Red wine is the lifeblood of Argentina and Mendoza is the heart. Here wine can be purchased at unbelievably low prices but incredibly high quality. This has proven to be an enjoyably dangerous combination for many travelers, multiple times. There’s a saying that repeating the same actions again again, and expecting different results, is a sign of insanity. If this is the case, then I am an insane wine drinker along with everyone I have travelled with. I can guarantee that your resveratrol levels will never be as high as during your time spent in Argentina, and if red wine is actually good for your heart then I should be fine for the rest of my life (I’m not sure this is how it works but it’s my rationale and I’m sticking to it).
Before I came to Argentina I was one of those “they all taste the same” type of wine consumers. This disregard was accompanied by fake swirling, making some sarcastic remark about legs, sipping and looking up with false contemplation and joking about the hint of some obscure mineral I was picking up on; all followed by rapid consumption of whatever 10 dollar bottle I was drinking. However, I am starting to fear that the refinement of my tastes and newfound interest will be a heavy burden on my wallet when I return home. Back home I could only afford the cheapest bottles of low quality to mediocre wine. It is different here, I have been able to buy some of the best wines in the country and have visited bodegas (wineries) that produce some of the highest quality wine in the world. The differences between what I knew back home, and what I have been drinking here is night and day, or welches and Chateau Margaux (most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at $192,000 USD). The quality of wine here is a recent development and has been received with jaw dropping guzzling by the international wine community. While many quality wines are produced, Malbec dominate the market.
Argentina is the inebriated queen of Malbec. She has been infamous for drinking most of what she makes, and more concerned with quantity than quality (certainly not the classiest of queens). However, she has recently undergone an intervention (or rehabilitation) and has realized the economic, and reputational, benefits from producing higher quality wine and increasing exportations. Until the 1990’s, Argentines consumed upwards of 90% of all the domestically made wine. Considering that Argentina is one of the world’s largest wine manufacturers, there has traditionally been a lot of raised pinkies (at its consumptive peak the average person was drinking a casual 90 liters per year). Furthermore, wineries here have traditionally been concerned with output rather than quality. So much so that Argentine wine was deemed unexportable until the recent transformation. The new and improved queen is classy, international, strong, and fueled by Malbec.
A common way to experience some of the amazing wine is to head to wine region like Mendoza or Salta and stumble from bodega to bodega. Often times the bodegas are close enough that you can rent a bike and tour four – six places in one day. I did this in Luján, a Napa-esque town outside of Mendoza, and was able to visit five bodegas in one afternoon. The first place we went gave us an incredibly in-depth tour of the winery and broke down the entire process of processing the magical berries from beginning to end. It was informative and I’m glad that it was the first place we went or else it would have been in a completely different language (it was in English…). Even though I enjoyed learning about all of the intricacies and specificities, the best part was drinking the wine. They opened up a grand reserve from one of their first popular barrels for the four of us and we drank and continued to talk about the region and why the climate in Mendoza is so ideal for the Malbec grape. At the other bodegas we skipped the formalities and cut to the wine. I learned how to appropriately swirl, check the legs, and taste the wine in a non-sarcastic manner (when someone says they taste some fruit or chocolate or wood I still think that they are just full of wine).
The divergence of price, quality, natural settings, and the fun and light-hearted atmosphere in Argentina makes for a fantastic wine drinking experience. Some of the bourgeois pretentiousness of European or Napa wine snobs haven’t become prevalent in Argentina so you can focus on enjoying the wine and the people you came with and not psychoanalyzing grape juice. By the time that you have to return to wherever you’re from you will no doubt be contemplating throwing out all of your clothes in your suitcase to make room for all the wine you want to bring back home (because, if you drink enough wine you may not need your clothes anyways…).