Argentinian Wine

Argentina is a country of great excitement and interest, as far as wine is concerned. With an almost perfect climate and location, and a fascinating breadth of grape varieties producing great quality wine, it’s a wonderful country for wine production, but has not yet fallen on its feet in the UK market. Despite all efforts, and some high profile PR activity, Argentine wine sales still only account for 1% of the market, considerably behind New Zealand, and one eighth of the Chilean wine market.

About Argentinian Wine

Argentina Wine

This is despite the fact that Argentina is the 5th largest wine producing country in the world, and has one of the most dynamic wine industries at the present time. It is four times the size of France, and produces a vast amount of wine. There is a great deal of consideration about the slow level of growth and recognition for this country’s wines in the UK; many believe that it is still a relative lack of knowledge and trust in this country, and without a trailblazing big brand to stamp its foot, and establish credibility, it’s a tough job to convince many of the wine buying public, that this country offers simply some of the best value and best quality wines in the entirety of the New World.

Until 20 years ago, the majority of Argentina’s wine production was produced for the domestic market, and was considered unexportable; it was only in the early nineties, that the international floodgates opened, initially, to a considerable flurry of interest, especially from wine industry buyers, who were excited by the new prospects and the quality of the wine they were tasting. The devaluation of the local currency, the Peso, also made Argentina far more of a destination for international tourists. However, it’s been a more challenging job persuading the wine lovers of the UK, to switch from their favourite Australian, or Chilean wine, to an Argentine one.

The darling of Argentina’s wine offering, has to be the Malbec, which has to be the ‘national’ grape of Argentina, and this unique style of wine , perfectly matched with Argentina’s other ‘national’ consumable commodity, beef, is what has started to lead the way in terms of growth. With increased travel to Argentina, the lure of vibrant Buenos Aires, and the success of restaurant groups such as Gaucho, as well as a concerted effort by supermarkets and independent wine shops alike, the recognition and confidence in Argentine wines is slowly, but surely increasing.

History of Argentinian Wine

The first vines were planted and the first wine made in Argentina, back in the 16th century during the Spanish colonisation of the country, and winemaking was introduced by Christian missionaries. The wine industry developed over the next 4 centuries, as more European immigrants arrived, including a strong contingent from Italy; the Italian influence can still be strongly seen, by the use of many Italian grape varieties, including Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.

In the early 20th century, Argentina was one of the 10 richest countries in the world, with a thriving wine industry. This declined during the mid 20th century due to the Great Depression and the war, and the military dictatorship years, led to the industry becoming more insular, with the vast majority of production being consumed domestically.

By the 1970s, Argentina was consuming vast quantities of wine, with an average per capita of 9 litres, one of the highest in the world. A ‘sleeping giant’, the opportunity to improve quality and to export began to be developed in the 1980s, partly due to the international success of neighbouring Chile, and the move of Australian and European winemakers to Argentina, many of whom were already working in Chile. Exports were initially focussed on the US, and then began to grow in the UK and Europe.

Argentina is a huge country, and home to 42 million inhabitants, it stretches across 20 degrees of latitude, and has some of the most extreme vine growing conditions in the world. From semi-arid and almost desert-like conditions at latitudes similar to the Egypt, Argentina is also home to some of the highest vineyards in the world, near Salta, with the world’s highest vineyard sitting at 3000m. The mountainous topography makes for cold nights, and thus helps provide an optimum growing scenario for grapes, with hot sun to ripen, and cold nights to prolong the maturation process.

The snowy and majestic Andes Mountains are the most important influence on the vineyards, influencing the dry climate, protecting the vineyards, yet also providing irrigation. The influence of ‘La Zonda’, a strong wind that blows down across the vineyards, can cause substantial damage, but also protects the vines from disease.

Like its neighbour Chile, Argentina is one of the very few wine producing countries, where phylloxera has not struck, and where vines have not had to be grafted, although many now are, as a precaution.

Argentinian Wine Regions

Argentinian Wine Region

The main wine producing regions of Argentina lie in the far west of the country, very close to the Andes mountains, and stretch over 2000km from north to south.

