by Fred McMillin
for June 16, 1997

Do the Mendoza Cha-Cha

Prologue: Argentina's Mendoza province, about the size of the state of Illinois, contains 650,OOO acres of vineyards, which is over half of all the vineyards in South America...from Jan De Blij's "Wine Regions of the Southern Hemisphere"

The Rest of the Story: Spanish missionaries brought winemaking to Argentina over two centuries before they introduced it in California. In modern times, Argentina has ranked fifth in world wine production, behind only Spain, Italy, France and the former Soviet Union. So why haven't their wines been more prominent in the USA?...because the Argentinians drank 'em. Their per capita consumption has been the fourth highest in the world. In 1980 your typical Argentinian drank about 10 times more wine than his North American counterpart, and Mendoza made most of it.

Now things are changing. Domestic consumption is moderating and Argentina is turning to exports. But your USA buyer is a bit picky, so these South American wines are being upgraded. For example, in Mendoza internationally popular varieties like Chardonnay are replacing many acres of Criolla, the vine the missionaries introduced to both Argentina and the southwestern USA. You can check the progress for a very modest $7, if you try...

1995 Chardonnay, Mendoza, Argentina
Coastal Cellars
Soquel, CA

Category: Recommended if you drink Chardonnays under $10

Postscript: Mendoza is at the same latitude as Morocco. So how do Mendoza vintners avoid flavor-destroying high temperatures? That's easy. The vineyards are 2,000 to 3,000 feet high, where a grape can keep its cool.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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