Blending in: Argentina's growing interest in varietal blends

Drinks: Wines

Most Argentine wines are single varietal. But, as David Williams reports, there’s a growing interest in blending different varieties and wine styles together as well

One of the many great advantages bestowed on winemakers in Mendoza is the incredible diversity of grape varieties they have at their disposal. From Malbec to Merlot, and Cabernet to Corvina; from Bonarda and Barbera to Tempranillo and Tannat, via Torrontés, Sangiovese, Syrah and seemingly all ampelographical points in between, there is an incredible palette of flavours to draw on.

Much of the time, this huge variety is expressed in single-varietal wines. But a number of top producers are increasingly finding that blending them together makes for a more interesting, more complex result.


As you might expect, the most commonly blended variety is Malbec. And for Tim Gould, manager of Hawksmoor, that makes perfect sense. ‘I’m not sure if Malbec is necessarily better in a blend – it makes great wines with real ageing potential on its own,’ he says. ‘But I prefer it in a blend. It really benefits from the backbone that something like Cabernet Sauvignon provides. On this trip, I’ve also been really impressed with wines that blended some Cabernet Franc in there, which has really lovely aromatics. I’d like to see more of that.’

For Joseph Rorke, sommelier at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, it’s Malbec’s affinity with Mediterranean varieties that really impresses. ‘Some of the blends we’ve had featuring Tempranillo were really terrific – it really added some depth,’ Rorke says. ‘And the Italian-style blends are some of the best I tasted in Argentina. A blend of Malbec and Corvina in an Amarone style really works. It’s intelligent winemaking. They’re playing into what they’ve got naturally, where they can ripen Corvina really well, and they have the hot conditions to dry the grapes well and quickly. Corvina makes an excellent partner for Malbec, which is fleshy, and the Corvina gives it a great supporting structure.’

‘It’s intelligent winemaking, playing
into what they’ve got naturally’

Jo Eames, wine buyer for the Peach Pub Company, agrees. ‘The things I’ve found most interesting, that they do well, and which will get pursued in future, are the Italian influences,’ Eames says. ‘The drying of the grapes adds a whole new dimension to their Malbec. Some of them weren’t blends in the sense of different varietals, but they were blends of dried and undried grapes, which is a kind of blend in itself. And those, I think, were quite exciting.’

Loic Avril, sommelier at The Fat Duck, remains sceptical, however, at least on the red side. ‘You can find some very rich, interesting and complex types of blends in Argentina, which use Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tannat and Bonarda,’ says Avril. ‘I think they need these blends to find new markets. But, in fact, I don’t think you can say that the blends are more interesting. I prefer Malbec in Argentina – they are my favourite wines.’

Avril was more interested by the white blends he tried. ‘We find some different types of grape growing together in Argentina that you would not find in Europe. And they can adapt them and put them into different kinds of blends. Like a blend of Viognier, Chardonnay and Riesling. This means you can get different types of richness and nice complexity. For the whites, sure, the blends work.’

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – November / December 2009

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