The main area of production is Mendoza, which accounts for over two thirds of total production, followed by San Juan and La Rioja to the north. As winemakers and viticulturists explore, further regions have been identified and discovered, including the very high altitude areas of Jujuy, Catamarca and Salta in the far north east, and the very cool climate areas of Patagonia, Neuquen, and Rio Negro south of Buenos Aires.

Mendoza: Read our full guide on wine from Mendoza.

San Juan and La Rioja

  • San Juan lies to the north west of Mendoza, and is the second largest wine producing region of Argentina. The climate is hotter and drier, with low rainfall, and the region is best known for its red wine production, and also, historically, fortified and sweet wines.
  • La Rioja is a smaller area, north of San Juan, and the one with the longest history, having been established by the Spanish missionaries. It produces mainly reds, and also sweet wines, and wines from the traditional white grape variety Torrontes. It is also home of one of the most forward thinking and Fairtrade registered co operatives in Argentina, la Riojana.

North Western Regions

Recent years have seen increased plantings in some of the most northern regions, situated at 22 degrees latitude, therefore almost sub tropical; however these vineyards are all planted at very high altitude and this area possesses some of the highest vineyards in the world, with average vineyard altitude across the region of 1500m, whereas high vineyards in Europe rarely surpass 900m. The highest vineyard in the world Bodega de Colome, is located in one of the sub- regions, Salta.

  • The main areas in this region are Salta, Jujuy and Catamarca; due to the high altitude and cold night temperatures, the vineyards are producing wines with higher acidity and freshness, and elegant balance in both whites and reds.
  • Within Catamarca, lies the increasingly respected sub region of Cafayate, which only accounts for 2% of Argentina’s production, but is making some of the highest quality wines in the country – top white wines, and also exuberantly fresh reds.

Patagonia and Southern Regions

Recent years have also shown the development of wine areas further south, down in the cool climate regions of Patagonia, where the climate is in total contrast to the northern vineyards and San Juan, perfect for the production of cooler styles of wine.

  • The main sub regions of Patagonia are Rio Negro and Neuquen, home to the southernmost vineyards in South America, Bodegas Weinert, which are over 1500km south of Mendoza.

Patagonia produces high quality aromatic whites, and also great Pinot Noir; it is also home to some well balanced Cabernet sauvignon and Malbec, with greater acidity and freshness than their more northernly neighbours. It is also the home of the majority of Argentina’s sparkling wine production.

Argentinian Wine Grapes, Styles & Food Matching

Argentian produces a broad range of grape varieties, with experimentation, leading to new plantings every year. Over 30% of all wine production is still made from the indigenous, pink-skinned varieties, Criolla and Cereza, but these are used to produce local jug wine.

Here is a summary of the main grapes, which are used for quality , bottled wine production:

White Grapes

Torrontes

One of the most widely planted white grape varieties in Argentina, particularly in San Juan, La Rioja and now Mendoza. It has become viewed as the number one indigenous white grape variety of Argentina, and is linked to the Muscat of Alexandria family. It produces very floral, muscat – style wines, with rose petal and honey aromas, and a ripe, spicy, off dry flavour, reminiscent of Gewurztraminer in many respects. It is best unoaked and drunk whilst young and fresh.

What does it go with?

Torrontes is a fabulous wine to go with anything spicy and exotic; with its scented aromas, and bold, sweetly spiced flavours, it’s a natural match with spicy Indian curries, and hot thai sour dishes, as the intensity of the wine’s character can cope with the intensity of the flavours in the Asian dishes. It’s also great with some blue cheeses, and also with exotic fruit desserts, working particularly well with passion fruit and mango ice creams and pavlovas.

Chardonnay

The best known white grape variety in the world is now being planted in large volume across Argentina, and is thriving superbly, with some high quality wines, especially from the higher altitude, cooler climate regions, such as the Tupungato. Argentina is producing both fresh, unoaked, or lightly oaked styles,as well as the more traditional oaked styles, from the warmer areas.

The oaked styles are rich, bold, full of toasty, tropical fruit, and a creamy vanilla edge; the newer, fresher styles, celebrate the pure fruit quality, with lively, citrus-streaked white peach, creamy fruit.

