Argentina’s vineyards are famous for producing soft, ripe tannins and wines with a high alcohol level. Roughly 60% of the country’s wine production is red wine. The Spaniards brought vine cuttings from Europe to Santiago del Estero in northern Argentina as early as 1557, and as we entered the 21st century, there were over 1,500 wineries in Argentina.
A majority of Argentina’s vineyards are found in the western part of the country, including the foothills of the Andes. The most prolific region is Mendoza, responsible for over two-thirds of Argentina’s total wine production. If we move further to the north from Mendoza, we find the mountainous provinces of Catamarca, Jujuy and Salta, which are famous for harboring some of the world’s highest planted vineyards.
Argentina is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world, surpassed only by Italy, France, Spain and the United States. A lot of the wine produced in Argentina is consumed within the country, which means that we find Argentina down in spot #8 on the list of the world’s largest wine exporter. In 2010, the Argentine government declared wine the national liquor of Argentina.
For a long time, the grapes Cereza, Criolla Chia and Criolla Grande were the backbone of the Argentine wine production. These are all vigorous and high-yielding grapes where one cluster can weigh as much as 4 kilograms. They have pink skin, and wine from these grapes are usually pink or deeply colored white wines with a noticeable sweet tone. Today, the dominance of these three varieties has decreased in Argentina, but they still make up roughly 30% of all vines planted in the country.
The reason for their decrease is Argentina’s shift from producing large quantities of affordable wines to creating more high-quality products. Between the mid 1990s and the early 2000s, Argentina’s wine industry went through major changes. During this period, nearly a third of the Argentinian vineyards were ripped up, but increased efficiency meant that the the yearly production only fell by 10%.
Today, the French-native Malbec is the most widely planted red grape in Argentina. In Argentina, the Malbec gproduces smaller berries in smaller and tighter clusters than the Malbec in France. The wine attains a deep color and intense fruity flavors. Other examples of red grapes that are grown extensively in Argentina are Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Tempranillo. The international variety of Cabernet Sauvignon is sometimes used as a blending partner with Malbec and Syrah.
When it comes to white grapes, Pedro Giménez – not to be confused with Spain’s Pedro Ximénez – dominates in Argentina, where it is it is chiefly grown in the Mendoza and San Juan regions of western Argentina. This grape is known to produce fully bodies wines with high alcohol levels.
Other important white grapes are Torrontés Riojano, Muscat of Alexandria, Chardonnay, and Torrontés Sanjuanino. Torrontés Sanjuanino is a sub-variety of Torrontés and is believed to have originated in Argentina’s San Juan region, hence the name. Torrontés Riojano and Torrontés Sanjuanino produces some of the most distinctive Argentine white wines, appreciated for their Muscat-like aromas. Some vine growers avoid the Torrontés since these grapes require vigilant temperature control during fermentation. It is mostly vineyards in the northern provinces of La Rioja and Salta that are specializing Torrontés.
Since Chardonnay has become such a sought after wine on the export market, the plantings of Chardonnay has increased significantly in Argentina during recent years. Researchers at the University of California has produced a special clone of Chardonnay named Mendoza, and this grape is widely grown in Argentina today, where it thrives in high-altitude vineyards – some of them located almost 1,200 meters above sea level.
Growing vine in Argentina
Since Argentina is located in the southern hemisphere, the growing season typically lasts from October to February, but this will vary somewhat depending on location and elevation. In some regions, the harvest season lasts till April.
Most of the vineyards in Argentina are planted on ungrafted rootstock, since Argentina and its neighbor Chile are free from the phylloxera problems plaguing vineyards in so many other parts of the world. Although the phylloxera louse can be found in Argentina, it is of an exceptionally weak biotype here that fails to survive long in the soil. It may attack a vine, but the damage is very limited and not enough to kill the vine or cause long-term root problems.
Why the louse fails to thrive in Argentine remains largely unknown, although several theories have been presented. Argentina has a centuries-old tradition of flood irrigation, and it may be that the the louse dislikes the deeply saturated soil of the sandy Argentine vineyards.
The Incas developed advanced irrigation systems in the Andes mountains, and the Spaniards adopted these techniques to suit their own agricultural needs. Deliberately directing water from melted snow caps into fertile farmland has been a vital component of agriculture in the region since time immemorial. A series of ditches and canals are used to bring the water down to reservoirs, where it is stored until needed. Traditionally, vineyards were watered by being flooded with huge amounts of water. Today, furrow irrigation and drip irrigation is beginning to replace the flooding method in Argentina, especially drip irrigation since it makes it possible for the vineyard manager to leverage water stress on the vine.