HERITAGE

1500s – The first vines were planted by Spanish immigrants. Mainly, Catholic priests made wines used to celebrate mass.

1800s – French and Italian grape varieties arrived with European immigrants just as regional politicians were modernizing the wine industry. Vineyards were planted to yield bumper crops and produce local wines for local consumption.

1990s – The demand for fine wine exploded around the world. Seeing Argentina’s potential, local and foreign investors upgraded and modernized the country’s vineyards and wineries. Argentina’s fine wines were increasingly exported.

Today – Argentina is the world’s fifth largest wine producer with over 1,300 wineries making noteworthy reds, whites and sparklers. They can be everyday quaffs to ultra-premium, boutique wines.

GROWING GREAT GRAPES

Wherever in the world they are grown, grapes destined to make fine wines require specific vineyard conditions, including:

  1. Abundant sunshine to ripen the fruit to perfection
  2. Cool temperatures to slow down ripening, which gives grapes more time on the vine to build layers of flavors and complexity, plus maintain refreshing acidity
  3. Low rainfall to discourage rot and water-soaked berries, which makes for healthier grapes with more concentrated flavors

Argentina is fairly close to being heaven on earth for grapes, offering:

Sun and More Sun

If you like sunshine (and most grapes do), Argentina is a great place. Most days, the sky is crystal clear; Mendoza, the main wine region, has more than 300 days of sun each year.

This is why Argentina’s wines tend to have ripe fruit flavors and the reds exhibit riper, softer tannins.

Low Rainfall, Low Humidity

Argentina’s wine regions don’t get much rain, only about 4-8 inches per year in most regions. Even the air is dry. In fact, Mendoza, the largest region, has less annual rainfall than Napa Valley or Bordeaux. To get vines the water they need to survive, vineyards are irrigated from sparkling-clean rivers that cascade down the Andes Mountains.

Thanks to the dry climate, Argentina’s grapes tend to be super-healthy, free of the molds that can add off-flavors to wine. Vintage after vintage, the wines are known for their concentrated, pure fruit flavors.

Altitude, Altitude, Altitude

Most of the world’s top winegrowing regions are near an ocean where the grapes benefit from cooling breezes. Argentina’s cool temperatures come from altitude.

For every 330’ rise in altitude, there’s about a one degree F decrease in temperature. This means that in Mendoza, where vineyards range from 1,500-5,580’, there could be a 12-degree Fahrenheit fluctuation in temperature between the lowest and the highest location.

The other benefit of altitude is larger diurnal swings, or the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. This contributes fresher acidity, more layers of flavors, and an increased aging potential.

Argentine Altitude Facts

  • The average vineyard altitude is about 2,700 feet
  • Grapes are grown from about 650’ to 9,800’
  • The world’s highest vineyard, at 9,842’, is in Salta in northern Argentina
  • After Salta, the next-highest region is Mendoza, followed by La Rioja

Argentina’s wines reveal their growing altitude. Generally, wines from higher/cooler vineyards tend to have firmer structures with crisper acidity. The reds have more tannins, but they are still distinctly Argentine, with silky, ripe tannins.

Latitude

The wine regions run north to south along the mountains for 1,500 miles from Salta to Río Negro, or from 22 to 42 degrees Southern latitude. Transpose that to the Northern Hemisphere, and those latitudes stretch from Mexico all the way to the Oregon-California border.

  • The farther north, the higher the Andes Mountains.
  • The farther south, the closer the Antarctic’s cold currents.


The most important region is Mendoza, in the west of Argentina. Within Mendoza, the areas producing the best wines are high in the mountains, at an altitude above a thousand meters (or 3,000 feet).

We are discovering that each variety has an optimum altitude. For instance, our best Cabernet is at a thousand meters of altitude; Malbec is a little higher at 1,100 meters and for Chardonnay, we prefer higher altitudes of 1,300 meters or more.

The connection between quality and altitude is due to temperature. The higher the vineyard, the lower the temperature. Also, the difference between temperatures at night and at noon is greater. We have come to the conclusion that these differences, especially during the months of January and February — our summer — are significant factors affecting quality.

Nicolas Catena
Bodega Catena

What does high elevation deliver? Higher elevation sites create more intensely flavorful wines. Also, the sparser soils of higher elevations can encourage mineral notes. And acidity too is higher, thanks to the steep temperature drop at night, which preserves natural acidity that might otherwise “bake out” in daytime heat.

Matt Kramer
Contributing Editor, Wine Spectator

Without irrigation, Argentina’s thriving wine regions would be nothing more than desert. The prevailing westerly winds from Chile and the Atlantic Ocean drop most of their moisture on the towering Andes mountains, leaving Argentina in a rain shadow.

Elegant and modern with details that pay homage to their Spanish, Italian and French heritage, many of Argentina’s wineries receive visitors and offer tastings, but they are spread some distance from each other – plan to visit no more than 2-3 each day.