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Malbec and beyond: What's next for Argentina?

Published:  11 November, 2016

One of the great New World success stories is the rise of Argentinian Malbec, which has become the go-to grape for both supermarket shoppers and trendy restaurants in the UK and also worldwide.

The team at Gauchezco vineyard and winery spoke to Harpers about their strategy to provide a "next step" for lovers of the grape and to raise the bar on quality.

Their plans for premiumisation starts at the bottom of their four-tier Malbec range, and the company is currently re-launching its entry-level Malbec Clasico as Malbec Estate, to emphasise the prestige of the grapes which all come from the single estate winery in Mendoza.

Premiumisation should be given context in the Argentina category, which owes much of its popularity to its value-for-money reputation.

In this instance, the difference between Gauchezco's entry and top level Malbec is £12: from £10 for the Estate, to £22 for their Oro.

Keen to keep this in tact while driving the quality message, is Gauchezco's Colorado-born owner Eric Anesi, who traded the Rockies for the Andes when he started the company back in 2007.

"Other producers aren't making entry-level Malbecs which are all from one estate: they're using grapes from all over the place. You always have to over-deliver at every price point," he said.

Malbec opened the door for Argentina globally, but some producers are trying to distance themselves from the varietal in a bid to demonstrate diversity, as was the case at Wines of Argentina's first Barullo event where one producer didn't exhibit any of the country's flagship grape.

Gauchezco isn't taking this approach.

As Andrew Steel from importer Connoisseur Estates said: "You can't be a one trick pony, but you have to make sure your most best performing pony is well looked after and at the front of the queue."

Gauchezco is putting this into practice by developing new varieties to complement its Malbec range, most recently with the launch of its first Chardonnay.

Again pushing a premium agenda, Gauchezco is jumping the entry level and preparing to launch Chardonnay Reserve, retailing for around £12.99.

The Chardonnay is made from vines at 3,800 feet in Mendoza's Uco Valley, without malolactic fermentation.

Instead, the wine is fermented purely in Hungarian oak, to create a Chardonnay which allows the fruit notes of the valley to come through.

"The Reserve level is doing very well at the moment," Steel added.

"Two years ago I would have said there isn't the demand for Argentinian Chardonnay at that price point, but there's been a lot of change over the past two years.

"There's a thirst for 'what's next?' from Argentina, which is seen as a quality producer now. Offering a range of Malbec gives independents the opportunity to show progression. But it needs a hand-sell. Grocers don't have the time, or the expertise."

Production for Gauchezco varies from Mendoza to Salta in the north, where the company produces its Torrentes - which is also moving from Clasico to Estate, - displaying a focus on regionality which is growing among the country's winemakers.

Anesi added: "Argentina has such a large surface area: we've started seeing more growing zones emerge and I'm sure we've going to see more of that in future."

The quality drive coming out of Argentina of late has been largely in response to Malbec reaching the global market in the 2000s, having previously been almost entirely consumed domestically.

"When you're up against Burgundy or Bordeaux you have to bring your A-game," Anesi explained.

Malbec's success is such that in the grape's birthplace of Cahors, producers are now upgrading the grape's presence on the label from the back to the front in a bid to capture some of Argentina's success.

Head winemaker Mauricio Vegetti considers Argentina to be Gauchezco's main competitor however, because of the difference in taste and flavour profile between Malbec produced in Argentina compared to of the rest of the world.

"Our main competitors for Malbec are other Argentinian wineries," he said. "Argentina changed the game."