Argentina’s wine industry is the largest wine-producing country in South America. While much younger than many of its old world counterparts, it has risen to become the fifth largest producer of wine in the world (behind Italy, Spain, France, and the United States). Currently, the country cultivates nearly 500,000 acres of wine grapes, with red wine grapes accounting for more than 60 percent of total wine grape production.
With the majority of the wine grapes grown in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, Argentina’s climate and terroir provide ideal growing conditions for grapes that thrive in warm to hot weather, including Argentina’s flagship and most widely planted wine grape, malbec.
But malbec only represents 22 per cent of Argentina’s vineyard plantings. The altitude effect of the Andes and Argentina’s vast latitudinal extension combine to accommodate the cultivation of a great number of grapes throughout the country, including cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir. Other varietals such as torrontés (the country’s flagship white grape), sauvignon blanc, semillon and bonarda are developing an identity and style that provides consumers a glimpse of the potential and quality of Argentine wines.
The alluvial soils from the Andes, the intense luminosity at high-altitudes and minimal rainfall (an average of 200mm per year in many vineyard growing areas) combine to give winemakers the opportunity to create intense, fresh and elegant wines with distinct aromas and flavours that reflect their sense of place.
At the heart of Argentine wine production is Mendoza. Located at the foot of the Andes mountain range, Mendoza holds 75 percent of the total vineyards in Argentina and the largest number of wineries in the country. In fact, Mendoza is the fastest growing wine producing region in the world.
The highest peaks of the Andes are found in Mendoza, which act as a barrier to the humid winds of the Pacific. The altitude, continental climate, soils and the snowmelt are key factors for the production of excellent wines, which add to a significant winemaking tradition.
The territory of Mendoza can be divided into five large sub-regions, which give the varieties their particular characteristics: Valle de Uco (or, the Uco Valley) is nestled beside the cordillera of the Andes in the higher altitude, cooler, southern area of Mendoza and is characterized by the crossing of Las Tunas and Tunuyán rivers.
Some of Argentina’s most ground-breaking research and innovation is taking place in the alluvial vineyards within Valle de Uco’s three sub-regions (Tupungato, Tunuyán and San Carlos) and micro-regions. The soil diversity and range in altitudes (and thus, temperature conditions) from 900 to 2,200 metres above sea level in Valle de Uco is unparalleled.
Other sub regions include the Primera Zona, which includes the departments of Luján de Cuyo and Maipú; the Northern oasis (Lavalle and Las Heras), the East (San Martín, Rivadavia, Junín, Santa Rosa and La Paz) and the South (San Rafael, Malargüe and General Alvear).
The high degree of development achieved by viticulture, added to new research promoted by a generation of restless producers, has led to the identification of micro-regions with different terroirs, reflecting the diverse character of Argentine viticulture. It is specifically in malbec where this quality is best appreciated.
Growing in reputation worldwide, Argentina’s winemakers are producing powerful reds and interesting whites that hold up well against some of the greatest wines in the world. Below are some prime examples – all made within Mendoza’s sub regions – that display the area’s penchant for making quality-driven, consumer friendly and well-priced wines.
El Enemigo 2017 Chardonnay
From calcareous soils in Gualtallary vineyards located more than 1,400 metres above sea level. It’s aged in 500 litre French oak barrels for nine months. Buttered toast and almond notes compliment a citrusy mid-palate and an orchard fruit medley on the finish. With medium complexity, it’s not the most contemplative chardonnay, but it is enjoyable and very food friendly. ($23.95)
La Mascota 2018 Chardonnay
From the heart of Maipu in Mendoza’s Primera Zona, this chardonnay is aged nine months in French and American oak barrels. The aromas of pear, pineapple and lemon are enhanced with a subtle layer of sweet vanilla from barrel ageing. It’s light on its feet and is refreshing with crisp acids and a pleasing finish. ($16.95)
Susana Balbo 2018 Signature White Blend
A blend of 35 percent semillón, 35 percent sauvignon blanc and 30 percent torrontés. It’s a tropically perfumed wine with intense flavours. In fact, it’s so aromatic, you’ll be sniffing it for minutes at a time. Dry and mouth-wateringly fresh, with a stony mineral finish. ($21.95)
ALTOSUR 2018 Malbec
This 100 percent malbec comes from vineyards located 1,200 metres above sea level. It’s an attractive wine, with intensely perfumed aromas of ripened black and blueberry fruit, spice and hints of violet. The mouthfeel is full and combines sweet and round tannins, broadening its supple fruit sensation. It’s plush, concentrated and very yummy. An excellent value option. ($16.95)
