An Argentinian wine merchant’s guide to Chardonnay
Having originated in the Burgundy area of France, this versatile grape can be grown and ripened without difficulty almost everywhere, except at the extremes of the wine world. The second most planted white variety in Argentina after Torrontés, it responds well to oak, as long as it is not over-oaked, and can have many different flavours, depending on soil, climate and oak ageing.
Where the grapes are grown has a huge impact on the quality of Argentinian Chardonnay. Generally speaking, the higher up the mountain you go, the better the Chardonnay you’re going to get. Hence, whilst the best Chardonnays in Argentina are known to come from the Uco and Tupungato valleys of the Mendoza region, wines from other regions may seem comparatively disappointing.
Argentinian Chardonnay is fairly classic Chardonnay, but often has some oak influence to it as well.
In contrast to the green apple flavours produced by the climate of Northern France, the moderate Argentinian climate produces flavours of citrus and stone/melon fruit. As a result of this refreshing sharpness, unoaked Argentinian Chardonnay goes well with white fish, salads, or hors d’oeuvres, as well as drinking very well on its own as an aperitif.
As with other oaked boutique wines, with Chardonnay, the oaking process does take a little bit of the fruitiness away. Whatever is lost is more than made up for, however, as the oak also imbues the wine with a complexity which ensures that it goes exceptionally well with food. Moreover, oak ageing adds toasty, nutty flavours, whilst malolactic fermentation (if allowed) can give some creamy, buttery and butterscotch notes. Once oaked, Argentinian Chardonnay will generally complement slightly stronger flavours and textures, going extremely well with smoked salmon, tuna, chicken, turkey and creamy dishes.
A good Chardonnay can age for a surprisingly long time, with the top South American wines selling for around 50 pounds a bottle. However, in order to achieve such longevity (some can last for up to 15 years), Chardonnays will sometimes have been quite heavily oaked. Though this may be welcomed by some, it is an acquired taste. I would strongly suggest reading tasting notes on the internet or sampling before splashing out on more than one bottle.
What to look for
When looking for a quality bottle of Argentinian Chardonnay, take care to look at exactly where the wine is from. As mentioned earlier, the best Chardonnays are grown in the Mendoza region (particularly the Uco and Tupungato valleys), so look out for these areas to be sure of a decent bottle. Similarly, I would advise against buying an Argentinian Chardonnay that does not advertise where it is grown, as this may indicate that it has been grown in a region or altitude less well suited to this grape.
The label of a good bottle should also inform you as to whether the wine has been oak aged and what the effect of that oak ageing has been. For example, the oak ageing of our Chardonnays will generally infuse them with a hint of vanilla, a suspicion of spicy fruit and sometimes a slight toast or nuttiness.