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What's Next for Argentine Wine? A Chat With Christy Canterbury

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Christy Canterbury is a wine phenomenon. A busy Master of Wine - one of only about 30 in the United States - with a long resume of wine judging and journalism, she's also a big fan of Argentine wines. We caught up with her to talk about the future of Argentine wines in the American market.

AV: What does Argentina give the American wine consumer that other countries can't?
CC: Value-oriented, Argentine malbec has taken the US by storm... or perhaps it seems more like US consumers are raiding Argentinian malbec stores. We are Argentina's largest export market. We like malbec so much that it is now almost mandatory for every wine list to include at least one. Argentina does a terrific job of delivering plump and juicy malbec at excellent prices. While this is a great benefit to the consumer, it may be a disservice to the producer. It is hard to convince the average consumer to trade up.

AV: As a wine judge, what Argentine wine or class of wines has surprised
you the most?
CC: I've tasted many fun bonardas, though producers are still trying to harness production of that grape and the styles are highly variable. Torrontes has dramatically improved in the last 7-8 years. More and more often, they are showing greater depth of flavor and some length on the finish. The world class wines are the high-end malbecs and cabernet sauvignons.

AV: What are a few of your favorite Argentine wines under $25, and why?
CC: Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon - It is a bit funky and gamey, which I enjoy.
* Colome Malbec Estate - It's one of Argentina's oldest wineries, and it delivers terrific value-for-money.
* Dominio del Plata Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec Rose - I love all the Susana Balbo range, from the fun and colorful labels to the generous, fresh, and clean fruit. There's not much malbec rose out there, so why not try it?!
* Terrazas de los Andes Torrontes Reserva - This winery's high altitude vineyard (at 5,900 feet!) delivers a broad range of popping aromatics that goes beyond that of most torrontes. There are often notes of ginger and tangerine peel that I love.
* Zuccardi Q Tempranillo - It's fun and surprising to find tempranillo outside of Spain, and it's a grape I really enjoy!

AV: What are the chief deficiencies that Argentine wineries need to work on to become more competitive in the American market?
CC: Argentina needs a greater diversity of offerings and it needs to get the word out that malbec is but one of the varieties to be enjoyed from its vineyards. Also, the recent introduction of bargain-priced (sub-$8) malbec should be regarded with caution. It is the big brands that have been able to do this because they have the required volumes. However, it may well be diluting the wine quality one tier up. Besides, consumers should be persuaded to trade up, not down! A possible consequence could be that more demanding consumers do trade up, say from $12 to $18, if they feel the quality of the wines just over $10 is diminishing.
At the higher end, producers would do well to back off the ripeness and high alcohol along with the heavy new oak in order to make the wines more food-friendly and just plain drinkable.

AV: What should American wine consumers be looking for now and in the future from Argentina?
CC: If consumers can find any 10+ year-old Cobos wines and be assured that their provenance is good, they should buy them! They are spectacular. Pinot noir lovers should not miss Chacra's Barda. This bodega's old-vine wines Cincuenta y Cinco and Treinta y Dos are good, but they are much pricier. Frankly, I prefer the more easygoing drinkability of the Barda.

AV: We're big fans of Barda, too. Thanks for joining us, Christy. Salud!

Photo: Michael Seto