Argentina has a rich wine history that has included the Spanish, French, Italians, and has finally stepped into its prime with the Argentinians themselves. The country takes up much of the southern part of South America and is nestled between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The climate is fairly hot and dry with a variety of valleys, mountains, and everything in between. Argentina is even known for having some of the highest wine-producing vineyards in the world. Their prized, money-making grape is Malbec with Mendoza being the modern Argentinean wine hotspot, though a handful of other grapes and regions are steadily growing in popularity and quality.
While Argentina is very much part of the new world in wine, the country’s wine history goes all the way back to the mid 16th century when Spanish colonizers came to modern-day Argentina. Up until the end of the 19th century, they grew grapes from an old varietal family called the Criollas, which were able to grow with high yields but oftentimes lacked quality. The country’s winemaking slowly grew over time but was fairly niche for its time. The only notable setback was civil conflicts throughout the 19th century, which started soon after the country gained independence.
It did not take too long, though, for the country’s winemaking to bounce back. Over the next century and a half, a variety of issues would plague Europe and other parts of the world. In the mid-1800s, phylloxera, an insect species, destroyed a large majority of the vineyards in the United Kingdom and France. Up into the 1900s, it spread throughout the rest of Europe and eventually back to the United States. This decades-long situation, a couple of world wars, and other political instabilities in Europe severely handicapped the European wine industry. This drove many grape growers and wine producers to other parts of the world, which helped create the beginning of a wine boom in Argentina.
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of French agricultural engineer, Michel Aimé Pouget, and Argentine provincial governor of Cuyo, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, the country’s wine industry was improved upon and expanded. Pouget brought a variety of French grapes to Mendoza, Argentina, with Malbec being one. Malbec ended up growing very well, in quantity and quality and quickly became a wine staple. The Argentinean wine industry only got better, as railroads become the standard, so wine could make it out of Mendoza and to Buenos Aires and beyond.
The country’s wine industry took a dark turn towards the last quarter of the 20th century, with political and economical instability, as a military dictatorship took over in what is commonly called the Dirty War. The economy crashed, which included wine prices, and wine production decreased soon after. Though this conflict only lasted a few years, 1979-1982, the effects of it were still felt decades later by the wine industry. Argentina then focused on mass-producing lower quality wines with a domestic market in mind, until the mid-1990s. Argentina wanted to take after their neighbor, Chile, and start producing export-worthy wines again, so they slowly did this with the help of famous wine producers from France, the US, and other places.
Fast forward to today, Argentina is doing great in all aspects of its wine production, despite a hiccup in the early 2000s. Within the past 15 years, Argentinean Malbec has exploded in popularity all across the world, reaching countless markets in the US and Europe. (include some stats right here). Mendoza and the surrounding areas remain the hotspot for Argentinean wine, though other regions are gaining popularity such as Salta and Catamarca. While Malbec is still the country’s wine jewel, other varieties have gained traction in taste and popularity. Some of these include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, the native Torrontes, and even unexpected varietals such as Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo.
Mendoza as a whole accounts for the large majority of the country’s wine production, at 60%, and wine exportation, at 80%. The dominating grapes are Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon with others popping up here and there. Historically, Lujan de Cuyo is the region’s and country’s wine and grape growing home. Following the modern wine boom in the country, Maipu could be described as the region’s other darling. In more recent years, Uco Valley has become extremely popular, particularly in the United States. Finally, Tupungato finishes up the regions and has also become known for producing quality wine.
• San Juan
San Juan is the second-largest wine-producing region in Argentina. San Juan is known for producing a hodgepodge of varietals with some being native and others not. The two big hitters are Syrah and Malbec. The region also grows cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Bonarda, Tannat, Viogner, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Some sherry-style wines are also made. While slightly unrelated, but nevertheless interesting, the region also produces well-known vermouths and brandies. The sub-regions include Ullum, Zonda, Pedernal, Calingasta, and the most popular, Tulum Valley.
• La Rioja
La Rioja differs in that the region is most known for a white varietal, Torrontes, and even more specifically, Torrontes Riojano. The Torrontes grape takes up the vast majority of the region’s acreage with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon following behind. The biggest sub-regions of La Rioja include Chilecito, Coronel Felipe Varela, Famatina, and Castros Barros.
Salta is known for having some of the highest vineyards in the world, and they do, in fact, have the highest wine-producing vineyards in the world. The region is particularly known for its Torrontes, but other varietals such as Malbec are also common. The three major sub-regions include a large portion of the Calchaqui Valley, Cafayate, and Molinos.