MOST people are surprised to learn that Argentina produces more wine than Australia and New Zealand combined.
Admittedly, the focus used to be on quantity rather than quality until a fall in domestic wine consumption and a rise in foreign investment provided resources for higher-quality wine exports.
Susana Balbo was one of the energetic young winemakers who took up the challenge. Having studied wine production around the world, she applied her knowledge of chemistry and the lessons learned (especially in California and Australia) to life in Mendoza – Argentina’s principal wine region on the Andes’ eastern slopes. For example, she produces an excellent Bordeaux blend with its precise components varied from harvest to harvest. Cabernet sauvignon and malbec usually feature, but merlot of sufficient quality is not always available.
Malbec is, of course, Argentina’s signature and Susana Balbo has created some really tasty versions. The relatively youthful 2011 Anubis Mendoza Malbec (£8.99 at Inverarity One-to-One, 0141 221 5121) is a pleasingly soft wine with appealing suggestions of eucalyptus that underpin the raspberry fruit, but then gives way to a well-balanced edge of slate-influenced minerality and a final burst of acidity. It is full, long and even brings in a whisper of cinnamon.
A little more gravitas comes from 2009 BenMarco Malbec (£12.99 also at Inverarity One-to-One) with its deeper colour and more substantial aromas that include touches of tobacco and leather. The fruit is more black cherry than raspberry with satisfying, ripe, concentrated, all-spice flavours. Equally pleasing is the balance – the slower ripening process minimises grippy tannins for a mellow finish.
Balbo also makes her Crios range with less oak, more approachability and greater freshness. Nevertheless, the main topic when we spoke during her recent Scottish trip was Torrontés. More than almost anyone else, she has helped that variety rise to international superstardom. In particular, scientific techniques that Balbo saw used on apple juice in Canada have been adapted to give top versions of Torrontés with real balance and elegance.
To see how nicely the results have turned out, try 2012 Crios Torrontés (inquire at Inverarity One-to-One about prices), which delivers all the hallmarks of classic Torrontés but with spicy hints on the finish, and nicely judged acidity to keep things fresh.
Torrontés, however, is not restricted to Mendoza and interesting new versions are emerging from the higher region of Salta. A good example is 2012 Colomé Torrontés (£11.99 at Penicuik Wines) from a winery over 7,000ft above sea level. The wine has a gentle rose-centred perfume with an integrated array of flavours that combine soft peachiness, lime and greengage acidity and a flinty minerality.
Another estate to watch is Dona Paula back in Mendoza, where an innovative winemaker is experimenting with varieties such as viognier and tannat. More traditional, yet excellent, is 2011 Dona Paula Estate Malbec (£10.39 at www.strictlywine.co.uk).
As for the future, Susana Balbo talks about Argentina emerging as the “wine bridge” between Europe and the New World and, in winemaking, about promoting sub-regional blends and of the increased use of co-fermentation.
Given the fantastic and rapid progress she and fellow winemakers have already made, who can doubt their ability to accomplish all those ambitions?