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New heights for Argentina’s chardonnay

Source: Washington Post
By: Dave McIntyre

Argentina is justly known for its malbec, a red wine that can be a great value at any price. But although malbec may be the country’s signature grape, it is by no means the only one that performs well in Argentina’s high-altitude vineyards. I’ve written before about the cabernet sauvignon, bonarda and torrontes, a flowery white found virtually nowhere else; recently, I’ve found myself pining for Argentina’s chardonnay.

And I’m not one to pine for chardonnay, unless the label says Chablis, Champagne or Bourgogne in one of its manifestations. That’s not snobbery, at least not intentionally; chardonnay is the world’s most popular white wine, which means it is produced by the boatload and much of it is undistinguished or worse. That makes it all the more remarkable to find a country or region producing it at such high quality and relatively low price.

Argentina’s great natural asset is the Andes mountain range. Vintners in the primary wine region of Mendoza have spent the past two decades climbing higher in search of terrain suitable for planting grapes. The altitude gives them a potent combination of intense sunlight to ripen the grapes and cool temperatures to preserve acidity and freshness. The highest-altitude vineyards can make some stunning chardonnay.

Chardonnay from Mendoza (and other emerging regions, such as San Juan) features tropical fruit flavors enlivened with citrus. That citrus character reflects the acidity from the cooler climate. Many of the wines display an appealing minerality, suggesting that although the winemakers are reaching for the sun, the wines remain firmly grounded. Their balance also makes them versatile with a wide variety of foods, though you might be tempted to sip even the weightier ones by themselves.

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