If the Mayan calendar is right and world goes up in a puff of smoke next month, the epicenter might just be a wine bar in Argentina.
“The wines of Argentina are en fuego right now,” says master sommelier Keith Goldston, my favorite sommelier/wine lecturer/bon vivant. Goldston blew through town last week to meet with a small group of somms last week over a few bottles of (what else?) Pinot Grigio, Torrentes, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot and Malbec from down south. “They’ve been on fire for years, too, but the good ones are only recently being shared with the world.”
Those beef-loving Argentines have long kept the good stuff secret, probably to wash all that meat down. “The average Argentine consumes 149 pounds of beef per year,” Goldston told us, “that’s more than any other country in the world.” Even more than Texas. “Argentina exports only 28% of the wine produced there, and most of that goes to the US.”
Torrontes, the hearty, work-horse white wine of Argentina, is one of the region’s stars. The vines are prolific growers, producing tangled stems of large grapes. If you imagine Baccus eating grapes at a toga party, it’s Torrontes that he’s probably munching off the stems. Grassy, oxidized Torrontes is a thing of the past. “The modern style is clean, off-dry, floral, crisp, with a bit of zip,” is how Goldston described it. “It’s a drag queen version of Pinot Grigio.”
Traditional Torrentes ranges from a reserved, subtle style to oaky to flamboyant, perfume-box wines (the 2011 Amayala Torrentes is a terrific example) from Patagonia, where wine makers mix in a bit of Riesling.
On the red side, wine makers seem to be capturing those wide, sweeping, moonscape vistas of Patagonia in their Pinot Noir (remnant vines from the 1950s, when Domaine Chandon tried to make sparkling wines there, an attempt they soon abandoned), Petit Verdot and, of course, Malbec, a grape varietal made popular by Norton in the 1980s.
“Norton was the first big wine company to identify the best Malbec clones and learned the best practices for farming them,” Goldston explained. “Malbecs are everything you like about Merlot, with about ten extra flavors.”
Malbecs do well in Mendoza because the grapes love the high elevation, in the shadow of the Andes, where they get plenty of sunshine and pure water from melting ice. 99 percent of the Malbec vines are ungrafted, which means the yield large crops and are less expensive to plant and maintain.
So when the world ends next month, I’ll be hunkered down in a comfy chair sipping a glass of Argentine Malbec, or maybe a bottle of 2009 Manos Negros Pinot Noir, which reminded me of the complex, jammy wines of Walla Walla, Washington.
“Argentina’s wines have passion and soul,” agrees Goldston. Which makes them a pretty good choice for snuggling by a fire or sipping as the world goes to hell.