Past, Present and Future of Argentinian Cabs
Some of the most amazing wines from Argentina are not Malbec. Cabernet Sauvignon is making a lot of noise out there. Check why!
Argentina owes its fame and prestige as a renowned wine producer to the incredible Malbec, which has been on the cutting edge for a while. Although Malbec indeed is an amazing present and a promising future, we are living in a moment of a revival and reassertion (depending on the spokesperson) of outstanding wines, powered by the queen of the red grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon.
However, Cabs are not a novelty in Argentina. It was introduced by the ampelography expert Michel Aimé Pouget, together with the traditional French varieties, in the middle of the 19th century. Since that moment, it has become an essential part of the design of varietal and blended Argentinian wines. Its fame in the future will only be overshadowed by Malbec.
The importance of Cabernet Sauvignon in the world
In spite of being the most extended and grown red variety in the world, there are only a few terroirs that have provided its prominence. It is the case of the renowned blends across the globe, based on Cabernet Sauvignon originally from Medoc and Graves in Bourdeaux. The Premier Crus Classés from Medoc, the most important and expensive wines, contain more than 70% of Cabernet Sauvignon in their composition. For example, Château Margaux, Château Lafitte Rothschild, and Château Latour.
Cabernet Sauvignon was present in Italy even before it was a unified country. It showed up in Piedmont, where it is has been grown since 1820. Tuscany is the spotlight of that region; the producers deliberately separated themselves from the ruling DOC system, to use Cabernet Sauvignon in blended and even varietal wines allowing the arrival, in the middle 1970s, of Super Tuscans, wines of a resounding level just like Sassicaia, Ornellaia or Tignanello, among others.
The USA, without a doubt, is one of the most distinguished varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley and Sonoma are highly appreciated, as well as the ones from Washington State.
It is also an esteemed variety in Chile, where it represents two-thirds of the planted vineyards. The most recognized come from Colchagua, Maule, and Maipo.
In the 1980s, it had a peak in Australia. Nowadays, it is the second planted variety after Syrah (both are usually blended). Margaret River, Barossa Valley, and Clare Valley produce amazing Cabernet Sauvignon.
Last but not least, it is the most spread grape in South Africa where it is typically used to make blends with Merlot in the most relevant regions like Stellenbosch and Paarl.
Argentina as a Cab producer, according to experts
When visiting vineyards and wineries in Mendoza and Salta, where Cabernet Sauvignon offers its best version among Argentina, we find there are various opinions from enologists and winemakers about this legendary variety.
Juan Manual Gonzalez, Chief Winemaker at De Angeles, is optimistic about the future of Cabernet Sauvignon: “In Argentina, wineries have been working behind the scenes firmly and consciously on Cabernet Sauvignon for ten years now. It used to be very green, excessively vegetal, and really astringent. It used to mean a huge effort in the winery to turn it to drinkable and pleasant. There has been a lot of work to find the ideal harvest point, basically by getting the correct polyphenolic ripeness, and also considering the soils and climates that are more beneficial”.
Andres Vignoni, a winemaker at Viña Cobos, comments that “Malbec is much easier to work that Cabernet Sauvignon because it adapts very well to each of Argentina’s terroir. Cabs are a bit more difficult, but the reward is huge. The harvest point is basic to obtain the proper ripeness of all its components. We should not be trying to copy those from Napa or Europe; there is something different to get from Argentina’s conditions. And reducing Cabs to green bell pepper is suicide“.
On his behalf, Pablo Cuneo, Chief winemaker at Luigi Bosca, highlights the pleasantness of the Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon: “When it harvested at its optimal point, Cabs are more pleasant, round and wrapping that others from colder regions, like Chile, where they get a defined vegetal character and have reactive tannins with great prominence”.
Francisco ‘Paco’ Puga, the Chief winemaker at El Porvenir Winery in Cafayate (Salta), tells us about his experience working with Cabernet Sauvignon in high-altitude vineyards: “If I have to highlight an attribute about Calchaqui Valley’s Cabernet it is its aromatic potential given by the altitude, latitude and warm climate that helps to develop a thick skin”. And he adds: “there are two styles of Cabernet Sauvignon in this area: more fruity and less vegetal, those whose grapes have been exposed to the sun and, on the other hand, the ones that have been more protected with a dense canopy and develop more spices, vegetal and balsamic notes. You won’t be able at the winery to change that aromatic intensity. I believe it is important to emphasize that Cabernet Sauvignon contains natural pyrazines, a compound that provides vegetal notes. It is part of the essence. And the harvest moment is the key to balance them”.
Certainly, Cabernet Sauvignon has an extraordinary present and even better future. But the challenge will be to differentiate Argentinian Cabs, with a unique style, as the only Cabernet to be produced without maritime influence, in a world that is plagued with high-end wines produced with this king variety.