Fine Wine Writing by Jonathon Alsop

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Wine On The Brink

by Jonathon Alsop
January 2002

Global economies can be cruel taskmasters, even for well-established industries. European wine grapes came to Argentina early in the 1500s, a head start of three centuries over California wine making. Still, what's a few bottles of wine against the forces of currency revaluations going on now in the country?

Argentina is in the top ten in every meaningful numerical category, from wine production (420 million gallons) to vineyards planted (514,000 acres). Best of all, the nation also consumes 337 million gallons of wine each year. Argentina easily beats the pants off the United States with per capita consumption at 9 gallons a year, nearly 5 times our rate.

Here in the US, Argentina is known for wines made from one red grape: Malbec. This grape came to South America from France where it's grown widely around Bordeaux and in a relatively unknown region called Cahors, not far south of Bordeaux.

Malbec is to Argentina as red Zinfandel is to California, or as Shiraz is to Australia, but even more affordable. While Malbec went ignored or was blended with other grapes in its native land, the South American climate did wonders for it, and the grape flourished in its adopted land.

Today, Malbec represents Argentina's face to the wine world: modern, enjoyable, approachable, untraditional, tasty and cheap.

I predict prices will fall as the currency fluctuates, so look for bargains around town from Bodega Norton, Valentin Bianchi, Don Miguel Gascon, Santa Ana, Catena, and Trapiche.

1999 Trapiche "Oak Cask" Malbec (about $10, available literally everywhere) For $2 a glass, this wine cannot be beat. Its fruit concentration is great, and there's enough abrasive tannic grip to deal with strong food. The oak cask alluded to on the label is very present in the wine's soft toasted aroma. Easy to recommend for people who think they don't like red wine.

1999 Trapiche Iscay Merlot-Malbec (about $50, imported by Wildman, and probably a special order) Once a wine gets on the other side of $25, an inevitable comparison takes place with top-drawer wines from more traditional regions. In the face of this $50 Merlot-Malbec blend, it's hard not to think about the long-famous Chateau Talbot or the two bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape for the same price. This joint effort by winemakers Angel Mendoza and Michel Roland is deliciously overflowing with wood flavors after more than a year in nothing but new French oak barrels. Iscay is thoroughly modern, and more in competition with California than any old world wines. Serve it with tournedos of beef and mushrooms.

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