Wine from the foot of the Andes.jpg

Wine from the foot of the Andes


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Maurice Lee has lived in the Algarve for five years but has been visiting for 20 years. He is a retired Cellar Master and is part of a local wine society. He is often invited to be a guest speaker to discuss wines and regularly holds tastings.

IN 1967, Argentina was the fourth largest wine producing country in the world, ahead of Italy, France and Spain.

In 1980, she was still fourth in world production, while Spain was relegated to fifth position and the USSR came in at fourth. Since the USSR was dissolved, Argentina might well have moved into third place. But who knows?

Production figures are always a bit of hit and miss, and if you take Alexis Lichine’s Encyclopaedia of Wines and Spirits, printed in 1967, Argentina produced 880 million imperial gallons, annually.

In 1980, according to David Burroughs and Norman Bezzant, she produced only 550 million imperial gallons but nevertheless held her fourth position.

Like neighbouring Chile, Argentina depends on the melting snow from the Andes mountains for irrigation.

Unlike Chile, she always believed that quantity was more important than quality and for many years 70 per cent of their wine was Vin Ordinaire.

To some extent they still think quantity is more important. As the annual consumption of wine per capita is almost 88 litres, they obviously don’t care too much about exports.

There are hardly any controls in Argentina. Farmers can press grapes as many times as they like, put all the must into a vat or barrels and let it ferment. This way a lot more wine is produced but some of it is hard to drink.

I presume there is some form of law to make sure the wine is fit for human consumption.

The grape names on the labels will be very familiar as they are mainly French. They include Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah and a couple of good Italian ones, the Sangiovese and Barbera.

The whites are Chardonnay, Semillon, Sylvaner (sometimes called Riesling) and Chenin Blanc. Torrontes is an indigenous grape and wine made from it is well worth trying.

Their whites are not noted for their longevity so check the vintage before buying. Producers are well noted for trying new blends and one of their best selling reds is a blend of Barbera, Syrah, and Malbec.

Mendoza is the heart of the wine industry and produces about 75 per cent of Argentina’s wine.

San Juan is another major wine producing province. South of Mendoza is Rio Negro and although it only produces about five per cent of the country’s total wine production, it produces some very pleasant whites.

There are other important wine growing areas but I wouldn’t think you’ll see many of the wines here in Portugal.

If you see any of the names I’ve mentioned, try some of them. They’ll never be great but can be very pleasant.

Remember to check vintages of the whites and if it’s more than three years old, leave it on the shelf.

Leaving things on the shelf reminds me that the Beaujolais Nouveau 2005 which I saw early November is still on the supermarket shelf. My advice is still the same. Leave it there. Personally, I wouldn’t buy even a 2007 Beaujolais Nouveau, as it’s getting too old.

I heard on the news recently that Roman Catholic priests in Ireland are getting concerned about drinking too much altar wine while saying Mass and maybe failing the breathalyser if stopped by the Gardaí.

Things have changed since the company I worked for sold altar wine. There was very little alcohol content and I think you would get very ill long before you got drunk.

If there is more alcohol in sacramental wine these days, then they could use de-alcoholised wine.

I’m not aware of any rule within the Roman Catholic church saying the wine has to have alcohol in it.

It is possible that de-alcoholised wine cannot be used because, to remove the alcohol, the wine has to be rectified.

This could render the wine adulterated and such wine cannot be accepted by the church for sacramental use.

During Prohibition in the United States (1920-1933), wine was allowed to be made.

It was for sacramental purposes only but interestingly enough when the Volstead Act was repealed in December, 1933, more than 1,000 vineyards were reported to have appeared in California, almost overnight, producing table wine in time for Christmas.

I don’t know if this was ever confirmed but it makes you wonder how good Elliot Ness really was.

So, UK supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, is going to save the planet by getting rid of glass bottles and use plastic ones for their wine.

I suggest that if they feel so strongly about saving the planet why don’t they tell their shareholders, directors and staff to stop using their big cars. This would be far more effective.

Is wine the only thing getting new packaging? What about spirits, liqueurs, ciders, beers, jams, sauces, mustards, coffees, minerals, etc., etc., etc.

Wine and plastic have never really been compatible. It was tried many, many times before.

Airlines use plastic bottles for the weight and other businesses use plastic to reduce breakages.

Plastic stoppers that are now in use in some countries can and have tainted the wine. Long term cellaring in plastic? I think not.

So it looks as if Sainsbury’s is going to stock only cheap, cheerful wines, but nothing you would drink to celebrate an occasion.

The person with the infantile brain who thought of this idea, should be fired immediately and without a golden handshake!

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