Guide to Wine in Argentina
Argentina was home to some of the oldest plantings in the New World, but in global terms the history of wine in Argentina is a recent one. For centuries, high domestic demand meant there was no desire to develop wines for export, and vineyards focused on the traditional varietals like Criolla Chica.
In the 1980s, a few pioneering vineyards began to work with new varieties of grapes and bring in modern viticulture techniques and technologies, causing what can only be described as a revolution in Argentinian wine. Although Malbec vines, for example, had been planted as early as the 16th century, it wasn't until the past twenty years that this became established as the classic Argentinian grape.
In the past decade, wine in Argentina has moved away slightly from a rush to produce good but basic Malbecs and Merlots for export, and started to aim much more at the higher end of the quality spectrum. Most critics agree that Argentina's wines are getting better and better, and many see Argentina's fine wines as on the cusp of achieving some great things.
Mendoza: Malbec and More
Nestled in the foothills of the Andes, Argentina's most famous wine region is based around the city of Mendoza. Vines have been grown here since colonial times, and the Mediterranean-like climate and sandy soil on a clay base has proved perfect for wine production ever since. Although the acreage under cultivation has actually almost halved in the past twenty years, the Mendoza region alone still produces more wine than Australia and New Zealand together.
The reduction in acreage is symptomatic of a greater focus on quality, and the vast plantings of Criolla Chica have been replaced with smaller vineyards cultivating particularly Malbec, but also Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tempranillo varieties. As with the rest of Argentina, there has also been a move towards vineyards at rather higher altitudes than the traditional 500-1000m above sea level, with some newer vineyards in the Uco valley being as high as 1500m, with the consequently cooler climate producing some excellent Sauvignon Blancs and crisp Chardonnays.
There's no doubt that Malbec is the classic wine in Argentina, however, and the Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo areas just outside Mendoza produce the best Malbecs in the world: rich red in colour and with an intensity but delicacy of flavour that is unsurpassed. Winemakers in Argentina are also leading the way in experimenting with blends of Malbec and other varieties, particularly Syrah and Shiraz.
Reaching New Heights in Salta
Heading north from Mendoza, the areas of Salta and Catamarca have also produced wine for centuries but although they're closer to the equator than Mendoza, the higher elevations of the Argentinian north-west have made white wines the speciality. In fact, some of the vineyards in Salta are the highest vineyards in the world, with many well over 1600m and some at the unthinkable (in European terms) altitude of 3000m. Recently, vineyards have even taken to actually advertising the altitude on their bottles as a badge of honour.
These higher elevations tend to give grapes much higher levels of acidity, which in turn give wines much more depth and balance than grapes from lower altitudes. The Cafayate region in Salta is particularly producing increasingly fine wines, especially based on the indigenous Torrontes grape, and has been attracting involvement from noted foreign winemakers such as Michel Rolland and Donald Hess. The Torrontes grape itself has been one of Argentina's best-kept secrets and can produce some superb wines, with a sharply-defined body and superb floral aromas.
Wine Tours in Argentina
You can enjoy a range of specialist specialist wine-tasting tours in Argentina with us, allowing you to experience the best of Argentinian wine in sympathetic settings and with expert guidance, but if time is short or if you'd just prefer an introduction to Argentine wine then we can arrange day tours to some of the best vineyards in Mendoza and Salta and fit those into just about any of our standard Argentina holidays.