Argentinian Wine and How to Spell Whisky

By / Magazine / October 16th, 2009 / 2

How the heck did Argentina suddenly become such a superstar wine producer?

Practice, my friend, lots and lots of practice. While it may seem like Argentina has come out of nowhere it’s been refining the art of winemaking for over four centuries. I know; where have they been all our lives? Well, even though it’s the fifth largest continuous vino producer in the world, local demand consumed most of it up until the early 2000s. The average Argentinean used to suck back about eight times his North American counterpart until international investment and fading New World competition (and I’m talking about you, Australia) made exporting a lucrative reality.

So how’d they hit the big time so fast? Well, let’s start with the price. It’s hard to find a better value on the naked store shelves these days than a bottle from Argentina. I dare you to try. Add to that their balance of New World flavour with Old World character that sets them apart from everyone else, especially the palate pounding Aussies and generally chug-a-luggable Chileans. Then there are the grape varieties they’ve adopted. Malbec is king for now, but Bonarda, Tannat, Torrontés and Syrah are all easy to pronounce, taste unique and are each on deck to become the Next Big Thing.

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And there are more big things to come. While insanely drinkable cheapo wines like Familia Zuccardi’s Fuzion have wine critics falling over themselves with cork-kissing superlatives, there are over 900 wineries in Argentina all crafting competing brands. Add to that the knockout quality of the country’s super premium end and you’ve got a perfect storm of joy juice — at least until the Portuguese get their act together and steal the limelight.

Why do some countries spell whisky with an ‘e’ while others don’t?

After much investigation, and considerable scotch consumption, I’ve drawn the conclusion that it’s only done to mess with the minds of booze column proofreaders. I mean, why else would Ireland, the United States, Canada and Scotland (the four primary producers of whiskey/whisky) choose sides over a second-tier vowel. Now if it was an ‘a’ or an ‘i’, maybe I could see their point — but an ‘e’?

Of course nothing in the liquor industry is ever that simple and the controversy dates back to the origins of the grain-based spirit and many honest attempts to translate Gaelic into sounds the majority of humanity can reproduce. Back in the early 19th century — when the original Irish version was legally catching on around the British Isles — a problem arose. No one in England could say the Gaelic term uisce beatha (or water of life) without sounding like an idiot. Kings and Queens don’t take kindly to sounding like idiots, so the anglicized term whisky (originally ‘e’ less) was quickly adopted. Now I mentioned “legally” because up until 1823 or so, much of the whisky production in the UK was underground to avoid heavy taxation. Once the rules were changed a flood of inconsistent spirit — all called whisky — washed over the countryside. It’s thought that the Irish added the ‘e’ to distinguish their product from the crappier Scottish output of the day. Later, the Americans did the same to make sure their homegrown drinkers knew they weren’t buying Canadian.

Don’t know who gets an ‘e’ and who doesn’t? The easy way to remember is that Ireland and The United States have an ‘e’ in their names so they include it in their whiskey. Canada, Scotland and even Japan (who makes some very impressive liquid) aren’t spelt with an ‘e’ so they drop it from theirs. It’s the Welsh that throw a shot glass in the works by spelling Wales with an ‘e’ and whisky without. But when’s the last time you drank anything from Wales?


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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