The South American country’s diverse landscapes produce a similarly wide variety of wines.
MENTION “Argentina” and what comes to mind? Eva Peron, Diego Maradona or even Argentinian beef perhaps.
Few wine lovers are aware that Argentina ranks amongst the top five largest wine producers in the world. As the second largest country in South America, Argentina boasts a great diversity of landscapes – from ice fields to dry lands, from mountainous reliefs to plateaus and plains, from steppes to woods and jungles.
So, it is no surprise that Argentina’s grapes are found at high and low altitudes, and a dry climate and low rainfall. Yet it was only until I attended a tasting of Argentinian wines did I begin to appreciate the differences in terroir of the various grape-growing regions. And that Argentinian wines are worth the wine aficionado’s attention.
To wine lovers, the city of Mendoza has always been associated with Argentinian wine. No wonder, as Mendoza accounts for almost two-thirds of the country’s production of wine.
Mendoza itself is a sub-region where you’ll find many familiar names producing quality wine – Terrazas de los Andes, Trapiche, Trivento, Norton and Catena Zapata to name a few.
Even the French Champagne house, Moet & Chandon set up their first overseas winery in Mendoza. Situated in a semi-desert climate with clay-rocky soils, Bodega Chandon produces sparkling wines of good acids, body and intense flavours.
When exploring Argentinan wines, it is easiest to consider wines from three principal regions – the Cuyo, the North and Patagonia.
Cuyo (La Rioja, Mendoza, San Juan)
Mendoza, together with several sub-regions are grouped under the name of Cuyo – which makes up the central-west region of Argentina.
Other grape-growing areas of the Cuyo include the Uco Valley (a district of Mendoza; famous for Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs). San Juan and La Rioja boasts the oldest sub-regions. Their grape lineage dates back to the 16th century, having been planted by Spanish missionaries. Some wonderful Malbecs, Syrah, Bonada, Cabernet and Tempranillo can be found in Cuyo.
North (Catamarca, Salta, Tucuman)
Look north and you will find a group of three sub-regions (Catamarca, Salta and Tucuman). Here you’ll find some of the highest altitude vineyards in the world. Scarce rainfall, sandy soils and high temperatures (tempered by the altitude) are ideal for wines made from Torrontes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbecs.
Torrontes, deserves a special mention. It is a native variety and it is the rising star white wine of Argentina. With unique floral aromas of jasmine and orange blossoms, Torrontes is as unmistakable as Gewurztraminer in any blind tasting lineup of grape varietals.
Patagonia (La Pampa, Neuquen, Rio Negro)
Many adventurers know the southern region of Patagonia as a place for hiking, whitewater rafting and skiing. You will also find Ushuaia – the world’s southernmost city or “the city at the end of the world” here. For the wine folk, Patagonia is an emerging fine wine region.
In Patagonia, harsh winters, good sunlight and cool summer nights are ideal for growing Merlot and outstanding Pinot Noir. Even Italy’s iconic winery, Tenuta San Guido, (of Sassicaia fame) thinks so. It has acquired Bodega Chacra, located 997km south of Buenos Aires to produce what it hopes will be recognised as Patagonia’s finest Pinot Noir. Other wineries like Familia Schroder and Humberto Canale are vying for the “title”.
Memorable Argentinian wines
Dominio Del Plata Crios Susanna Torrontes 2011 (Calchaquies Valley, Altamira)
From the Salta sub-region of the North comes this amazing white wine. Medium-yellow with a perfume of spring and frangipani wildflowers, this wine seduces with its flavours of peach and limes. It has a crisp, yet mouthwatering finish.
Luca Chardonnay 2008 (Uco Valley, Mendoza, Cuyo)
Pale-gold, with a medium body, lemon flavours with a hint of spice and vanilla oak. The texture is light creamy and it has a medium finish.
Familia Schroeder Saurus Barrel Fermented Pinot Noir 2011 (San Patricio del Chanar, Patagonia)
This is a light-red, medium-bodied wine with subtle cherry notes. This wine is a true testament that the southern reaches of Argentina favour this varietal.
Finca Las Moras Gran Shiraz 2009 (San Juan, Cuyo)
Ruby-coloured with a pale edge, this wine is complex with dark fruit flavours. It has overtones of leather, dark chocolate and tobacco. Balanced, elegant yet with sufficient tannins. Easily the most impressive wine in the line-up and heralding Shiraz as another variety to look out for from Argentina.
Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Mendoza, Cuyo)
Black cherry flavours with mocha and spices, velvety tannins and a long finish. A solid wine, with good weight and presence.
Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2011 (Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Cuyo)
Malbec is a flagship variety of Argentina, having the largest Malbec plantings in the world! Intense colour, lots of plum and jammy notes, good balance and tannins. A long finish and a tangy aftertaste will please any palate.
Masi Tupungato Corbec Rosso di Argentina 2008 (Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Cuyo)
Italian-owned, this producer brings us a blend of Corvina and Malbec. Wines delights with flavours of small red fruit, cocoa, cinnamon and baked cherries allied with fine, powdery tannins and a lively finish. The wine process involves the Veneto regional method of appaxximento – drying grapes to concentrate flavours.
Cheval des Andes, 2007 (La Compeurtas, Mendoza, Cuyo)
This wine needs little introduction. Its name clues one in that it is a high-end wine collaboration project between LVMH’s Terrazas de los Andes and Bordeaux Grand Cru winemaker, Pierre Lurton of Cheval Blanc.
The blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes produces an intense wine that is elegant yet impressive. A multitude of flavours woven together – plum, blueberry, cherry, minerals, spice delight and excite. A lovely tannin structure and a long finish leaves the wine drinker wanting more.
Edwin Soon is a qualified oenologist and has run wine shops and worked as a winemaker in various countries. He now writes and teaches about wine around Asia.