When it comes to wines from Argentina, one can’t argue the fact that malbec is the country’s flagship wine. After all, it would be easy to see why. With more than 109,000 acres planted in all of Argentina’s wine growing regions (representing about 22 percent of the total vineyards planted), malbec is the country’s most widely cultivated grape, which presents the opportunity for a diverse range of styles and flavour profiles. But there is so much more to Argentine wine than malbec, as one should discover for themselves.
As the world’s fifth largest wine producer with nearly 500,000 acres under vine, the country’s regions span from 33° to 45° southern latitude and in vineyards as high as 3,229 metres above sea level. The drastic range of growing conditions promote a diversity of cultivated grapes. In fact, more than 20 varieties are planted in significant quantities across the country.
To help kickstart your journey, we’re taking a closer look at four very popular – can’t miss out – varieties, further represented by tasting notes of wines that have been making their way to most wine shops as of February and March of this year. And although we would never try and dissuade you from buying and enjoying malbec, we do invite you to take a glimpse into the range of these other styles and the stories behind the wines:
Native to Argentina, there are three variants of the torrontés variety, which resulted from spontaneous crossing of Listán Prieto and Moscatel de Alexandria. Torrontés Riojano is the most cultivated and expresses the best qualities for fine wine production. It’s become Argentina’s most planted white variety with more than 24,000 acres planted with significant acreage in Argentina’s remote, northern province of Salta.
Sensitive to altitude, torrontés appears to feel most at home between 1,500 and 1,900 metres above sea level in places such as Chilecito and Cafayate. Higher up, in Cachi for instance, at 2,300 masl, its style changes markedly, similarly to examples found in the south of Mendoza.
With over 14,400 acres planted, chardonnay is Argentina’s third most planted white variety. The country’s high elevation vineyards and intense sunlight allow chardonnay to ripen fully while maintaining bright acidity. In the Uco Valley subregion of Gualtallary, chardonnay comprises almost 60 percent of vineyard plantings.
Although many historic chardonnay vineyards remain and tend to produce a more Californian style, it’s the vineyards above 1,000 metres above sea level that are exciting winemakers today. In fact, their quest for greater quality, encouraged by early results, has led to a 40 percent increase in chardonnay vines in these high altitude, cooler regions.
As Argentina’s second most planted red variety (more than 44,000 acres planted), bonarda Argentino is considered one of Argentina’s most traditional varieties and thrives in warm climates.Introduced by European immigrants at the end of the 19th century, this red variety was for years confused by winemakers to be of Italian origin, like the bonarda del Piedmont, until in 2009 it was finally proven that it is actually corbeau noir, another European variety originally from Savoy, in the French Alps.
Sixty percent of bonarda Argentino is cultivated in the east of Mendoza, a warm zone located at about 700m. Here the style is a juicy and intense red with a balsamic, fruity profile. It’s a wine that’s always easy to drink and an excellent pairing for most grilled meats and pasta dishes.
Argentina’s third most planted red variety, with more than 35,000 acres planted, and one of the most researched in the country. The majority of new plantings are in premium growing zones, like the Uco Valley within Mendoza. Three distinct cabernet styles have emerged in Argentina: warm weather cabernet, cool climate/high elevation cabernet and northern cabernet.
Many experts have pointed out that cabernet sauvignon from Argentina will soon take over the global scene, due to its excellent price/quality ratio, while most of the classics of Napa Valley or red blends of Bordeaux go up in price year after year.
