We have all heard of Argentina as a wine producing nation, thanks in no small part to the abundantly popular Malbec. But for those of us that want to know, and more importantly, taste a little more… What are our options?
There are three main regions to the wine industry in Argentina; Mendoza, San Juan and the Uco Valley
. Let’s take a little tour!
Mendoza, the most famous
Responsible for producing around 80% of the country’s grapes and home to nearly 395,000 hectares of vines. More land is planted to vine here than the all the regions in Australia and New Zealand combined. Nestled up against the Andes in the western edge of the country. Mendoza has a wine heritage stretching back to the 1500s, it’s an industry with fascinating stories of adaptation, innovation and improbable progress given the ups and downs in the Argentine government.
The lay of the land
Despite the lush green appearance with the vines and tree-lined streets, the area is actually a semi-arid desert. This is where adaptation and innovation came in! Thanks to the natives, an ingenious irrigation system was built, channeling Andean meltwater to the city and the surrounding farmland. Furrows cut through the land and large cement ditches, known as Asequias (a-say-key-as), line every street.
What’s on offer?
As you would expect, Malbec
is king here, making up around 47% of the production. But as we mentioned above, Argentina really isn’t only about this variety. Cabernet Sauvignon
– probably the single most famous grape on earth – is a great example. Originating in the Bordeaux region of France it has successfully spread to almost every wine producing country on the planet. It now accounts for around 15% or Argentina’s grapes. Alternatively, if that’s not obscure enough for you then it’s worth looking to whites for something different. Also, Chardonnay
(not very different you may say) accounting for only 7% of the grapes in Argentina, is worth a try for one good reason. This is another variety that is very well spread all over the world, it responds and adapts to the climate it grows in very well with each variation in conditions impacting a unique personality to the wine produced. Cool climates, think apple fruits. Temperate zones, think stone fruits. Whilst warm regions will display tropical notes. For this reason alone it’s worth investigating what Chardonnay makes of the adaptations and arid climate of Mendoza. Another key variety in my eyes to try is that of Torrontes
, it rapidly became synonymous with the whites of Argentina, and for good reason! Torrontes actually relates to three key varieties and, as such, the wines you find in the bottle can showcase a wide range of characters; from light and fresh, to heady and intensely perfumed. Origins are a little up for debate here with a few theories of Spanish descent being thrown in for consideration. The fact remains, however, today 96% of all Torrontes is Argentinian, which only equates to around 2% of the country’s output. This is a little gem you may be yet to try. Interestingly, we also have a blend of the white Torrontes and red Malbec that wine critics describe as ‘velvety and fun’
is a must try.
San Juan, the little sister
Like Mendoza, San Juan is predominantly semi-desert and is very dependent on irrigation from the two rivers flowing through the region, many vineyards also depend on meltwater too. Historically famed for its high-yielding pink grape varieties. Today San Juan is producing wines of increasing quality, using traditional European grape varieties. Syrah
is a great place to start here. Originating from the Rhone Valley of France the variety is more readily known today as Shiraz (down to the vast quantities of Aussie Shiraz in the marketplace). Malbec
once again plays a huge role here. As with Mendoza, it’s worth not forgetting the white options here, very easy to get surrounded by a world of Malbec, but the high altitude and arid conditions make for some stunning stone fruit character whites. Pinot Grigio
is a good place to look, making delicate but rich wines, often very aromatic with subtle peach hints to welcome you in.
Uco Valley, a first-class wines region
Itself part of the larger Mendoza, it is, however, a key sub-region onto its own and recognized by many. Not only is the vine growing quite distinct here, but the region is also home to some of Argentina’s top producers. Attracted by the excellent climate and soil, newcomers such as the Bordeaux based names of Lurton, Rothschild and Rolland have raised the region’s profile considerably internationally. Among the regions, specific merits are the high elevation sitting between 2000-3600 feet above sea level. Located at an altitude of 33°S, the vineyard sites benefit from the high daytime temperatures combined with cooler nights. Once again, perhaps unsurprisingly it’s Malbec
that dominates here. Cabernet Sauvignon
accounts for around 12% of the area’s vines, making well-rounded reds with a touch of roasted pepper often with generous fruits and tannins. It’s also worth looking out for Pinot Noir
, although it only accounts for around 3% of the vines here, the cooler temperatures do wonder for the variety, opening up the fresher fruity character of the variety.