The Wines of Argentina 101

Taking a look at the where, what, whys and whens of Argentina


Argentina has emerged as one of wine’s great success stories of the 21st century, which might be disappointing to the Argentines who have afterall been at this for several hundred years. None the less, today the selection of Argentine wines has never been greater, and to a large extent Argentina can thank mother nature for that. Blessed with a continental climate, limited rainfall and abundant groundwater, a variety of vineyard locations that include some spectacular high altitude plots, and young soils poor in organic material, Argentina has all the pieces to produce world class wines.


Argentina

Argentina is a relatively large country dominated by the Andes mountains which stretch from north to south forming the western spine of the country while offering great site diversity for grape growers. The nation’s vineyards lay between just above 30 down to 40 degrees south latitude; a band that includes the great vineyards of South Africa, Australia, Chile and the North Island of New Zealand as well.  

North to

While the vinous landscape of Argentina is complex with many smaller appellations the countries vineyards can roughly be grouped into three categories: North, Cuyo, and Patagonia.
 
In the north where one finds the city of Salta and the nearby Cafayate appellation the classic red wines of Argentina rule the roost, though in these high altitude vineyards that reach over 10,000 feet of elevation, unusually elegant and perfumed Torrentes are often considered to be the top regional wine.
 

South

In Cuyo, centered around Mendoza, you find the driest regions of Argentina, regions with familiar names such as  Pedernal, Valle de Uco, and Lujan. This is the heart of Argentina’s wine industry, both on a quantitative and qualitative level and this is where many of the greatest expressions of Malbec hail from.  
 
Farther to the south one finds Patagonia with it’s cooler temperatures and long days of summer sunshine it is proving to be an ideal home for cool climate varieties such as Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

A Little History

While one can trace wine back to the earliest Christian missionaries who arrived in Argentina, as in fact the great Torrontes variety can as well, the culture of wine only arrived in Argentina with the great influx of European settlers who came ashore in the 19th century. A real turning point for the Argentine wine industry came about with the establishment of the countries first School of Agriculture in 1853.  Michel Aimé Pouget was appointed as the school’s founding Principal and turned to his homeland for some vinous inspiration; introducing French varieties to the Argentine landscape, a fortuitous turn of events.
 

To Present Day

From a relatively slow start vineyards quickly expanded across Argentina growing from a mere 5,000 acres in 1873 to well over 500,000 just after the turn of the century. Of course the majority of these vineyards were used to produce the simple wines that were a staple of life right up through the closing decades of the 20th century. In the 1970’s wine began to fall out of favor in Argentina, leading to the uprooting of 36% of the nation’s vineyards between 1982 and 1992. Fortunately the Argentines were discerning and what remained included the finest vineyards in the nation. These historic vineyards served as the source for the quality revolution that brought Argentina’s wine industry into the 21st century as quality began to replace quantity as the driving force behind their wine production.

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Comments

  • GDP: OUTSTANDING article, once again! I am so happy to see the Argentinian wines that I pratically grew up drinking (being from the little "ball" to the right of Uruguay, which you can see on the map above) being depicted which such grace and knowledge,. Well done and gracias, che! P.S.: I have tried some of the wines you mention and I am a big fan of Susana Balbo’s. But I have to say that my favorite (for value and also to bring back memories of my Law School days) is Etchart Privado Torrontes. My father already knows to leave a couple of bottles in the fridge waiting for me when I go to Brasil…

    Oct 21, 2013 at 10:53 AM


  • Snooth User: wimryan
    250731 8

    Gregory;
    I have lived in São Paulo, Brasil for the past 16 years and have seen firsthand the maturing process of the Argentine vineyards. Your recommendations for the reds are spot on. The Altamira, Bramare and Noemia are spectacular wines, on a par with some of the best "old-world" (or new world, for that matter) offerings. Noemia, in fact, is owned by the italian Countess Noemi Cinzano (yes, THAT Cinzano), who recently sold Argiano property (makers of fine Brunello) to a Brazilian banker. Catena is a fine winemaker, from very basic, affordable and drinkable wines, to much more elaborate offerings. If you can get your hands on a bottle (or more) of Catena Zapata DV Adrianna, do so. Simply sublime. Several other Malbecs or blends that I would highly recommend are: Cuvelier los Andes Grand Vin (partially owned by the Leoville Poyferre house, check out the similar label), Yacochuya (huge Michel Rolland Malbec) and the Bressia Profundo, a Malbec, CabSav, Merlot and Syrah blend that is beautiful. All of these will go great with a big, juicy steak, lamb, or just to warm up a chilly evening.
    Thanks for the article, would love to see a similar one on the Chileans...
    Abraços from Brasil;
    William Ryan

    Oct 21, 2013 at 12:23 PM


  • Excellent article, but please get a new map. The Brits won that little war three decades ago and the islands in the south Atlantic are the Falklands and are part of the UK.

    Oct 21, 2013 at 4:59 PM


  • Signed up for your Doña Paula virtual tasting and the only one I could find locally was the Malbec, darn it. We will lift our glass with you during the Malbec tasting and take notes during the rest. Then start hunting for some of the others mentioned in this article. Seems the biggest challenge for us is the lack of variety to be found in our stores. Not to mention the fact that the sales staff seems more interested in quoting a price than insuring they have the vintage you are looking for. With the exception of this little whine, it will not deter us on our journey.

    Oct 21, 2013 at 5:53 PM


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