Before I arrived in Argentina, I knew just three things about the country: It had produced an incredibly important writer (Jorge Luis Borges); it had defaulted on an incredibly large loan ($90 billion or so); and it had turned out some pretty nice wine (mostly Malbec). By the time I went home eight days later, I'd met Borges's widow (she even signed my copy of his book) and tasted some really good reds (almost all made from Malbec). I didn't, however, manage to help out with the loan.
I've tasted Argentinean wines over the years, and though some were quite good, they were often hard to find. But suddenly Argentinean wines are all over the place, and every winemaker I talk with has either just been to Mendoza or is planting a vineyard there. And exports are posting big numbers too: 40 percent more Argentinean wine was shipped internationally in 2003 than in 2002, when 6.4 million cases were exported. And this was over a million more than the year before.
Mendoza is an arid province at the foot of the Andes, some 600 miles west of Buenos Aires. It is where Argentina's wine industry began about 500 years ago, and it's still the most important region in terms of volume (accounting for 75 percent of the country's total production) and quality. The first vineyardists came from Spain, followed a few hundred years later by their counterparts from Italy and France. The latter two brought cuttings of their native grapes: the Italians brought Bonarda, while the French contributed Malbec, from Bordeaux. And though the Italians won the award for most prolific (Bonarda is Argentina's most widely-planted grape), the French took home top prize for quality: Argentinean Malbecs are deep-colored wines of great intensity and flavor with sweet tannins and spicy bouquets.