Argentina is a land of amazingly varied landscapes of high mountains, prairies, deserts and sea coasts; with huge contrasts in climate and vegetation. Chile and the Andes lie to the west and south, Bolivia and Paraguay to the north and Brazil, Uruguay and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The country is rich in natural resources and has a highly developed agricultural export-oriented sector.
Massive immigration took place over the last 4 centuries, starting with the Spanish conquests throughout South America together with their missionaries. In addition settlers came from Portugal and Italy. Spanish – although in many dialects – is the national language. It is to these pioneers that Argentina owes its legacy of wine production. Such production, while very large indeed, was primarily aimed at the internal market. After decades of political and economic upheaval in the 20th century, the 1990’s saw a wind of change in the country resulting in a dramatic flourishing of vineyards with ‘flying winemakers’ from the USA, France and Australia bringing their specialist knowledge to encourage and revivify the industry.
Argentina has primarily three major grape-growing regions, two of which are dominated by their proximity to the mighty Andes: Salta to the north and the Calchaqui Valley have some of the highest vineyards in the world. Here white wine grapes – such as Torrontés – are well-established. The adjacent provinces of La Rioja and San Juan – with its hot dry climate – are producing Muscat, Syrahs and Viogners and Chardonnays.
However, it is the province of Mendoza, the ‘middle’wine-growing region, that dominates Argentinian wine production. Mendoza City, widely praised as a tourist centre, with its avenues of vineyards, streaming out in all directions – like the rays of the sun (and the motif on the Argentinian flag) – and Mount Aconcagua, the highest in the Andes range, as a back-drop. Lying just to the the south, the Uco Valley host some of the most recognised names in Argentinian wine. Malbec is Argentina’s flagship variety, introduced in the 1850’s from its home in southwest France probably by those wishing to escape the rampant phylloxera pest.
In Argentina’s south, Pategonia and the wine regions of Neuquén and Rio Negro, with cooler, windier and more arid conditions although with a good water supply, offer some rather distinctive wines, Cabernet Franc being one example and some fine white wines.
There has been tremendous investment in the future of Argentina’s vine-growing potential from all over the world and a continuous expansion by those already well-established growers. Argentina is a very large country with climatic conditions that preclude the usual vine pests and with its intense sunlight, temperature differences and high altitudes, who knows, as long as there is a market for their terrific wines, the sky’s the limit!