When we think of wine from Argentina, we usually think of the Malbec grape and the region of Mendoza. In fact, there are many other wine regions and grape varieties in Argentina. Some of these wines are not yet exported to the U.S., but they are gradually becoming more available. Recently I attended an event showcasing the wines of San Juan, a province of Argentina just north of the more famous Mendoza.
Altitude is essential to the character of wines from San Juan (as well as Mendoza). San Juan spans the 29°S to 32°S latitudes, with vineyard altitudes between 570 meters (1870 feet) and 1550 meters (5085 feet). These qualify as moderate-to-high altitudes for grape growing. In general, higher altitudes can produce grapes with higher sugar levels, better sugar/acid balance, smoother tannins, and more concentrated aromas. For more on the effect of altitude on climate, grapes, and wine, check out the Wine Altitude Cheat Sheet I posted last week.
San Juan produces wine from several grape varieties, such as Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda (red), Tannat (red), and Torrontes (white). The Syrahs I tasted had the characteristic aromas/flavors of Syrah, but were lighter and leaner than the Australian style many of us are used to. Torrontes is not familiar to many consumers, but these examples had floral and melon aromas, and were rich and smooth with good acidity. Tannat is a grape historically grown in southern France (in the Madiran AOC) that is now very popular in Uruguay (it's posed to become Uruguay's Malbec). I tasted some good Tannats at this event. The grape can be harsh and tannic, but these Tannats had the flavors of rich, black fruits and well-rounded tannins.
I was fortunate enough to go home with a bottle of Syrah from producer Finca Sierras Azules. The wine has a deep, purplish-ruby color, aromas of fresh red and black fruits (a bit of blueberry?), herbs, and sweet spice. The flavors on the palate generally match the aromas, with the addition of Syrah's characteristic savory taste. It's somewhat tart, with higher-than-average acidity. The tannins are definitely present, but not aggressive. Overall, it's well balanced. Sometimes I like to try to guess the alcohol level before reading it on the label. This time I guessed 13 - 13.5%, but it's actually 14.3% abv. I often find wines over 14% to be harsh and imbalanced, but this one is not at all. I enjoyed how it developed as it breathed in the glass.
Here is the full list of producers from San Juan who offered their wines at the tasting. Hopefully some of these wines will appear in your local wine shop soon, so keep an eye out for them and give them a try!
Alta Bonanza de los Andes
Bodegas & Vinedos Casa Montes S.A.
Bodega Merced del Estero
Finca del Enlace
Fincas Sierras Azules
San Juan de la Frontera S.A.
San Juan Juice and Wine S.R.L.
Tierra del Huarpe S.A
Viticola Cuyo S.A.
Jose A. Yanzon AICISA