Argentina is on fire. It is currently fifth in world wine production. It is eighth in world wine consumption. Its imports are increasing by quantum leaps. It is the second largest South American country after Brazil. This means there are a wide variety of great wines of Argentina to try.
Courtesy Garcia Betancourt
Argentina is in an excellent area in the southern part of South America for grape growing. Chile is just over the massive Andes Mountains to the west. The Atlantic ocean is on the east. Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil border the country to the north. The conditions are warm and sunny. There are very few pests. The Mediterranean-like climate is enhanced with the Andes snow. It melts for irrigation. Without the Andes, Argentina would be desert-like. The country also has the highest vineyards in the world. Most vineyards are planted at 1,000 to 5,200 feet to mitigate the intense summer heat.
Grapes were planted in the 16th century by conquistadors and missionaries. The grapes they planted were fruitful, but not high quality grapes, such as Criolla. It was not until the 1980s that we saw premium wines of Argentina emerging. Then in the 1990s, the end of political instability, economic depression and military governments, as well as French and U.S. investments in Argentina, helped bring positive quality change in the wine industry. The 1990s saw the introduction of temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and new oak barrels. These were brought about in part by Nicolas Catena. he is Argentina’s wine visionary. They were also brought about by French and American consultants.
As implied, France and Italy, not Spain, has more viticulture influence in Argentina. This is the reason Argentina is noted for Malbec. It is one of the highest quality, most popular wines of Argentina. Malbec is more popular than in its ancestral home of France. Malbec is best known from its largest region Mendoza
. The wine comes in all price ranges, but even inexpensive Malbec is a pretty good drink. Every time I think of the savory flavor of the dark, purple Malbec with the flavors of lavender, spice and black fruits, it brings to mind the quintessential pairing of grilled Argentine steak with chimichurri. Argentina makes more red wine than white. Malbec makes up 26 percent.
The next two important grapes are Bonarda and Cabernet Sauvignon. Those wines of Argentina make up about 18 percent each. Syrah comes in fourth with about 13 percent. Bonarda originally hails from Italy’s northern wine region of Piedmont. There it is typically blended with Piedmont’s number one grape Nebbiolo in the wines of Gattinara and Ghemme. It is now considered a separate grape. Although, it is rarely seen labeled as a varietal, except in Argentina. And of course, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah originally hail from France, but are now planted ubiquitously through out the world. Two white grapes stand out. The first is Torrontes, representing about 18 percent. The second is the international varietal Chardonnay. It makes up around 14 percent. Torrontes is Argentina’s number one planted white grape. It is a crossing of the Muscat family. This is the only place where you see this grape produced. It is a true Argentinean specialty. Originally believed to be from northwest Spain, it produces a fresh, crisp and very aromatic wine. Try Torrontes as an excellent aperitif or with seafood. Lastly, much experimentation has taken place with barrel fermentation and oak ageing of Chardonnay. Excellent wines are being produced.
The number one wine region to look for is Mendoza. The number one grape of Mendoza is Malbec. It is west of the Atlantic and east of Buenos Aires. It has over 70 percent of the country’s wineries. It contains 70 percent of Argentinean vineyards located within its boundaries. This is a astonishingly large wine region with most of its vineyards planted between 2,500 to 5,000 feet above sea level. It is obviously the center of the Argentinean wine industry. Arguably the most important sub-region of Mendoza is Lujan De Cuyo. It is even more noted for Malbec.
Courtesy Garcia Betancourt
Other important regions outside the powerful Mendoza are Salta
, La Rioja and San Juan. Salta is the most northern area. It makes two-thirds white wine. It specializes in Torrontes. Salta
means very beautiful. It is home to Bodega Colome, owned by Hess. It has the world’s highest vineyards at 8,300 feet. San Juan is the second largest area producing wines of Argentina. It contains 23 percent of vineyards. It enjoys one of the sunniest conditions in the world. There are no more than 30 cloudy days a year. Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda, Chardonnay and Torrontes are planted there. La Rioja, one of the oldest wine regions, is planted with Bonarda, Malbec, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. With 40 percent of its vineyards planted to Torrontes, that remains its specialty.
Suggested wines of Argentina
Doña Paula Torrontes, 2013, Cafayate Valley (Salta)
Alamos Torrontes, 2013, Salta
Diseño Torrontes, 2013, Salta
Zolo Bonarda, 2011, Mendoza
Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda, 2011, Mendoza
Diseño Malbec “Old Vine”, 2011, Mendoza
Enrique Foster Malbec “Ique”, 2008, Mendoza
Bodega Tamari Malbec “Reserve”, 2011, Mendoza
Amalaya, 2011, Calchaqui Valley (Salta). This is a Malbec with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tannat.
Bodega Elena de Mendoza, 2010, Mendoza. This is a Malbec with Syrah and Bonarda.