What does it go with?

Chardonnay is a very versatile wine, with a soft, rounded, creamy style. It’s best suited to rich fish dishes, such as salmon, creamy fish pie, a dead cert with buttery roast chicken, pork in a creamy sauce and also perfect with brie and other soft cheeses. Lighter, zippier styles work well with lightly spiced dishes, and seafood.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc used to struggle in Argentina, often compared, less favourably, with the high quality Sauvignons, which its neighbour, Chile has been producing consistently for a number of decades now. Until new, higher altitude and cooler climate regions were discovered, the hot temperatures of Mendoza did little to encourage the delicacy, freshness and natural acidity of the grape.

However, with the discovery of an increasing number of cool climate regions, Sauvignon blanc is now coming into its own, and producing, verdant, fresh, zesty whites, with a ripe, tropical edge. The best Sauvignons come from the south, in Patagonia, and also from the very high vineyards in Salta and Jujuy.

What does it go with?

Look no further than freshly prepared seafood, simply pan-fried fish, and zingy green salads. It’s a natural match with asparagus, and also a perfect match to thai and Chinese dishes, where it’s aromatic, lime-fresh flavours perfectly balance the spiciness of the oriental flavours. Will also work with mild Indian curries, and is a delightful match with goats cheese salad.

Pedro Ximenez

The most widely planted grape variety in Argentina, and still responsible for a high proportion of total wine production – largely domestic bulk wine, but increasingly being used experimentally, to produce aromatic, quality wines.

What does it go with?

Pedro Ximenez produces very fruity, spicy, aromatic wines, with natural high alcohol, and a fresh, off dry edge. They work perfectly with fruity couscous, roast pork with apple sauce, coronation chicken and spicy fajitas, as well as other mildly spiced dishes.

Red Grapes

Malbec

Without any doubt, the national grape of Argentina; mention Argentine wines, and Malbec is the automatic wine association. Originally from southern France, where is plays a supporting role in blends both in the South West and in Bordeaux, it has shot to fame as an star player on its own, due to the production in Argentina.

A small, thick skinned grape, with inky black juice, it needs heat, and time to mature and ripen. Under ripe, it produces high tannin, aggressive, meaty, chewy wines, and in France, there is a tendency to rustic, gamey styles. However in the hot, dry sunshine of Argentina, it matures perfectly and yields, big, bold, fleshy, yet very juicy, spicy and intensely ripe wines. It is usually aged in oak to intensify its powerful, yet approachable character.

What does it go with?

Argentina is the land of beef, and the national food and wine match, is inevitably a huge, juicy steak and a glass of Malbec! Malbec is a natural match with steak, roast beef, and braised beef stews, but is not restricted to beef!

It also matches very well with braised lamb shanks, mature cheeses and lasagne, and also spicy Mexican dishes, and chilli con carne.

Bonarda

Another red grape variety, which has been brought to international success by Argentina. Originally from northern Italy, it was brought to Argentina, along with other Italian grapes, by the high level of Italian immigrants during the war period.

If it is not ripened properly, it can produce green, vegetal wines, but maturing well in the heat of Argentina, it produces, very fruity, intense, yet remarkably soft, spicy, aromatic reds, with gentle black fruit flavours. It is often used in blends with malbec.

What does it go with?

Bonarda , like Malbec, works well with steak, stews and roasts; but it is also great with most meaty pasta dishes, meatballs, spicy beef fajitas; cheesy pasta bakes, and mild curries are also good matches.

Shiraz

The Shiraz grape is well suited to the hot climate of Argentina, and produces, big, bold, spicy wines, packed with dense fruit, rich mocha flavours and ripe, intense character. Originally from the Rhone in southern France, where is is known as Syrah, and now adopted as Australia’s national red grape,it is an intensely rich, spicy, and structured grape, with a deep colour, strong tannins, and incredible richness.In its purest form, it produces wines for ageing , with dense fruit and an intense structure.

However it is also grown as a key component to the internationally known, favourite blend, Shiraz/Cabernet, adding the richness, spice, and ripe plum and mocha edge to Cabernet’s more overt fruitiness.

