Argentina produces some of the most exciting, unusual wines in the world. When we talk about a wine’s origin, we use the term ‘terroir’. Many variables can affect a wine’s terroir: aspect (the angle of the slope on which the vineyards grow), soil type and the microclimate of the region of the valley to name but a few.
Argentina is a dramatic landscape of high latitudes and even higher mountain ranges, and this rugged beauty is reflected in its wines. It’s also a culturally diverse nation. Their cuisines reflect Spanish, French, Italian and Indigenous traditions. This diversity of knowledge plays as much of a role in their wine production techniques as the climate and weather patterns, bringing us some of the finest wines one can find. But before we get into that, let’s take a brief look at the history of wine in Argentina.
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Argentina Wine: A Brief History
Despite Argentina falling under the colonial title of ‘New World’ wine, Argentina has one of the most established wine cultures in the world. Buenos Aires is the second biggest wine-drinking city in the world after Paris!
Argentina’s wine-making history finds its roots in the early colonial period. The first cuttings were planted in the year 1556 by the Jesuit priest Father Cedron. This vineyard was planted with the intention of making wine for communion. Little did Father Cedron know that these first vines would blossom into a thriving industry almost half a millennia later.
These cuttings were brought across the Atlantic from Spain and The Canary Islands. Soon enough, these varietals were crossbred into a uniquely South American grape: The Criolla. Criolla is a loose association of varietals that to this day remains an untapped field of exploration. The most famous of the Argentinian wines is descended from Argentinian Criollo known as the Criolla Chica: Torrentes.
Up until the dawn of the 20th century, most winemaking in Argentina had been a very labour-intensive process, using outdated techniques on small farms that had existed since the days of the Jesuits. Crop diseases and World War 1 saw a mass migration of European immigrants to South America. Especially those whose business had been winemaking. This influx of new ideas and inspiration modernised and revitalised Argentina’s wine industry, and introduced Argentina to the grape that was to become their most prized varietal: malbec.
Undoubtedly the most famous wine-producing region in Argentina is Mendoza. This region hugs the high-altitude desert mountains of the Andes (some vineyards are as high as 1,500m above sea level), resulting in a truly unique terroir. Mendoza Malbec accounts for around 85% of all Malbec produced in Argentina and the Mendoza region produces 75% of all Argentinian wine.
At even higher elevations in the Salta and Catamarca regions, you can find Argentina’s famous white grape – the Torrentes – a grape descendent from the Criolla varietals introduced to the country almost 500 years ago.
What Wine Varietals Are Grown In Argentina?
Besides Malbec and Torrestes, Argentina has quite a wide spectrum of different varieties. The country is also widely renowned for its Semillon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into some of Argentina’s best wines.
Best Argentine Whites
The country’s signature white grape, the Torrentes is a light, herbaceous white usually paired with light meals such as salad and fish.
Coming up on top at the moment is the Sierra Lima Alfa Torrontes. Grown in the famous Calchaqui Valleys region of northern Argentina, its crisp, light and fruity flavour is heavily influenced by its high-altitude terroir.
Although at one point Semillon had fallen out of fashion in favour of Chardonnay, unwooded Semillon has become something of a statement, and Argentine Semillon is some of the best in the world.
One of the most high profile Argentinian Semillons is the Old Vineyard Semillon from Humberto Canale, a beautiful winery in the iconic Patagonian province. The high-altitude vineyard was planted in 1942, long before Argentina’s wines were famous the world over.
Its profile is described as an intense flavour of whole fruits and fresh herbs with perfectly balanced acidity and a wide finish on the pallet.
Grown on the High Slopes of Mendoza, these Sauvignon Blancs are similar to other new world exports, sharing a similar climate with high-latitude nations like New Zealand. Further North, these varietals are also grown in the Calchaqui Valley alongside Torrente’s vines.
Having won international acclaim within the winemaking community, winemaker Juan Pablo cut his teeth working the harvest in Bordeaux and returned to Argentina with a wealth of hard-earned knowledge. His winery, Bodega Argento, is situated in the Andes and is producing Sauvignon Blanc that’s putting Argentina wine under the spotlight. It pairs well with shellfish and goat’s cheese and has a complex, restrained flavour profile with hints of stone fruit and citrus.
Best Argentine Reds
When it comes to Argentine wine, Malbec is the star of the show. Grown on the high slopes of the Andes, Malbec produced here is unlike any other on earth.
Coming in on top with notes of lavender and lilac, the Asda Extra Special Malbec is a strong contender for the best Argentine wine. Despite being a red, its fresh acidity means it can pair as well with both fatty fish like salmon as it can with a medium-rare steak.
A varietal most associated with the Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc also takes surprisingly well in Mendoza.
The top Argentine Cabernet Franc can be found in one of Mendoza’s oldest wineries: Rutini. And it’s not just their history that makes them so special: their head winemaker was selected as the world’s best winemaker by Decanter in 2015. Their Cab Franc possesses some of the finest qualities you could search for within that varietal: silky, spiced, smokey and light. A true masterpiece.
Give Wines From Argentina A Try!
Whether you’re a seasoned connoisseur or just tipping your toes into the world of wine, Argentina has some of the most exciting offerings to boot.