Hew Fanshawe tells us how the region of Mendoza has changed the face of Argentinian wine.
Boasting over 150,000 hectares of vineyards – equivalent to the combined area of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and Alsace– and with a 400% increase in the city’s wine exportation over the past decade, it’s no surprise that Mendoza finds itself on the list of the 8 Great Wine Capitals of the World. Just one day in Mendoza is sufficient to understand that wine runs through the veins of the city and the people in it. Local residents are incapable of eating steak without accompanying it with a glass of red wine, and annual wine tastings and festivities take over the city throughout the month of March, including the world – renowned Vendimia festival, which celebrates the local winemaking industry in a particularly extravagant fashion.
The city has always had the potential to make a breakthrough in the global wine market due to its near perfect conditions for the development of their grapes. The nearby snow-capped Andes help to irrigate the vineyards that lie within the almost desert-like terrain of the Mendoza province, and provide cool nights that allow the grapes to retain more of their acidity than usual. This effect is especially vital in the production of Torrontés, a light yet aromatic Argentinian white wine that requires more acidity than residual sugar.
If the Torrontés is to be defined as the flagship white grape of Argentina, then the Malbec must be its red counterpart. Despite its origins in the French province of Quercy, the Malbec has been adopted as its own by Argentina and continues to have resounding success in the Mendoza region. The 300 days of sun a year are well suited to the thin-skinned Malbec grapes, and as this rich red goes well with red meats, it goes hand in hand with the country’s love for steak and barbeques (or asados as they call them in Argentina).
Since the 1980s wine revolution in Argentina, in which the focus shifted towards quality rather than quantity, the country’s wine industry has received almost US$1.5 billion of investment from abroad and exports have boomed in recent years. The popularity of Mendoza’s wine has surged in the global market, becoming one of the leading New World destinations. An example of this success can be found at the Familia Zuccardi winery in Maipú, Mendoza, a family-run bodega, which now prides itself on its worldwide exports and its attraction to the tourism sector. The winery exports 65% of its wine production, primarily to the USA and Canada, and has increasingly looked towards tourism as a stable source of income over the past decade. Under the guidance of José Alberto Zuccardi, his winery became the first in Mendoza to be equipped with both a visitor’s centre and restaurant, and now offers bike tours and even hot air balloon rides to boost their appeal to tourists around the world.
Mendoza as a city has become synonymous with wine production, and the industry now heavily contributes to the region’s economy through both exportation and tourism figures. This has greatly improved the reputation of Argentinian wines in general, particularly the Malbec, which is now viewed as an exceptionally good-quality wine for its price. Although Argentina may not employ the traditionalist approaches to wine-making or boast such an extensive history in viticulture as does France or other Old World destinations, it has managed to become a competitive force in the global fine wine market over the past decade due its determination to make quality the priority.
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