Argentina is famous globally for superb red wines, especially varietal and full bodied Malbec. However, in 1960 Moet & Chandon realised great potential for Argentina in sparkling wine. At high altitudes and extreme southerly latitudes, climates are cool enough to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while retaining the delicate aromas, acidity and low alcohol required for quality sparkling wine.
Over 50 years later, Moet Hennessy (as they’re now known) has paid off and today the group are leading the Argentinian sparkling wine industry both in expertise and innovation. Cool areas in the Uco Valley and San Rafael in Mendoza, where altitudes are high enough to moderate temperatures, and in the southern appellations of Rio Negro and Neuquen in Patagonia to the south, have allowed Argentina to grow grapes that create high quality base wines. Both regions are dry but – as with most plots in Argentina – the Andes, towering up to 6000 metres above sea level to the west, offer natural irrigation channels.
While most sparkling wine, like Chile, is still tank-fermented, quality conscious producers are increasingly making traditional method sparkling wines in the same process as Champagne.These premium styles are mostly white, rather than rose, and generally in the Extra Brut style. Moet Hennessy’s Chandon brand is the most popular leader of high quality Argentinian sparkling wine.
According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, since 1990 Argentina has been one of the world’s most dynamic wine producing countries. Over the last 2-3 decades, a vast array of styles have been introduced by producers to reach new consumers and extend beyond the legacy of great Malbec. While only starting from a small base, sparkling wine production has seen great growth by producers in Argentina.
Moet Hennessy’s bold move in 1960 was bold indeed, as Argentina was the group’s first venture outside of France and their stronghold in Champagne. To pioneer quality sparkling wine was another hurdle the group had to overcome. While even today sparkling wine in Argentina only accounts for 4% of the total production, volumes have jumped from 27m litres in 2010 to a whopping 44.6m litres in 2015. This production is mainly for the domestic market but increasingly export markets such as the neighbouring Brazil, Chile, Venezuela and Colombia are important to Argentinian producers. There is also a growing interest from markets in the USA, Japan and Uruguay with further expansion into new markets predicted, very likely to be spear-headed by the Chandon brand.
The finest areas for sparkling wine include Chandon’s own Uco Valley and the Lujan de Cuyo in Mendoza. Even here, grapes must be harvested some 2 months before their still wine counterparts to ensure acidity is retained and high alcohol ABVs are avoided. Grapes are then fermented separately and the base wines from different vineyards are often blended together to create a high quality base wine. Rarely can a single vineyard produce high enough quality fruit for the best sparkling wine. While some producers like Chandon own their own vineyards, buying in grapes is common practice. The main varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Semillon and Chenin Blanc.
Cheaper wines are available as carbonation is permitted, but these styles are generally much sweeter and can sometimes contain fruit pulp. Tank method Argentinian sparkling wines are sometimes made in a lightly sparkling, frizzante style. Traditional method sparkling wine is typically dry, in the Extra Brut style, created from the best plots’ grapes and the wine is aged on its lees for at least 12 months, although often longer.
Moet Hennessy’s main brand Chandon is joined by its other big brands Mercier and Baron B. Competition has arisen from rival Pernod Ricard-owned Mumm investment in Chile, as well as other producers such as Cantena and Norton y Diageo’s Navarro Correas. In the ultra premium category, Moet Hennessy firmly leads with labels like Chandon Cuvee Reserve and Baron B Unique.
Never tried sparkling wine from Argentina before? Try this one:
Chandon Rosé Brut NV
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Hails from: Mendoza, Argentina. Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Created by the Champagne House Moet & Chandon, who planted vineyards in the foothills of Uco Valley in Mendoza. The wine has been made in the traditional method, following the same process as Champagne. It’s salmon-pink in colour with a nose of sweet biscuits, strawberries and cream. Juicy raspberries on the palate, finishing with sweet digestive biscuits. Dry, well balanced and easy to drink. Pair with fresh raspberries.
Sparkling Rosé Wine made by: Moet & Chandon (Argentina)
Drink now. Circa £15.00 (find this wine). Tasted: 4/4/2017