Jancis Robinson starts her article stating that “South America has become an invaluable source of great-value wine but a wine lover’s view of the continent is probably completely skewed by which side of the Atlantic he or she lives on.”
First, Robinson makes reference to the UK view: “To the British, South American wine comes from Chile. Much of it is reliable and inexpensive but the country’s winemakers have been moving determinedly, occasionally recklessly, upmarket.” In this sense, she explains that Chile can now produce not just well-made Cabernet, Merlot and Carmenère (the old Bordeaux variety long confused with Merlot in Chile’s vineyards) but Syrah, Pinot Noir, some of the most interesting old-vine Carignan in the world and a range of competent white wines.
Then, the Master of Wine compares this market with the US, where “Chile means cheap and, however hard Chilean exporters try, few US wine drinkers are prepared to look to Chile for anything other than a bargain.”
Moreover, Robinson emphasizes the Argentinian Malbec phenomenon in the US market: “US wine drinkers, on the other hand, have fallen hook, line and sinker for Malbec, the emblematic red wine of Argentina and the fastest-growing varietal red in the US. Argentinian Malbec offers effortless ripeness, spiciness, robust alcohol and accessibility but at a fraction of the price of a comparable California Cabernet. So in these budget-conscious times, it has been making inroads in the crucial USD15-USD20 a bottle bracket. In fact, so popular has Malbec become in the US that Cahors, the once super-traditional appellation of south-west France dependent on the same grape variety, has jettisoned the local names for the grape, Cot and Auxerrois, and pinned its marketing hopes on the M-word.”
As regards the influence of Argentinian wines in the rest of the world, the Financial Times columnist points out that “while Argentinian wine, though 100 times better than it was 15 years ago, struggles to make an impact in Europe, the US is the biggest export market for Argentina, followed by Canada and only then the UK, closely rivalled by the Netherlands –despite the fact that Wines of Argentina has invested more in the UK than anywhere else.”
Furthermore, Robinson explains Argentina and Chile’s strategies to succeed abroad. “Last year 35 wine writers and sommeliers were invited to travel from Britain to Argentina’s sunny wine country – more than from the US. Yet such largesse does not seem to result in sales. While Chilean wine accounts for about nine per cent of UK wine sales, Argentina’s tally is only just over one per cent. (In the US, both countries represent about nine per cent of imported wine by volume but Argentina has already overtaken Chile in terms of value.) Part of the explanation is, presumably, that there are relatively few big-volume brands in Argentinian wine compared with the likes of Concha y Toro, Cono Sur, Isla Negra and Los Robles – all part of the same giant Chilean producer and able to make a real impact on British supermarket shelves. It is possible that for many European palates, the ripest, sweetest, strongest Argentinian reds are just a bit too much, whereas to palates more used to California reds, they taste fine,” she maintains.
Concerning Argentinian grape varieties Robinson points out that she “would like to put in a special plea for Argentina’s luscious but well-structured Cabernet Sauvignon, which is in danger of being overlooked in the current Malbec mania – a reversal of the situation in the 1980s, when the indigenous and ubiquitous Malbec was scorned in favor of the imported Cabernet that seemed so exotically French and smart. Argentinian growers ripped up 80 per cent of all Malbec plantings between the 1960s and 1990 so that even today the total area of Argentinian vineyard planted with Malbec is not much more than that planted with the rather less noble Bonarda.” Besides, she continues, “there has been a huge improvement in white winemaking in Argentina but, at present, barring the scented Torrontés grape and some successful Chardonnay in the higher reaches of Mendoza, this is a red wine country arguably dangerously dependent on one grape variety – and one giant wine region, Mendoza.”
Finally, the Master of Wine emphasized that Chile’s winemaking situation is quite different. “The same cannot be said of widely diversified Chile, and perhaps the most exciting thing about the country is how rapidly its wine scene has been evolving, with an ever-wider range of successful grape varieties and newer, cooler wine regions emerging all the time,” Robinson concludes.
Source: Financial Times.com