Argentinian wine is pretty popular these days but a decade or so ago you would have been hard pressed to find anyone in Britain who had tried it, or even knew that they made wine in Argentina.
In fact, Argentina produces more wine than any other country in South America, and is the fifth largest wine producer in the world, but in fact they keep most of it back for themselves. It’s easy to see why: Argentina doesn’t only produce a high volume of wine, the quality is very high, and the diversity – as you might expect in a large a country with such a varied climate – is unrivalled.
And the fact that they guard their secret cellar so jealously means that the standard of wine we tend to get in Britain is of a consistently high standard – not something that can always be said about other so-called New World wine producers.
Argentina’s most popular red grape variety, and the one that perhaps defines the country’s wine more than any other, is the dark, intense yet fruity Malbec, but you’ll also find Pinot Noir, Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon, blends that include Shiraz, Merlot and Tempranillo, and specifically Argentine varieties like Cereza and Criolla Grande (although these last two are generally used only for bulk wines that are rarely imported). White grape varieties include Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the indigenous Argentinian Torrentes.
The biggest and most significant wine-producing region is in the province of Mendoza, where around two-thirds of all Argentinian wine is produced. Located in the foothill of the Andes mountains, some of the vineyards here are situated at high altitude. However, the relatively benign and stable temperatures are ideal for growing grapes and making wine. The main wine-producing areas of Mendoza are Maipu and Lujan, where vineyards at between 2500 and 3500 feet produce some of the country’s finest single-growth old Malbecs, while the even higher Valle de Uco produces some excellent white wines, including some the country’s most impressive chardonnays.
There are two other main wine-growing regions besides Mendoza. Way further south, the more extreme climate of the Patagonia region provides a home to both white wines and also reds, made from Malbec and Pinot Noir grapes, which are slightly lighter than their counterparts in the rest of the country while in the extreme north of the country, the high, hot region of Salta has some of the country’s oldest vineyards, planted by Spanish missionaries in the 16th century. These grow Malbec and Tannat grapes that produce hefty, full-bodied red wines with high alcohol levels. The country’s northernmost region, Jujuy, grows Torrentes grapes that end up in delightfully aromatic, floral whites, although the wines from here are rarely exported.