Wine regions of Argentina
Argentina’s wine regions are widely dispersed from north to south but almost entirely confined to a relatively narrow strip at the western edge of the country bordering the foothills of the great Andes mountain range.
The climate is predominantly semi-desert with annual rainfall rarely above 250mm (as a comparison, Bordeaux has average annual rainfall of 850mm). Water for irrigation is available from the rivers and channels that run down from the Andes. The seasons are well defined, allowing the vines plenty of time to rest. The lack of humidity reduces the risk of fungal diseases.
Jujuy is located in the extreme northwest of Argentina, bordering Chile and Bolivia. This is a relatively small wine region. Its best known grape variety is Torrontes, but little wine is exported. Situated 23 degrees south of the equator within the eastern half of the Andes mountain range, it has some of the highest vineyards in the world.
This is the most northerly wine producing province, producing some very high quality and distinctive wines. Its northerly latitude would normally be too warm for quality wine grapes to grow but the vineyards in Salta are high in the foothills of the Andes with altitude tempering the effect of latitude. Some of the highest vineyards in the world can found here in remote locations enabling production of small quantities of some rare complex red wines, typically made from the Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
In the area around Cafayate the Torrontés Riojana white grape is at home. This area produces some outstandingly fragrant, full-bodied dry white Torrontés wine.
The climate is predominantly warm and sunny during the day and cold at night resulting in high sugar levels and good acidity at harvest time. This assures wines of both depth and balance.
Altitude again balances the northerly latitude of this province. Catamarca has more land under vine than Salta although the wines from this area are generally not as well known. Vineyards can be found in some of the most remote areas on earth in semi-desert conditions, using water channelled from the high Andes to irrigate the vines.
Typical grapes of Catamarca: Red - Malbec, Syrah, Barbera. White - Torrontés.
This is the oldest of the wine producing provinces of Argentina and the home of the Torrontés Riojana grape.
There is a relatively small area under vine. Wine making is a fairly marginal activity in this province mostly due to lack of water for irrigation.
This is the second largest wine producing region. It is hotter and drier than Mendoza, with summer temperatures of 42˚C not uncommon. This region was traditionally the engine room for Argentina’s inexpensive table wine using high-yielding pink grape varieties such as Cereza. It is also responsible for most of Argentina’s brandy and vermouth.
In recent year’s growers in San Juan have started to plant a few more lower yielding varieties such as Bonarda and Syrah.
This is the main grape producing province of Argentina, responsible for around 70 percent of wine production in the country. Summers are warm, winters are mild and are characterised by sunny days, cool nights and low relative humidity (meaning few problems with mould and rot).
The rivers from the Andes are channelled through irrigation canals which have created three long oases in the virtual desert. These are North Mendoza, Uco Valley and South Mendoza. The average vineyard lies at an altitude of between 600 and 1,100 metres above sea level.
A huge amount of investment has been made into this wine region in recent years. Wine growers and wine makers have come from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and USA to develop the great potential of this area.
Patagonia (Neuqúen and Rio Negro)
The most southerly region. Much cooler here; typically a fruit growing area, the potential of this region is still being tested and developed but already there are some big players investing in new vineyards.
The cool climate and chalky soil combine with a long, warm ripening season under clear skies, making it ideal for the production of good quality white wine, especially Torrontés and Sémillon, and for base grapes for making sparkling wine. Good quality Pinot Noir is also being produced.
This is on the northern edge of Patagonia and is the eastern neighbour to Neuqúen. The main water source for the arid plains that cover most of the province is the Rio Negro river in whose valley most of the farms and settlements are located. The climate is temperate at lower elevations. Summers are hot but the nights are cool. This province produces about 70% of Argentina’s apples and pears.
In terms of wine production the region is known for Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc for white wines, and Pinot Noir, Merlot and Malbec for red wines.