In Focus: Argentina’s Wine Regions


Glancing at a map of Argentina’s wine regions the first thing that comes to mind is how far those regions are from any large body of water. Separated from the Pacific Ocean by the massive wall of granite of the south Andes Mountains, Argentina is perhaps the only important wine region in the world to enjoy continental climate exclusively. This fact, which might have been a problem in other areas, is rather a blessing in the case of the south american country. In continental climates, summers are hot; hot summers are scorching; many times cooking the berries while still on the vine. It happens, however, that Argentina’s wine regions are not only inland but also are located at high elevations. In fact, some vineyards, like in Northern Salta, thrive at altitudes of over 2,000 meters above the sea level. This results in cooler conditions and a counterbalance to the parameters dictated by a continental climate. 

Anyone who has been to the Andes will remember the tremendous amount of solar radiation, bright, white light that sweeps the land. During most of the ripening season the skies are an endless blanket of spotless, immaculate blue. This, together with the latitude, work into a long ripening season. If that were not enough for a viticulture paradise, rainfall is quite low, averaging 150 mm per year. That is very dry. This landscape would be a harsh desert was not for the snow capped mountains to the east, separating it from neighboring Chile. Hundreds of years ago the Andean peoples mastered irrigation technology, to a level unparalleled anywhere in the world at that time. If you visit Mendoza, Argentina’s viticultural core, you won’t fail to notice the canals crisscrossing the city. Fresh, unpolluted glacier water reaches the vineyards, making the whole area into a veritable oasis. To complete the picture, add poor soils and you have some of the best terroirs in the world. 

The Regions

Mendoza

The sheer size of Argentina’s wine country is staggering. From the northernmost vineyards, in Salta, to southern Rio Negro in Patagonia, they cover 1,600 kilometres, with several different microclimates determined by a diverse combination of latitude and elevation. The core of this vast wine expansion lies in Mendoza, some 1000 kilometres northeast of Buenos Aires. This area alone has close to 140,000 hectares of vineyards. By comparison, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley wine country amounts to some 2,000.   

Mendoza is divided in what could be called sub-appellations, five in total. North Mendoza is a plain of sandy loam soils, planted mostly with Bonarda, Sangiovese, Chenin Blanc and Pedro Ximenez. Most wine produced there is for early drinking.

The Upper Mendoza district is perhaps Argentina’s current top terroir. The sub-area of Lujan de Cuyo (loo-han deh coo-yoe) has a recognized DO status or Denominacion de Origen. It is also an area of great scenic beauty, with the lush greenery of the vineyards and tree hedges set against the backdrop of the snow tipped Andes.  Malbec reigns supreme here and some of the premier Argentinian wineries are located in this area. Stony soils, excellent thermal amplitude* and minimum rainfall result in wines of depth, flavor and concentration. Besides Malbec, quality wines are made of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Among the white grapes, Chardonnay and Semillon stand out. Many bodegas located there have their wines available in Vancouver: Altos Las Hormigas, Terrazas de los Andes, Ruca Malen, Renacer, Norton, Nieto Senetiner, Foster, Dominio del Plata, Chakana and Catena Zapata. 

In a next posting we will visit the Uco Valley, an exciting new development in Upper Mendoza district.

Cheers,

Ivan Alfonso

*Thermal amplitude. Refers to the difference between day and night temperatures. Ideal conditions allow for a hot day and a cool night –a wide amplitude- so that acidity can be sustained in until full grape maturation.  

ps. Photos. Dominio del Plata winery. Lujan Fall landscape from Flickr by Nino Calogero.

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2 Responses to “In Focus: Argentina’s Wine Regions”

  1. Argentina Wine Regions: San Juan « Winecouver Says:

    […] Jump to Argentina Wines Regions I […]

  2. Pamela Says:

    Love your descriptions of argentinean wines
    Just came back for there and actually visited a number of these wineries

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