Argentina is the fifth largest wine producer in the world; yet for centuries its wines remained a well-kept secret where much of the globe was concerned. Historically, Argentine wines were consumed locally – and a significant portion of that was sparkling. In recent decades, however, Argentina’s wine industry has undergone a seismic shift. Today its wines, especially Malbec, enjoy immense international popularity and widespread critical acclaim — and nowhere more than here in the U.S.
The first recorded plantings of vines in Argentina date back to 1557, with cuttings from Europe introduced by early Spanish colonizers. Subsequently Malbec was brought from France
along with an array of international grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay.
Argentina’s principal wine regions extend along the western half of the country, in the foothills of the Andes, from Salta in the north, through La Rioja, San Juan and Mendoza, to Patagonia in the far south. They include some of the highest vineyards on earth. Quite aside from supplying a spectacular backdrop for the vineyards, the snow-capped Andes are a vital source of irrigation in these arid, desert-like regions, where rainfall rarely exceeds 10” a year. For centuries, the indigenous people of Argentina, the Huarpes, developed a canal system to utilize the springtime glacial snowmelt for their crops. When European settlers arrived in the 1600s, they expanded on this system, constructing a complex system of ditches, dams and reservoirs to irrigate the vineyards. Introduction of drip irrigation in the 1990s proved a further leap forward, significantly enhancing water management and control.
The province of Mendoza is Argentina’s largest and best-known wine region, accounting for about 80% of production (according to just released figures from Wines of Argentina) – more than the entire vineyard acreage of Australia and New Zealand combined. With high-altitude vineyards ranging between almost 2,000 feet to over 5,000 feet a.s.l., sandy, alluvial soils, dry climate, and significant variation between day (hot) and night (cold) temperatures, facilitated by irrigation, Mendoza is an ideal environment in which to grow healthy, highquality
grapes, notably Malbec.
The present success of the Argentine wine industry began in the 1980s. A new visionary generation of Argentine producers seized on opportunities to market their wines abroad. Talented, adventurous winemakers from the U.S. and Europe, intent on making their mark, were enticed to try their luck and expertise in the vineyards of Argentina. Favorable exchange rates continue to make Argentine wines a competitive, attractive option for North American and European consumers looking for superior quality at affordable prices. And wine lovers around the world responded to the allure of the Malbec grape, which finds its truest expression in the vineyards of Argentina.
- Argentina’s Instituto National de Viniviticultura (INV) issues broad guidelines on viticultural and vinification methods.
- The INV also regulates grape transportation, alcohol percentages, release dates and domestic pricing.
- Varietal labeling: must contain at least 85% of specified grape.
- Vintage: wine must be 85% from stated vintage
- Starting with the 2011 vintage may use Reserva and Gran Reserva designations, as defined below:
- Reserva: minimum aging is one year for reds, six months for whites and rosés would make this the same as below…in numbers 12 months for red and 6 months for whites and roses.
- Gran Reserva: 24 months for reds, 12 months for whites and rosés.
- Must comply with minimum alcohol requirements for that year.
- Consumers should be informed when a wine is produced and/or bottled at an establishment entitled to use a geographic indication, that does not correspond to the region where the grapes are actually grown. The geographic indication corresponding with the origin of the grapes is to be featured on the label, followed by the name of the imediate bigger geographic area that includes where the wine is produced and bottled.
- At present, however, regulations on geographic areas remain somewhat unclear. However, Argentina’s wine producers are working to change that situation. Watch this space!
- Key to vineyard location is height, not distance from the sea.
- Argentina includes some of the highest vineyards in the world.
- A desert country: one of the few Continental climate viticultural areas in the world.
- Unfertile soils: struggling vines lead to quality wine.
- Virtually phylloxera-free: most vines are planted on their own rootstock.
- Low rainfall (e.g. Napa has nearly triple the rainfall of Mendoza).
- Exceptional quality, glacier-pure Andean water.