seem to be enough, either, when finding recognizable profiles in names such as Guatallary, Paraje Altamira, Los Chacayes, Vistaflores, San Pablo or El Cepillo. These sub-regions - as well as the main regions of Luján de Cuyo - are already much more than a mention on the bottle or a technical sheet to which people add their own interpretations. The opinion that each producer forms is decisive for the style of the wines. And the last years - with the 2016 vintage at the top - have contributed to intensify this reflection on the part of winemakers and agronomists. They understood that recipes must be set aside, and that there are no absolutisms for the soil. It is permanent work to understand the soil in accordance with the place, the variety and the type of irrigation. That there should be no monopoly of style, but stylistic searches without fears; acidity can be a common thread or more important than tannins. Also we must stop demonizing the wood since what is important is its sustainable use.
Today, Argentines are drinking wines that probably end up being understood in other markets in 5 years. The in-depth knowledge of the subzones of the Uco Valley is something that is just beginning to be known to producers and with good luck is also known in Buenos Aires. This city does not have the offer of international wines like cities in the United States or Europe, although there is a diversity of unrivaled Argentine wines and sommeliers who know every detail, every zone, every soil, every story to tell to whomever sits in front of that bottle.