Welcome back to our second part of discovering what South America has to offer, and today we focus on the country of Argentina!
With vines dating back to the 16th century and their recent success with the 80s and 90s plantings, Argentina is the 5th biggest wine producer. With 75% being made for Jug Wine, the other 25% are made up of varieties such as Moscatel, Cereza and Criolla Chica (Pais) and Criolla Grand. While Pais is notable grown in lower altitude areas, higher altitude regions were developed in the 80s as Nicholas Catena explored their potential.
The Andean Cordillera zone is a strip that runs from North to South between the Andes and the Inland Deserts and hosts the majority of vineyards in Argentina. Influenced by continental climates of hot summers and cold winters, southern regions are much cooler while the northern regions are planted higher to counter the increasing inland temperatures. In Mendoza and Salta, temperatures can drop as much as 20 degrees from day to night, and as a result, it locks in the acidity and produces a lovely ripe fruit that creates a unique balance.
Sandwiched between the Andes and the Desert, the normal weather is arid with the exception of rainfall during the growing season and sometimes hail, which helps protect developing grapes from ultraviolet sunburn. Flood irrigation using the water from the Andes has generally been the norm, but in recent times channel irrigation has been adopted where the water is directed down the vine rows instead of the whole vineyard. Drip irrigation is the preferred technique as a controlled measure of irrigation against the background rainfall can prevent grapes from diluting and bursting. Thanks to the dryness and the flood irrigation, fungal and rot problems, such as Phylloxera, aren’t of concern, especially as more vineyards are grafting their vines to resistant rootstocks.
The first region we come to is Salta. Located higher than Ben Nevis at around 1700m above sea level, it hosts a variety of Torrontes grapes such as Torrontes San Juanino, Torrontes Mendocino and most well knows, Torrontes Riojano, which is a cross between Criolla Chica and Muscat of Alexandria. It's notable for its honeysuckle and peach tones with a lovely, perfumed finish, it’s a great alternative to Gewurztraminer that pairs well with a Thai Green curry or a Japanese or Korean dish.
With white grapes on the rise here, a Chardonnay Mendoza clone is bred at the University of California for the area's specific climate. Other whites in descending order are Chenin Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier.
Immigration from the late 19th century helped develop the wine scene with other varieties such as Bonarda (Argentina’s second most planted variety), Tocai Friulano and Touriga Nacional all diversifying Argentina’s wine output.
The region of Mendoza accounts for 2 thirds of Argentina’s output and house many great sub-regions such as Lujan de Cuyo (known for Malbec), Maipu (known for Cabernet) and San Rafael (better suited for white varieties like Chenin and Ugni Blanc. The best vineyards are found in the Uco Valley around 1500m above sea level.
The vineyards of Bodega Atamisque, found in Tupungato, uses cold nights and the high levels of UV light to ripen the grapes phenolics without astringent or forthright tannins. Serbal Malbecs can produce very pre expressions of the grape with lovely poise and concentration without being a big jammy fruit bomb.
The region of Patagonia consists of the sub-regions of Nequen and Rio Negro that are relatively cooler and lower down due to being further south cause their wines to be less fruit forward without the sharpness of acidity found at higher altitude regions. This 006 Merlot, Aniello is opulent but not over-extracted with flavours of damson and blueberry with soft tannins that pair fantastically with Venison and Iberico ham.
Argentina’s wine industry is still very much a work in progress but shows potential to eclipse many other more established countries.
Join us next time as we travel northwards towards USA, exploring the regions that make up the Californian wine industry.