What sets Argentina apart from other wine producing countries? The answer lies in altitude. Argentina has the highest altitude vineyards in the world. This means that grapes have increased sun exposure resulting in thicker skins and wines that are not only well-structured and fruit-forward but concentrated. It is these characteristics that put Argentina on the map through their Malbec — a red wine with dark fruit flavors and a smoky finish — however, this New World wine country is much more than a one grape wonder.
Continue reading below to discover Argentina’s unique terroir, its key wine regions, and the wine varieties to keep an eye out on.
Currently, Argentina is ranked as the world’s fifth largest producer of wine and South America’s largest wine growing region. It has also become the New World’s fastest growing exporter of wines. Yet despite being classed as part of the New World, the country has been producing wines for 500 years. In 1556 the Spanish brought wine cuttings to Argentina and started growing wine grapes that were related to the California Mission grape. It was this grape that was primarily grown in the region and helped make Argentina one of the richest countries in the world in the early 20th century.
However, when the Great Depression hit, Argentina’s wine industry declined. It wasn’t until the 1990’s when the country began exporting wine that the industry was able to recover. This is when Argentina became known for the production of Malbec — a wine known for its deep color, fruit flavors, and velvety tannins. It is this variety that has become the most in demand when it comes to producing and exporting Argentinian wine.
Nevertheless, Argentina also produces Bonardo, Torrontés, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and Syrah wines. So what is it about the geography of Argentina that allows it to produce such exquisite wines? As we mentioned above, the answer lies in altitude. High altitudes lead to wide thermal amplitude which combined with poor alluvial soils, low rainfall, and snowmelt from the Andes contribute to fruit forward wines that are well structured and easy to enjoy.
Argentina’s wine regions are made up of high deserts with sunny climates and high altitudes. In fact, by definition, many of these regions are classified as arid deserts. So how do vineyards flourish? It’s thanks to a combination of factors. Soils here are made up of sand, clay, and layers of gneiss pebbles and thanks to fresh snowmelt from the Andes Mountains, vineyards are supplied with fresh water through irrigation channels — a system originally designed by the Incas.
Below are some of the key wine regions in Argentina, their terroir, and the wines they are most known for.
Mendoza is not only Argentina’s most important wine producing region, but one of the main centers of production in the world. It accounts for around 70-80% of the vineyards in the entire country and is approximately 800-1200m above sea level. This high elevation has become the unique identifier of Mendoza’s terroir. Winemakers here also benefit from a flat, dry, sunny, and practically pest-free environment which has provided a blank slate on which to grow wine grapes. As the region is so level, it also allows for mechanization and the use of mechanical harvesters.
Although Mendoza is one of the more intense wine climates in the world — with only 225mm of annual rainfall — the warm and sunny days combined with cooler tastes lengthen the growing season thus resulting in ripe and rich flavors without compromising acidity in wines. This is the region that has become almost synonymous with Malbec, and Mendoza Malbec has become a hallmark of South American wine.
Within Mendoza you’ll discover some subregions such as Maipu, Lujan de Cuyo, San Rafael, and the Uco Valley. The latter is where you’ll find the highest altitude vineyards at 1700m and up. It has become the premier winegrowing region within Mendoza, growing not only Malbec but Pinot Noir, Merlot, Semillon, and Chardonnay grapes and producing wines that have fantastic aging potential.
After Mendoza, San Juan is the second most important wine producing region in Argentina. Here you’ll find fruity wines that have a unique style. The red wines have violet hues and the higher up you go, the deeper and more intense their aromas get. Look for Syrah — the typical grape of this region — or Malbec which has become popular as well with a slightly different flavor profile to other Malbecs from the country. White wines on the other hand have a medium color intensity with green hues, a strong fruity aroma, moderate acidity, and good structure. Some of the most planted varieties include Argentina’s Torrontés and Chardonnay.
La Rioja is another key wine region within Argentina known for its white wine, particularly Torrontés Riojano which is a native variety. The region has a hot climate with severe droughts and great solar exposure which determines differential temperatures and humid conditions. This results in white wines that have green hues and intense fruity aromas, a medium palate, and moderate acidity. However, you can also find great red wines from La Rioja — popular varieties include Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Syrah.
Even though La Rioja produces fantastic Torrontés, Salta is considered to produce the finest expression of this variety. Unique to Argentina, Torrontés is a white wine with an aromatic sweetness with notes of rose, peach, and lemon. This is something that can be seen with all wines from this region — they tend to be lively with good color, aroma, and flavors with mature tannins. Both the red wine and white wines are fruity and typically have a high alcohol content. This is thanks to the climate. An arid and dry environment with high average temperatures results in a wide daily thermal amplitude and intense sun exposure.
Located in the south of Argentina, Patagonia is flanked by low mountains and wooded areas that extend to the sea. The area has plenty of sun, scarce rainfall, and strong winds that help produce healthy grapes with greater color concentration and thicker skins. Any grape variety that typically thrives in cooler environments, thrives in Patagonia and nearby regions of Neuquen, Rio Negro, Chubut, and Buenos Aires.
Merlot here stands out with a mild and balanced flavor with an aromatic intensity. Pinot Noir — Patagonia’s shining star — achieves outstanding elegance and is largely used to produce sparkling wines. When it comes to white wine, look to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. You’ll also find Gewurztraminer in Chubut, the southernmost vineyard in the world sitting at 45th parallel south.
When it comes to pairing food with wines from Argentina, you don’t have to think too much as many Filipino dishes are natural companions. After all, the Philippines and Argentina share many of the same cultural influences. Of course, each specific wine may have it’s perfect pairing but here are some of our suggestions:
We hope you use this guide to Argentina’s wines as inspiration to venture into this New World region. Remember, if you don’t know where to start, always go for a Malbec or a Torrontés — depending on your preferences for red or white wine.