Argentine wines are not just Malbec and Mendoza. Looking to expand your palate a little, and learn some more about what this country has to offer the wine world? Grab your maps: we’re learnin’ about geography!
Why do we need to learn about geography when learning about wine? Every soil and every climate is different. There is a reason that the Midwest does not grow tropical fruits, and why avocados thrive in California. The same goes for grapes, and the wines produced from these grapes vary significantly. Learning about the different regions and the types of wine each produces will aid you when buying wines.
Argentina’s major grape growing areas are divided into three main regions that mostly follow the country’s long western border along the Andes Mountains: the North, the middle, and Patagonia. All produce incredibly different wines, and different varietals thrive in these different regions. There are many smaller productions (out of areas like La Pampa in the Buenos Aires province), but we are just covering the major regions as an “Argentina 101″ for our readers.
REGION ONE: North
Known for its high altitude vineyards, this is the home of the Salta and Catamarca regions.
The word means “very beautiful” in the native language, and it certainly is: the vineyards are located in the desert-like conditions of the Calchaquí Valley and have the Andes’ highest peaks in the background. Stunning!
– High altitude vineyards are anywhere from 4,200 – 9,842′: the highest vineyard in the world is Colomé at 9,842’
– The region produces just 3% of wine in Argentina
– The average annual temperature is 59F
– The main region is Cafayate
– The main wine is Torrontés
Sandy, stony soils and desert terrain actually make for good grapes: vines are so stressed that they produce less grape clusters, but higher quality ones. This is definitely an up-and-coming region.
– Also home to high altitude vineyards (3,300 – 7,200’)
– A little warmer than Salta: the average annual temperature is 65F
– Main wines are Torrontés and a rich, concentrated Syrah
REGION TWO: Center West/Cuyo:
Known for having lots of sun, low rain/humidity/fertility; this region is home to La Rioja, San Juan and Mendoza and is by far the most popular of Argentina’s wine producing regions.
Hardly any rainfall and tons of sun make grape-growing in this region very interesting: in fact, there is so much sun that the main training system is the parral (a high, flat wide-top trellis) used to shade grapes and prevent them from sunburn. Little rainfall is actually a blessing to winemakers: it allows them to completely control irrigation using drip technologies and snow run-off from the Andes.
– Vineyards are still high in altitude: 2,624-4,593’
– Very warm climate: average annual temperature is 66F
– Main wines are the Torrontés and Bonarda
San Juan is the second largest wine-producing province in Argentina. It is one of the sunniest areas in the world, but the region’s hot days are balanced by cold nights, making intense, concentrated wines.
– STILL high altitude vineyards: 1,968-4,429’
– Average annual temperature: 63F
– Just 30 cloudy days each year!
– Main wines are Viognier and intense Malbec. Ripe and fleshy Syrah is on the rise and Bonarda plantings are diminishing.
Argentina’s most well-known wine region is most certainly the country’s wine capital… and one of the world’s great wine regions. It is broken up into Northeastern, Central, Mendoza River Area (including Luján de Cuyo and Maipú), Uco Valley and Southern.
– Vineyard altitude: 1,500-5,580’
– Average annual temperature: 59/66F
– 70% of Argentina’s wine production (whoa!)
– Hail is a huge destroyer of grapes: many wineries have nets over the vines to protect them from these sudden storms
– Main wines are intense Malbecs: Cabernet Sauvignon is increasing as is Chardonnay.
REGION THREE: Patagonia
The southernmost region is also the lowest in elevation and the chilliest: it is close to Antarctica and its freezing temperatures! This results in a cooler growing region that is perfect for different varietals, such as Pinot Noir.
Newest wine region, first planted in 1999, focused on modern, high-quality wines.
– Lower altitude vineyards: 1,300-1,500’
– Lower temperatures: average annual temperature is 50F
– Biggest threat are the Patagonian winds, which can damage berries
– Soil lacks nutrients, stressing the vines and making concentrated berries
– Main wines are a floral Malbec with a lot of mineral and the up-and-coming Pinot Noir
Traditional growing area in Patagonia, with Malbec vineyards a few generations old. More recent plantings down near the chilly 42nd Parallel. As with Neuquén, growing diversity and quality.
– The same altitude vineyards as Neuquen: 1,300-1,500’
– Slightly warmer: average annual temperature is 55F
– Also struggles with Patagonian winds
– Also has poor soil which increases berry concentration
– Main wines are a mineral-like Sauvignon Blanc, aromatic Malbec, Pinot Noir, and lush Merlot