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Viticulture in Argentina

Argentina's grapes flourish in the foothills of the Andes. This location produces an excellent balance between sweetness and acidity. The vibrant purple coloured Malbec and crisp Torrontés have become big export hits in recent years.

History

In 1556 the Spanish conquistadors brought winemaking with them to Argentina. In those days the churches and monasteries were responsible for cultivating grapes, and thus it was a Jesuit priest by the name of Father Cedrón who planted European vines from his homeland in order to have wine to celebrate mass. It is believed that the present-day varieties of Criolla Chica, Criolla Grande and Cereza are descendants of these grapes. These well-known and long-lived Spanish varieties are still the most widely planted vines today. The first winegrowing regions in Argentina were Mendoza, La Rioja and San Juan which were already booming at the end of the 16th century.
The most important proponent of the Argentinian wine industry was Don Tiburcio Benegas (1844–1910). In 1883 he founded the Trapiche winery – still in existence today – in Godoy Cruz, where he conducted trials with various grapes. His father-in-law Don Eusebio Blanco had published the first book about winemaking in Argentina in 1872. In 1853 the Argentinian President had asked the French soil expert Michel Aimé Pouget to identify new varieties suitable for cultivating in South American soils. It was this that led to the introduction of the old French variety Malbec which is Argentina's flagship variety today. The Malbec (aka Cot) produced in Argentina is of a better quality than that produced in its homeland France.
Italian, French and Spanish immigrants brought their viticultural experience with them in the 18th and 19th centuries and made Argentina into a modern wine-producing country. Their vine husbandry know-how improved the quality of the grapes and resulted in a wide variety of wine styles, which remains a mark of Argentinian winemaking to this day. During the military dictatorship, corruption and economic isolation harmed the Argentinian wine industry. Although a great deal of wine was consumed, despite widespread poverty, this was at the cost of quality. Argentina's winegrowing regions recovered only very slowly. Ultimately, however, reducing yields, stipulating the use of only quality varieties, and other measures paid off.

Geography and Argentina's winegrowing regions

Most vineyards are found in the west on the slopes lying below the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. A colourful patchwork of vineyards stretches for almost 2 000 kilometres along the foothills of the Andes, from the northernmost region Salta to the southernmost Chubut in Patagonia. They thus extend over 15 degrees of latitude in the southern hemisphere.
The plains of Argentina (the "pampas") are less suited to viticulture. The extremely high altitudes ranging from 600 to 2 400 metres of all Argentina's wine regions is therefore impressive.
Running from north to south, Argentina has the following winegrowing regions:
  • Salta
  • La Rioja
  • Catamarca
  • Mendoza
  • San Juan
  • Río Negro
  • Neuquén
  • La Pampa
  • San Luis
  • Córdoba
  • Tucumán
  • Chubut
The altitude causes wide fluctuations in temperature in the course of a day, which is beneficial for the grape's aroma: the heat during the day increases the sugar concentration, although this is milder than in other parts of the country. The cool nights produce a refreshing acidity and expand the aromatic spectrum. A dry climate with low rainfall is also characteristic of all Argentina's wine regions, so artificial irrigation is necessary. This is sourced from meltwater from the Andes and well water. Thanks to a sophisticated artificial irrigation system that goes back to the aboriginal Indian inhabitants, the province of Mendoza became Argentina's most important winegrowing region. Vines in Argentina have an impressive average age of 50 years.

Great diversity of wines

Thanks to the prevailing climatic conditions, the country is ideally suited to organic winegrowing methods. The low rainfall means that vines are less prone to fungal infections. Argentina's winegrowing regions boast a wide range of grape varieties. All types of wine are produced: rosé, red and white wines. The most widely cultivated grape varieties are Criolla Chica, Criolla Grande and Cereza. One Argentinian idiosyncrasy is a separate category for pink grape varieties. The high-yielding varieties Cereza, Criolla Chica, Criolla Grande and Moscatel Rosada are used primarily for sweet mass-produced wines. They are usually blended with white varieties. But top-quality white wines are also produced, first and foremost being the varieties Pedro Giménez , Torrontés and Chardonnay. Wines made from the Argentinian grape Torrontés are full-bodied and pleasantly crisp. Many vineyards in the Salta region especially grow this grape. It is also prized for its elegant bouquet and distinctive nutmeg aroma. Top-quality Chardonnays are also made. As a dry still wine, it exhibits a beguiling fine note of nutmeg. However, the grape is more commonly used as the basis for fine sparkling wines. No wonder then that the legendary Champagne house Moët et Chandon has a branch in Argentina. Bodegas Chandon in Mendoza is part of Argentina's winemaking industry. In addition, white wines are also produced from Ugni blanc, Riesling, Semillon and Muscat of Alexandria grapes. The varieties used for red wines are Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Bonarda, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Pinot noir and Tempranillo. Purple-red Malbec wines are a major export hit. This red wine is usually refined in barriques and ages well. In Argentina Malbec achieves a level of quality that French products cannot match. The best Malbecs therefore now come from South America. The red Cabernet Sauvignon grape shines above all in a typical Bordeaux-style blend. A three-level quality and control of origin system guarantees the quality of Argentinian wines:
  • Denominación de Origen Controlada (DOC)
  • Indicaciones Geográficas (IG)
  • Indicaciones de Procedencia (IP)
  • The highest quality level is the DOC category.

Vineyard area and production volume

Argentina is the most important grape growing country in South America with approximately 220 000 hectares under vine. On average winegrowers produce approximately 12 hectolitres of wine annually.
Discover powerful reds and crisp white wines from America's southern climes. You can obtain a fine bottle from Argentina from the Mondovino online shop and in Coop sales outlets.

Popular wines from Argentina