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Interview

Jay Miller in Argentina

April 25, 2008 by Ma. Soledad Gonzalez | in News

During his stay in Argentina in April, he tasted around 300 wines. He plans to conduct another tasting in June including wines from the regions he was not able to visit. In this interview with WineSur, he shares his perspective on Argentinian wines and, especially, on Malbec.

Jay Miller was in Mendoza from April 14th to 24th, and throughout those 10 days he had time to taste over 300 wines from different wineries in the province. His visit to the country was aimed at producing two reports on Argentinian wines: one about wines with a good quality-price ratio (i.e. value), comprising wines sold at 25 dollars or less, to be released in August; the other will be a special report on Argentinian wines, to be released in October.
He plans to carry out another tasting in New York in June, including the regions he was not able to cover during this trip and new wines submitted by wineries. Around 70 wineries have already committed to send wines for this event. In total, he calculates that he will have tasted 700 Argentinian wines by July. Here, an intimate interview with the man who pulls the strings of one of the largest world markets: the United States.

- What is your impression concerning Argentinian wines?

Well, Argentina is doing extremely well. The quality of the wines is high, from the entry level and up.

- How do you evaluate the development of Argentinian Malbecs?

I think Malbec is probably what Argentina is all about. There are other interesting varieties, for example Torrontés, and Bonarda, that are unique to Argentina as well, but among them, Malbec is what separates Argentina from the crowd.

- Which ones would you say are better, those from Luján or those from the Uco Valley?

Well, I think they all have their own merit, and that’s what makes them interesting, the different elevations make for different wines and they all have their merit and of course some people do blendings of wines from the various elevations, which also makes for interesting wines. Probably, the other thing I should mention is that I may be not enough of an expert to be able to make any judgment about which one is better.

- Do you think that the identification of Argentina mainly as synonymous with Malbec may pose a problem?

No, I think Malbec is real, it’s not something that’s going to go out of fashion, it’s well established now … and the quality of the wine pretty well speak to that.

- With regard to Argentinian blends, how do you assess them?

I think that Argentinian Cabernet is probably underrated and is after world fashion in many cases…and the Cabernet Malbec blends I’ve tasted in many cases are really good. And, of course, most of the world’s great wines were almost always a blend of two or more grape varieties, something not at all unusual…

- What was your impression regarding white wines?

I’ve not seen too many of them. There doesn’t seem to be too much production of white wine in Argentina but I’ve tasted a few good Chardonnays, but they just don’t come my way very much.

- Where do you think Argentinian winemakers have room for improvement?

Oh, I don’t know. I think they should continue to just do what they do, make the best wines that they can, focus on quality and ultimately that’s what pays off. Continue to focus on quality, and then the wines will sell.
The other thing that doesn’t seem to be happening too much in Argentina, as opposed to, say, a country like Australia, is that there is no sign of what we call “critter wines from Australia”, wines with animals in the label that are sold in huge quantities and are mediocre. Well, some people in the US have tried these wines and say “if that’s Australia, then I’m not interested.” But that doesn’t seem to be the case in Argentina, there are no bulk brands like that selling huge quantities and so in the entry level of Argentinian wines, quality is high and people identify Argentina positively.

- Do you think Argentinian wines suit the style American consumers seek for?

Definitely, and I think that specially in the under 20 dollar price range, the wines are very fruit-forward, very flavorful, what I would call hedonistic and that’s what I think customers are looking for, they are not really interested in cellaring wines, they want to buy the wine, open it within 24 hours and, generally, I think that Argentinian wines fulfill that need, particularly those under 20 dollars.

- There is much discussion over wine closures: corks, screwcaps, synthetics… Have you found many cork-related problems in our wines?

Argentina has probably the same relative percentage of problems with corked wine as everybody else, which I find is somewhere in the range of 3 to 4%, which is pretty unacceptable when you consider that percentage of your product is damaged and it’s beyond your control to do anything about it, except, using a non-cork closure, which is what people in Australia are using and I think American consumers are accepting it very well, certainly under the 20 dollars price category. Collectors probably will never be happy to get their Lafite Rothschild in a stelvin. But for most wines below a certain price, consumers really don’t care. They want to open it immediately anyway, they’re not going to store it in a cellar, so they’re not worried that there’s some kind of oxygenation with the cork as opposed to a screwcap. I think it could be in Argentina’s interest to do some experimenting with that, maybe putting in a certain percentage in stelvin and see how that is welcomed.

- In your opinion, what disadvantages may Argentina face in the wine world?

Disadvantages? I really don´t see anything. I think Argentina wines…certainly in the US market, are well positioned. People may be aware that our economy in the US is in a bad stretch, but people aren’t drinking any less. They are spending less money for wine but that’s perhaps to Argentina’s advantage because very high- standard Argentinian wines are under 20 dollars, and high end wines that collectors are interested in will continue to sell because those people have the money to buy them, no matter what…

- So, wines that are sold at prices higher than 100 dollars may start suffering the effects of the intricacies of the American economy?

Well, that’s where it will be difficult, particularly for the wines that don’t have a reputation. For something like Catena Zapata, that has been around for a long time and has a privileged track record, those wines will continue to sell, particularly in light of the fact that French wines have become so expensive or anything that you have to buy in euros. But for the people who are trying to enter with high prices and don’t have an established reputation, they may be having some difficulty.

- Do you think it’s time for Argentina to start promoting varieties other than Malbec?

I don’t think so, but I guess it will be in Argentina’s interest to promote its diversity, namely there are other two varieties that I mentioned earlier, Bonarda and Torrontés, that are making good inroads, the trick in both cases is to get consumers to try them, so sommeliers in wine shops would do well to steer their customers in that direction. Particularly in the case of Torrontés, people who’ve tried it like it and they come back for more.

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