Guide to Wine from Argentina
In 1534 two European settlers, a priest named Father Cidrón and Juan Juffré, the founder of the town of Mendoza, planted the first vines in Argentina. Today, 470 years later, Argentina continues to produce wines with the same pioneering spirit.
When Spaniards first set foot in these lands, which were inhabited by the Huarpe Indians, they discovered that the native population grew crops in this desert climate. It was, however, the Incas who had brought the required wisdom to give life to this area. Artificial irrigation was already an established practice among the original inhabitants of western Argentina when the first Europeans arrived.
The new settlers invented an even more sophisticated system of water supply than their indigenous predecessors had established. Relying, as ever, on the thaw of ice and snow from the Andes Mountains, they created a complicated network of dykes and large canals to channel the water for irrigation to the areas they wished to cultivate.
In the 19th century, the wine industry began to grow thanks to an influx of Italian and Spanish immigrants who brought with them new vines and a wealth of viticultural and winemaking techniques. The introduction of European grape varieties such as Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot substantially improved the quality of Argentine wine.
Argentina is located on the east side of the Andes mountain range. The valleys situated in and along the foothills of the Andes Mountains provide ideal conditions for growing vines.
Argentina’s winemaking regions are situated within an arid desert climate. Water for irrigation is abundantly provided by the plentiful snowmelt from the Andes. The combination of warm sunny days and frequent chilly nights creates a favorable environment for superior grape growing.
Each of Argentina’s grape-growing regions is marked by its own particular attributes. Even within regions there are areas with different climatic and soil characteristics, which enables the cultivation of different vines and the production of a wide variety of wine styles.
Malbec has found uniquely favorable growing conditions in Argentina. Argentine Malbec’s intense color, aromas of berry fruit, plums and honey and its ability to ripen to perfection create wines of a velvety texture and long, lingering flavors. When oak-aged in barrels, the extra dimensions of vanilla and soft tannin give the wines great structure. Malbec is a perfect partner for meats, or even chocolate and red berry fruit desserts.
This area encompasses the provinces of Salta and La Rioja. The vineyards account for about 4 percent of Argentina’s total wine production and are located in a group of valleys formed by the mountain ranges in the north of the country. The climate is characterized by wide variations in temperature, long summers and low rainfall. Deep, sandy soils provide for vigorous growth in the vineyards.
In the evocatively named Patagonia region of Argentina lie some of the world’s most southerly located vineyards. The province of Rio Negro accounts for 3 percent of Argentina’s total wine production. Typical desert soils and wide temperature variations create a special environment for producing fine wine. The most important grape varieties in the region are Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir.
This area comprises vineyards located in the provinces of Mendoza and San Juan and accounts for over 90 percent of Argentine’s wine production. Soils in this region are calcareous, but lack of organic matter restricts vigorous vine growth. Such conditions are excellent for the production of high-quality wine. Annual rainfall is less than 8 inches, but abundant snow in the mountains allows for irrigation when required. The main grape varieties in this area are Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay.
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