What does it go with?

Look no further than seared steak, barbecues and hefty stews! These warming, rich, moreish wines need rich, flavoursome dishes to accompany them. the richness of the wine will also go perfectly with spiced roast lamb, and matches very well with Indian red meat dishes. Also great with a slab of good cheddar.

Cabernet Sauvignon

The ripe, minty, blackcurrant characteristics of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape ripen to perfection in the reliable Argentine climate, and there are now also some superb, fresher style, cool climate Cabernet sauvignons produced in the higher altitude regions, such as Cafayate and Tupungato. On the volume front, it partners Malbec and Shiraz in the production full, yet soft, easy-drinking Malbec/Shiraz/cabernet blends, yielding, soft, ripe, fruity reds, with ripe tannins, ripe fruit and a spicy edge.

On its own, it produces some great, pure varietal wines, demonstrating the unique, intense blackcurrant and mint character of the grape, especially in these cooler, higher altitude regions, where it is seen , at its purest and complex best, with intense blackcurrant and eucalypt/mint character.

What does it go with?

Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural match with roast lamb, roast beef, and steak! Due to the naturally higher tannin levels, this is less good with oriental dishes, but works beautifully with a classic slab of cheddar or rich lamb and beef stews. Also great with venison.

Merlot

One of the classic grape varieties in traditional Bordeaux blends, the Merlot grape is extremely well suited to Argentina, with its hot, sunny climate – the only danger is that the merlot is an early-ripening variety, so needs to be picked relatively early, before the grapes over ripen. It’s rich, chocolatey, plummy, early-ripening fruit make for deliciously ripe, intense, velvety reds, but it is still also used a great deal, in a blend with Malbec or cabernet Sauvignon, to make a Bordeaux-style blend, although richer, more powerful and more immediate.

What does it go with?

Merlot is naturally lower in tannins and acidity than many other red wines, so it will work better with spicy food, than Cabernet Sauvignon, and is also better with rich, naturally sweet, meaty stews. It’s normally a great crowd pleaser and spot on with meaty pasta, everyday dishes such as shepherds pie, and sausage and mash. Because of its low tannins, it’s also a good red to cope with spicy Indian food, and a perfect match to Mexican fajitas.

Pinot Noir

With its traditional hot climate, Argentina was traditionally not the right place to grow Pinot Noir; the heat did not suit this sensitive and temperamental grape variety. However with the development of vineyards at very high altitude in the north, and especially with the discovery of the wealth of potential in Patagonia, some interesting and high quality wines are now being produced. Rio Negro and Neuquen, in particular, are at similar latitudes to Gisborne in New Zealand, and Pinot Noir is now thriving in this area. With its Elegant and perfumed, these wines have a softness, yet a rich silkiness of fruit – gentle tannins, and rich, raspberry fruit flavours, together with a sublime elegance and generosity of fruit – probably the most seductive of all red wines.

What does it go with?

Pinot Noir is a dream with most game – duck, pheasant, venison etc. it’s naturally sweet ripeness and low tannins make a great match with the naturally sweet fleshy flavours of duck or game. Superb with aged, soft cheeses, it’s also one of the best wines to pair with Asian red meat dishes, as the gently sweet fruit and low tannins will not clash with the hit of spices.

Argentina is also producing an increasingly wide variety of other grape varieties, many of Italian orgin, due to the very large communities of families of Italian immigrant lineage, who came over to Argentina during and after the wars.

The grapes include:

- Chenin blanc – lively, guava and apricot fruit scented dry white.

- Pinot Grigio – peachy, delicately scented, dry whites.

- Ugni blanc – aromatic, zestily citrussy dry whites.

- Riesling – soft, aromatic, with pure lime streaked fruit, from higher altitude vineyards.

- Semillon – fresh, vibrant, with a baked pear and lime zest character - Sangiovese - a lighter, fresher style of red, full of herb dusted, black cherry fruit.

- Tempranillo – the classic grape of Spain is doing very well in Argentina, with its ripe, soft, yet full on, red berry fruit style, and a vanilla, mocha edge.

Argentinian Wine Prices

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