Zuccardi Q 2018 Malbec
The “Q” stands for quality in this regional wine that is comprised of carefully selected fruit from micro regions within San Carlos and Tunuyán, two of Valle de Uco’s main sub-regions. Fermented with native yeast, this wine underwent complete malolactic fermentation and was aged in a combination of concrete and oak. It’s richly aromatic and fresh on the palate with bursts of plum, blueberry, cherry and spice – all balanced with a cooling acidity and a lengthy, consistent finish. A very good choice to begin your Argentine tasting journey. ($19.95)
La Posta Pizzella 2018 Malbec
A 100 percent malbec that comes from 20 year-old vines at 1,100 masl. This wine displays decent notes of spiced plum, black cherry, violets and leather. The finish reminded me of black coffee. A very easy drinking wine that’s lighter in terms of its mouthfeel and overall structure. Better with grilled meats. ($16.95)
La Posta Armando 2018 Bonarda
Bonarda is Argentina’s second most widely planted red gape varietal. This is 100 percent bonarda and it hails from Guaymallén in central Mendoza, located at 700 masl. This selection from La Posta is perhaps more consumer friendly than its malbec expression, offering a richer, lusher wine that’s more generously flavoured and bodied. ($15.95)
Catena 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon
Sourced across Catena’s high mountain vines located in Primera Zona (Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo) and Valle de Uco, this expression of cabernet is a stark contrast to the intense, ripe and chewy cabs one tends to get from California. Instead, this is a much more lean and dry interpretation. Nevertheless, the palate is flavourful and soft with its assortment of dark fruits, spice and cigar box notes. Generally pleasing but with its limitations – something that its price point seemingly indicates. ($19.95)
Alamos 2016 Selección Malbec
This 100 percent malbec is grown in the shadow of the Andes Mountains at elevations of more than 900 masl, where intense sunlight, cool evening temperatures and mineral-rich irrigation from mountain snowmelt translates into the rich, layered aromas and flavours of this hallmark Argentine grape. I like this for its heightened flavour profile of dark berry, almost jammy fruit that’s laced with lifting acidity and healthy tannins. Well-made and very nicely valued. ($17.95)
Zaha 2016 El Corte
Comprised of malbec (78%) and cabernet sauvignon (22%), this is a minerally, earthy wine (indicative of its stony vineyard locale) with ripened, almost stewed fruit flavours that seem to feel a bit heavy on the palate. Oak influence is a bit obvious but not overwhelming. Decant and wait for the wine to balance itself out. ($24.95)
Trapiche 2016 Gran Medalla Cabernet Sauvignon
Fermented in concrete eggs using native yeasts and then aged in new French oak for 18 months and a further 6 months in bottle, this is a dense wine with enjoyable aromas of dark fruit, vanilla, violet and fresh balsamic notes. It seems very front-loaded on the palate and a bit hot on the finish right now, which indicates some structural imbalance – something that should be able to sort itself out with a couple more years in the cellar. Definitely decant. ($26.95)
El Esteco 2017 Malbec
Located in the heart of the Calchaquí Valley, El Esteco is a pioneer within Argentina’s northern region. This is an excellent malbec, one of the best in the bunch – structurally sound and deeply concentrated. It’s a wine that can be enjoyed now or, if patient enough, can be further developed with up to five more years of age in your cellar. Maybe buy a few bottles and enjoy the path it leads you on. ($21.95)
Luigi Bosca 2017 Malbec Terroir Los Miradores
From a single vineyard planted at 1,150 masl, this is a truly faithful expression of what this variety is able to provide in the Uco Valley. Average vine age is only 10 years, so this wine reflects the spirit of a new vineyard. It’s a deep, bright violet wine with intense and concentrated aromas, fruits of the forest, spices and fresh herbs. The palate is rich and ripe, well balanced against its full spectrum of complex flavours – which will only continue to build over the coming years should you choose to be patient with this. And it does deserve your patience. A statement malbec that impresses big time. ($34.95)
La Mascota 2018 Malbec
For the price, it’s hard to go wrong with this malbec – which comes off as typically accurate with its aromas of black fruits, plum and pepper notes. It’s not overly complex on the palate, considering its 12 months spent in new French and American oak, but comes across as a friendly wine, easily enjoyed with the right meal pairing. ($16.95)
Kaiken 2018 Ultra Malbec
Another commercially styled interpretation that sources its fruit from three separate vineyards located in Valle de Uco sub-regions: Los Chacayes (Tunuyán), Paraje Altamira (San Carlos) and Gualtallary (Tupungato) all between 250 and 1,600 metres above sea level. Blueberry and blackberry aromas are typical of the varietal and also play out on the palate along with some mild spice notes and a bit of cedar chest. Wanted more from it, but hard to complain considering its price point. ($19.95)