More than Malbec

10/22/2008 01:40


More than Malbec


By Daniel Karlin

Founder of Anuva Vinos, a Premium Argentine Wine Club 



      The first person who talked to me about Argentine wine was a Brazilian tourist I met in the wine aisle of a supermarket in Buenos Aires. Staring at all of the unknown brands and varietals I must have looked like a stupid tourist who didn’t know the first thing about Malbec, never mind Bonarda or Torrontés or that Argentina even produces world class wine. After picking up several Malbecs and getting hooked on the stuff during the first few months of my time in Argentine in 2004, I decided to take a trip out to Mendoza, Argentina’s most-established wine growing region.  This is where I fell in love with Argentine wine. Expecting to find only Malbec and other varietals I had heard of from Europe and other more established, well-marketed wine growing regions, I was pleasantly surprised to begin on what has turned out to be a great adventure, discovering, and learning about the other varietals that Argentina produces with great success, if little recognition.

      Ever heard of Torrontés (torr-ohn-TEYS)? What about Bonarda? They are the two “other” grape varietals found in the land of Malbec that are also distinctly Argentine and together with Malbec exemplify the trio that is classic Argentine wine.

      Don’t be alarmed, the flagship of Argentine wine remains Malbec. As a person who makes his living selling Argentine wine, primarily to Americans, I have been inundated with this varietal, often because it is the only association people have with Argentine wine. Inevitably it is what people ask for at my wine tastings. “Do you have any of that Malbec?” Why certainly. I have thousands choose from as Argentina boasts more than 2,000 km of growing region North to South which supports over 1,100 wineries almost all of which make at least one Malbec. But for those guests at my tastings who have not extensively experienced Argentine wine or have yet to discover these lesser known, signature varietals in Argentina’s repertoire,  I insist that they first try Torrontés and Bonarda since they illustrate the diversity of great wine found in Argentina

      An introduction:

      Torrontés is best when from Salta—the Northern-most province with the most extreme desert-like conditions and the highest altitude vineyards in the world, but the regions of La Rioja, Catamarca and San Juan also produce very good Torrontés. Typically this varietal will have a tremendous nose, full of white flowers and sweet citric fruit, yet a dry and delicate mouth with hints of pineapple and jasmine. Drinkers can expect nice minerality and other citrus flavors like lemon and grapefruit that lead to a clean finish. Torrontés surprises many a wine drinker and I have found it to be especially pleasing to those who are not great fans of Chardonnay or who normally don’t drink white wine. The typical response is “I’ve never tried anything remotely like this, and I love it.” Perfect when served chilled on a hot, sunny day, Torrontés goes quite well with sushi, sashimi, salads, fruits and other light foods. The more adventurous might even pair it with a vegetarian pasta or light curry.   

      Bonarda on the other hand is typically a medium or medium-full bodied red wine and although it has a similar color to Malbec, the Bonarda grape matures later and has a more delicate skin, lending to its creation of a wine with fewer tannins and lower alcohol content.   Often best when delivered from wineries in the Mendoza regions, the nose of a Bonarda will be quite fruity with hints of plum and raisin and perhaps some violet. Look for the mouth to be quite juicy making it an easy to drink wine overall.

      Bonarda, like Torrontés, has surprised many connoisseurs and neophytes alike because of its unique characteristics. The more experienced will say, “Wow, what a nice change. I’ve been getting tired of Cab, Syrah and Merlot.” The less experienced will say “Wow, what a nice wine. Cab, Syrah and Merlot never really spoke to me, but this wine is interesting.” Bonarda’s, medium body and lower tannin content combines well with medium foods like red-sauce pastas, fattier fishes, and white meats, leaving the fuller Malbecs on their own as excellent pairings for richer foods.

      The basics are good to know, but I’m sure some of you are wondering, so are these wines any good? The answer is a resounding yes! Very simply, when done well, both Torrontés and Bonarda make great, young, drinkable wines.

      They are also unique. Virtually no other country in the world makes either of these two varietals as well or with such success as Argentina, a fact that can be attributed largely to Argentina’s remarkably unique terroir. Many characteristics of the terroir of Argentina not only distinguish it but make it apt for growing high quality Bonarda and Torrontés.

      For example, for Torrontés grapes to thrive they need altitude. In Salta, the region in the North of Argentina near the Bolivian border, vineyards can be as high as 2,000 meters above sea level constituting the highest elevation vineyards in the world.

      Furthermore, Argentina’s winegrowing regions average over 300 days of sun per year. Tons of sun also means very little rain, yet water is not a problem for vintners as the Andes Mountains-- conveniently just a stone’s throw away-- create abundant freshwater runoff for irrigation.

      The Andes also create one of the most unusual and favorable characteristics of the entire region: shielding from the ocean. No other major wine region in the world is separated from the ocean by such an important and imposing physical barrier. This is significant because the Andes keep humidity and rainfall very low: another factor that favors Bonarda and Torrontés grapes (and obviously Malbec as well). This low level humidity virtually eliminates the need for pesticides and fungicides as these normally natural nuisances cannot survive in this drier climate.

      These unique growing conditions create the ideal terroir for the Argentine trio of Malbec, Bonarda and Torrontés. So drink Malbec, but don’t forget about Bonarda and Torrontés, two gems from Argentina that will surely capture the wine world’s attention very soon.


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    Daniel Karlin is Founder of Anuva Vinos, a premium wine club that hand-sources limited production wines from Argentina direct shipment to its members in the US. He makes his home in Buenos Aires where he leads Anuva Vinos’s wine tastings for visitors from all types of terroirs.


Topic: More than Malbec

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