Zuccardi 2020 ‘Serie A’ Torrontés
Third generation family winemaker Sebastian Zuccardi is globally recognized as an ambassador for Argentina’s unique terroirs, most notably in the high elevation Uco Valley in southern Mendoza. The family’s premium winery – Zuccardi Valle de Uco – has been named Best Vineyard in the World for three consecutive years. The Series A line highlights the richness and diversity of the different microclimates and soils of Argentina. This is a way of expressing the most representative varieties from the best regions along the Andes Mountains. The wonderful thing about the torrontes variety is that it’s aromatically intense, with notes of mandarin, pineapple and fresh savoury herbs. The palate is textured, with a zest of tropical fruit flavours, bracing acidity and a cleansing finish. ($16.95)
Crios 2020 Chardonnay
In 1999 Susana Balbo, Argentina’s first female winemaker, founded her namesake wine brand and the Dominio del Plata winery in Lujàn de Cuyo, Mendoza. Today, alongside her son José and daughter Ana, Balbo focuses on environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility. The Crios (Spanish for “kids”) line of wines was inspired by Susana’s love for her children and desire to forge a legacy. This 100 percent chardonnay spent three months in second and third-use French oak barrels (with lees). The contact with lees makes the mouth full and creamy-like with beautifully balanced acidity that reminds of lemon and green apple. (Only $15.95!)
El Enemigo 2018 Chardonnay
El Enemigo is a passion project founded by Catena Zapata head winemaker Alejandro Vigil and historian Adrianna Catena. Inspired by Dante’s The Divine Comedy, the goal of El Enemigo – which translates as the enemy within – was to produce a wine that would respect history while rejecting the status quo. From calcareous soils in Gualtallary vineyards located more than 1,400 metres above sea level, this is 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. ($24.95)
El Enemigo 2017 ‘El Barranco’ Single Vineyard Bonarda
Bonarda is regarded as Argentina’s second national grape variety after the country’s now world-famous malbec wines, but it is still little-known outside of Latin America. Perhaps with expressions like this being slowly released in North America and beyond, consumers will begin to take notice of its distinctive qualities. Produced from an old vineyard in the Junin – east of Mendoza – this wine presents a rustic tone, with juicy raspberry, cherry and currant notes, along with earth, wood and grained tannins. The finish is slightly herbaceous. A good choice to pair with food. ($21.95)
El Enemigo 2017 ‘El Mirador’ Single Vineyard Bonarda
The vines for this single vineyard expression are planted on a sandy plot which sits at 650 metres above sea level in Rivadavia in the Mendoza wine region. The grapes are carefully selected at optimum ripeness to maintain quality and fermented in stainless steel tanks. The young wine is then aged in used French oak barrels for 15 months, adding delicate notes of toasty oak and spice to the vibrant dark berry, plum and cherry fruit flavours. There’s even a beautiful mineral flavour that comes through – which I think really sets this wine positively apart from its counterpart single vineyard expression – and it finishes clean and tidy. ($21.95)
Luigi Bosca 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon
This family-owned winery celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2021 and is regarded as one of Argentina’s pioneers. Bodega Luigi Bosca established Argentina’s first D.O.C. in 1981 which is viewed by the industry as an important catalyst behind the development of Geographical Indications (GIs) throughout Mendoza. Today, the fourth generation of the Arizu family is at the helm of this historic winery based in Mendoza’s original premium zone: Lujàn de Cuyo. This cabernet sauvignon is a deep and bright, red-coloured wine with expressive aromas that remind of black fruits, spices, pepper and leather. The palate is smooth and structured, with firmed tannins and a smoky finish. ($18.95)
Amancaya 2018 Reserve (Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon)
The idea of a partnership between the Rothschild and the Catena families was born in 1999. The Catena family has been producing wines for in Argentina for generations, their vast knowledge of the high elevation terroirs of Mendoza has ranked them among Argentina’s most renowned malbec producers. With Domaines Barons de Rothschild’s (Lafite) unparalleled know-how in producing great cabernet sauvignon, their aim is to produce a wine combining French and Argentinian cultures and the two signature grapes of both families. A blend of 70 percent malbec and 30 percent cabernet sauvignon, this wine presents a framework of ripe red fruits, softened tannin structure and a juicy mid-palate that leads to a savoury finish. (It’s a wine well-worth mentioning here, despite the dominant malbec presence.) ($23.95)