New Releases from Argentina

Thanks to two highly successful vintages in 2002 and 2003, and to mostly stable prices in export markets, Argentina's wines are poised to find new fans in the coming months. Following a coolish 2000 vintage in which many cabernet sauvignons struggled to ripen, and a cool, rain-plagued 2001 harvest that widely favored the country's white wines, vintage 2002 brought a return to excellent weather, with grape growers generally able to allow their cabernets to hang long enough to reach thorough ripeness. It may well be that more excellent cabernet sauvignons were produced in 2002 than in any past vintage in Argentina.

Although the top 2003 reds will not be released for another year or more, this vintage is also very promising. According to Californian Paul Hobbs, who has been involved for years in winemaking and consulting in Argentina, a severe heat spike just before veraison caused some worries, and crop losses, but the sunburned fruit mostly dried up and fell away. The rest of the summer and harvest were then nearly ideal, and the wines, according to Hobbs, show excellent focus and structure. Malbec fared especially well in 2003, by most reports.

Below are tasting notes on the Argentine bottles I was able to get my hands on in recent months. Among the recommended bottles are many superb values. But there is likely to be upward pressure on prices of Argentine wines over the coming months and years. Thanks to Argentina's very weak peso, outside investment in Argentina's wine industry is currently skyrocketing. Prime vineyard land in some areas has virtually doubled in price since early 2003, following a couple years of pricing stability, as outside investors waited to see the results of Argentina's financial meltdown. Today, a growing percentage of Argentina's best bottles are being exported, and the dollars and euros flowing in have made Mendoza, the center of wine production in Argentina (accounting for fully 80% of the country's wine output), one of the country's major economic success stories.