See, Argentina’s malbec boom, from 2005 to about 2012 (during which exports to the U.S. grew 30 percent to 40 percent a year), was built on tanker loads of the jammy, over-oaked, mass-market variety. The grape became the country’s signature, a wild success story. Argentina is now the fifth-biggest producer of wine in the world. But for the past few years, restless, experimental winemakers have been intent on making more serious, elegant malbecs that are brighter, less oaky, and lower in alcohol than those from a decade ago. They’re very much in tune with the zeitgeist, hunting new vineyard spots that will give wines the individual stamp of the country’s unique terroirs.
That’s meant looking for cooler sites in this hot, dry land, mostly at high altitudes once thought too cold to ripen grapes, and studying soil profiles. Many winemakers, such as Alejandro Vigil of Bodega Catena Zapata and his own project, El Enemigo, believe the new “terroir El Dorado” lies in the once remote Uco Valley, a southwest corner of Mendoza bounded by the snow-capped Andes. It is rapidly become a tourist destination, with several major real estate projects underway. One of them, Tupungato Winelands, bills itself as “the first wine country club in the world” and sells small private vineyards. The region has attracted investors from Russia, Spain, Belgium, France, the U.S., and more, who are putting money in existing wineries and buying land.