The Best Argentinian Wine Regions

Argentina, known for its love of soccer, world-famous beef, and passionate Tango, has another hidden gem that deserves attention: its exceptional wine regions. With fifteen Geographical Indications (GI) grouped into six zones, Argentina offers many diverse flavors and styles. In this article, we'll focus on its three most prominent regions: Salta, Mendoza, and Patagonia, and explore the uniqueness that is expressed in its finest wines.

Salta: Where Altitude and Excellence Converge

Nestled in the northwest corner of Argentina, Salta is closer to Bolivia than Buenos Aires. This remote region boasts some of the world's highest vineyards, situated at 5,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level. The Cafayate Valley is Salta's celebrated Geographical Indication (GI), holding a unique place in Argentina's wine history. In 1988, it was one of the first places where Michel Rolland, a pioneering French winemaker renowned for transforming global winemaking, started consulting. Rolland's expertise as a 'flying winemaker' has impacted over one hundred and fifty wineries on four continents. Back then, Argentina's wines were relatively unknown, but Rolland's involvement marked a turning point, propelling Argentina onto the global wine stage.

Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in Cafayate, with a striking resemblance to Bordeaux's Left Bank counterparts. These wines boast red bell pepper, dry herbs, and ripe blackcurrant aromas. Their unique terroir infuses boldness and they have a higher alcohol content, typically exceeding 14%. 

Torrontés, Argentina's indigenous white grape, originating exclusively in this country (with rare exceptions found in Australia), takes center stage with its delightful blend of fruit salad and honey-like aromas. Surprisingly bone-dry with moderate acidity, Torrontés pairs wonderfully with chicken empanadas, a local culinary treasure.

Mendoza: A Winemaking Haven

Argentina's largest wine region, Mendoza is located at the base of the Andes Mountains. Covering a staggering 360,000 acres of vineyards, it significantly surpasses California's Napa Valley (43,000 acres). Mendoza's magic lies in its perfect blend of altitude, dry climate, and access to plentiful supplies of water.

The Andes Mountains serve as a protective shield, safeguarding the region from the Pacific's humid influence, and creating ideal grape-growing conditions. The intricate irrigation canals, painstakingly constructed by the local native people known as the Huarpes back in 1872, are the secret to viticultural success in the region. These canals channel snowmelt from the mountains to nourish the vineyards, ensuring that the vines have all the water they need to produce high-quality grapes in this parched land.

Argentina's first school of agronomy was established in Mendoza in 1853. Malbec, originally from Cahors in Southwest France, was brought over by French agronomist Michel Pouget in 1851 and found refuge in Mendoza. This migration was driven by the need to escape the Phylloxera pandemic that was decimating the majority of European vines. In sunny Mendoza, Malbec has thrived and become the region's crown jewel, surpassing the glory of its French origins. Argentine Malbecs are renowned for their fruit-forward profiles, velvety tannins, and irresistible mouthfeel, making them crowd-pleasers.

The finest Malbecs primarily hail from two zones: near the city center, including Geographical Indications (GI) like Luján de Cuyo, Maipú, and the Uco Valley, which is further south with vineyards growing at higher altitudes. The best wines from this zone come from the GI Tupungato and GI Tunuyán

Chardonnay reigns supreme in the cooler climate of the vineyards that are found at higher elevations. The cool conditions help retain the natural acidity of the grapes, creating Chardonnay wines that closely resemble those that are made in Burgundy, France, not those from California. The finest examples are dry, showcasing finesse and a laser-focused mineral character reminiscent of Puligny-Montrachet.

Patagonia: Winds and Sunshine that Sculpt Wines

Patagonia, on Argentina's southernmost frontier, presents captivating contrasts. Its unique latitude creates abundant sunshine, making Patagonia a prominent player in Argentine winemaking. The winds create an environment inhospitable to fungal diseases, which propagates the growth of healthy vines. The grapes ripen gradually in the ample sun, allowing nuanced flavors and rich aromas to develop.

Patagonia has a rich geological history that adds intrigue to the region and is famous for its massive dinosaur fossils. While one of the region's earliest wineries was being built, the fossilized bones of a massive herbivorous dinosaur were unearthed.  They are now carefully preserved in a dedicated cellar. These fossils, unrelated to wine production, serve as a testament to the unexpected wonders found within the world of wine.

Patagonian Pinot Noirs are renowned for their distinctive character, bridging the gap between the familiar styles found in California such as Russian River AVA and Carneros AVA. These wines are characterized by their harmonious balance, finesse, and depth without excessive weight, making them an exceptional addition to the world of Pinot Noir wine.

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