Argentina introduces high quality, affordable wines
Hans David Tampubolon
The Jakarta Post
These are great and exciting times for Indonesian wine drinkers with the entrance of new players and brands into the local wine market.
Ten years ago, Indonesian wine drinkers' options were limited to Australian Shiraz or Bordeaux and Sauvignon from France. These limited options also made wine prices quiet high and only affordable for people with deep pockets.
However, the emergence of South American wines in recent years has brought a new excitement to the market and consumers. More options are now available and wine has become more and more affordable.
Wine expert Yohan Handoyo said at a recent wine tasting event in Jakarta that the emergence of South American wines also offered something refreshing for seasoned drinkers.
'People get tired drinking the same wine over and over again. People want to try something new,' Yohan said.
One of the latest South American varieties that has decided to plunge into the Indonesian wine market is Malbec from Argentina.
The Malbec variety was originally cultivated in the southwest of France thousands of years ago. The resulting wines, named 'from Cahors' after their region, have enjoyed increasing recognition since the time of the Roman Empire. Their prestige was consolidated in the Middle Ages and they have gained full recognition in modern times.
When a phylloxera aphid blight destroyed French viticulture toward the end of the 19th century, the Malbec almost fell into oblivion. However, a culture of appreciation for Malbec had already been formed, which laid the foundations for the development of Argentine Malbec sometime later.
Malbec was then brought to Argentina from France in 1853 by Michel AimÃ© Pouget, a French agronomist who was hired by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, an Argentinian politician who later became the seventh president of the country, to run the Quinta AgronÃ³mica de Mendoza.
Yohan, who recently visited Argentina to see the country's wine industry, said that despite the fact that the Malbec grape variety originated from France, the particular variety developed in Argentina had special and one-of-a-kind characteristics that were molded through the unique nature of Argentinian vineyards.
'What I find interesting about Argentinian wine is the quality of the grapes. They are very healthy and are absolutely amazing. A lot of wine producers in Argentina use very little pesticide in growing their grapes and the water they use is natural pristine water coming from the melting ice of Mount Andes,' he said.
In addition, Yohan said that Argentinian vineyards grew their grapes at higher altitudes compared to those in Europe or other Western wine-producing countries.
'In Europe, the highest peak for a vineyard is at 900 meters above sea level. In Argentina, the altitude is between 600 meters and 3,000 meters above sea level. The higher a vineyard is in Argentina, the better prestige and reputation it has for its wines,' Yohan said.
'What happens to grapes that are being grown at such high altitude? They will receive high exposure of ultraviolet that, in a way, makes them mutate. They will produce a lot of anthocyanin, a substance that will give that reddish color to grapes and function to prevent them from sunburn.'
'The anthocyanin is also responsible for giving stronger flavor to the grapes. So, wine products from Argentina have a very beautiful and dark color along with a very strong and highly concentrated flavor in every sip.'
One example of a wine product coming from high-altitude Argentinian vineyards is the Norton Barrel Select red wine. It is produced in Mendoza, one of the largest wine-producing regions in Argentina. The basic ingredient of this wine is Malbec grapes from trees that are at least 15 years old.
The Norton Barrel Select has an aroma of blueberries and it offers a mixed taste of black cherry, raspberries and a little bit of spiciness in every sip. In Argentina, it is often used as a companion for dinner with beef, a commodity that is heavily consumed by Argentinians.
There is an older variety of the Norton Barrel Select called the Norton Reserva, which comes from grape vines that are at least 30 years old. The Norton Reserva has more acidity in its taste and this makes it a perfect companion for pairing with fatty foods such as pork or other grilled and roasted meats.
'You can really taste the difference between the Norton Reserva and Norton Barrel Select. The older a grape vine, the deeper its roots and this will give more layers of flavor to the grapes. Older trees also produce smaller grapes and thus, the multi-layered flavors will also become more concentrated,' Yohan said.
Other than red wines, Argentina also produces an interesting variety of white wine called Torrontes and according to Yohan, this wine is very suitable for the Indonesian palate.
'They [Argentinian vineyards] make different kinds of Torrontes. There are entry level and more advanced and serious kinds of Torrontes but generally, what we have is a very aromatic and very spicy kind of dry wine that I believe mixes well with our food,' Yohan said.
'I recently tried pairing this wine with the spicy food from Manado and I can tell that this wine really goes well with spicy and oily food, which we have a lot of in our culinary culture,' he added.
Despite of the high quality of Argentinian wines, Yohan said that Indonesian consumers did not have to worry about their prices.
'The most interesting aspect of Argentinian wines is their pricing. People often say that good wines come with an expensive price tag but this is not the case for Argentinian wines,' Yohan said.
'The prices of wines are determined by several cost structures. The most expensive cost structures are land and labor. In Argentina, the land and labor costs are far lower than in Europe and this is why Argentinian vineyards are capable of producing high-quality wines with affordable prices.'
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