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If you want to know how to find the best Argentinian wine, it might be helpful to know more about the country itself. Argentina has areas of fantastic beauty, plenty of natural resources, and its regions range from the plains to high summits. You’ll find waterfalls, glaciers, forests, steppes, woods, and deserts all in this amazing country.
Most vineyards in Argentina reside far from the pollution of big cities, growing on young, barely tilled soil. Argentina boasts the details need to create remarkable, authentic, and unique wines with amazing flavors, satisfying aromas, and deep colors.
It’s no secret that Malbec is the grape for which Argentina is most well-known. Internationally, this wine producing country is founded on the name of the Malbec grape. This grape, which we’ll talk about in a bit, is challenging to grow. However, Argentina has the perfect conditions and climate for this fruit to thrive.
However, no other country on the planet cultivates the Malbec like Argentina does. Especially not for the intent of making it into single grape wine. What many people don’t know is that the country offers more than just Malbec wines. As a matter of fact, Malbec grapes are not the most widely planted grape in Argentina. That distinction belongs to the pink Criolla Grande.
Even though the Criolla is considered by many as part of the “table wine” market, Argentina also has areas throughout the country that are key to creating a wine industry perceived as mature by many around the world. This is primarily due to the potential for blending of many different types of grapes, the yearly conditions that lend well to growing, and a demand for greater diversity in wines.
White Grapes Too!
Even though Argentina is known primarily for its red grapes, it does produce white ones as well. In particular, you can find Chardonnay and Torrontes grapes. The dry and hot climate in Argentina is simply better for red grapes, however, growers are beginning to look further south for grape growing. As a result, you might start seeing more white wines coming from Argentina than in years past.
Harvesting in Argentina typically lasts from the end of February to April. The date on which it starts depends on several factors. For example, ripening may be slowed due to certain systems used in the vineyard, hail storms, climate conditions, and other environmental factors may also play a part in when harvesting begins.
When harvesting does start, all grapes have to be in within six weeks to two months. If there are white grapes present, harvesting begins with those first. The actual process is a logistical challenge, which requires coordinating of transportation, pickers, quality control, and the vineyard itself is in operation around the clock.
The fruit has to be manually fed into the winery at the perfect rate of speed so the grapes don’t back up or sit in crates. There is also the potential of grapes getting crushed throughout the process, something that would greatly impact the quality of the wine.
Grapes Used in Argentina for Making the Best Wine
We’ve touched briefly on a few of the grapes you’ll encounter with wine made in Argentina, however, the country offers much more than just Malbec. Here are some of the most common grapes you’ll find throughout the country, giving Argentina some of the most unique flavors you’ll find in a wine.
As the name states, the Bonarda Piemontese is a red Piedmont grape, which has become much rarer in Italy, where it is natively grown. Some experts argue as to whether or not the Argentinian Bonarda is an authentic Bonarda Piemontese. Many claims that instead, it is a Bonarda Novarese, which is another Piedmont grape.
The country’s National Institute of Viticulture stands by its authenticity, stating that it is clear that their Bonardas are indeed Bonarda Piemontese.
No matter which category you place it in, the Bonarda was the most popular grape variety throughout the country until recently. Even though there is an abundance of Bonarda grapes, it has not been used much to make varietal wines. Instead, it has been used in table wines and other wines made in mass production.
Typically, Bonarda wines are fruity and lighter-bodied. Many are full of plum and cherry flavor, with moderate acidity and light tannins. However, when the grape is oak aged and older, Bonardas can have a fruity, dense, powerful flavor with deep color along with raisin and fig characteristics.
Bonarda is usually one of the last grapes harvested when it comes to the vast majority of vineyards in Argentina.
Cabernet Sauvignon is considered to be a classic grape. Of the red Bordeaux variety, this fruit is robust, small, dark and thick-skinned. The Cabernet Sauvignon has considerable tannins, adding amazing color and body to the wine. That means a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon has a big, tannic, acidic, and dense flavor.
As a result of these strong elements, a Cabernet Sauvignon typically ages very well. Usually, these wines need several months in oak, then plenty of bottle time to give the tannins and acids a chance to soften. This allows the wine to arrive at the perfect balance.
Some of the more common flavors and aromas attributed to a Cabernet Sauvignon are black fruits like blackcurrants or blackberries. However, there are times when redcurrants and strawberries are noted as well. Licorice, mint, and black pepper are also smelled that is often associated with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.
The Cabernet Sauvignon grape performs much better in warmer climates. It fares best when it has a long season for ripening. That’s why this grape is usually harvested toward the latter stages of March. Unfortunately, if a particular growing season is atypical, then the grape may wind up lacking in its normal fruity flavors, which means it can be dominated by its tannins and acidity.
For this reason, Cabernet Sauvignons are blended together with Cabernet Francs, Merlots, or Syrahs. This helps to soften some of the harsh tannins while “rounding out” the wine. You’ll discover that in Argentina, the Cabernet Sauvignon is most often blended with a Malbec.
When it’s at its best, the unblended Cabernet Sauvignon is considered to be the ultimate when it comes to red wines. However, it remains interesting that the Cabernet Sauvignon is itself a hybrid of the Cabernet Franc and the Sauvignon Blanc.
Originally, Malbec was a blended variety of the red Bordeaux, however, now it makes up a significant proportion of Argentinian production. Malbec has come into its own after more than a century of nurturing in its Argentina home. Whether it’s a blend with Merlot, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon, or a pure varietal Malbec is one of the best grapes in the country.
These grapes are small, juicy, and very dark. Most grape vineyards try to control the fruit while it’s still on the vine to ensure that it contains a good flavor concentration. Since it almost never rains, Argentina relies heavily on manual irrigation. As a result, growers have the necessary tools to produce a high-quality grape.
One thing to note, however, is that Malbec is sensitive to the Argentinian climate. When grown in cooler areas, the Malbec is a thick-skinned fruit that results in high tannic content and acidity. This gives rise to a more robust wine. In lower altitudes, these fruits have thin skins, which means more juice and a lighter body, which is perfect for drinking young wines.
The most common flavors associated with Malbec are cherries, plums, raspberries, and currants. Often the color and the fruit are perceived to be red or black, but this can heavily depend on where the grape originated.
Usually, Argentinian Malbec is liberally oaked, resulting in some amazing flavors, including spice, vanilla, and a hint of tobacco. One of the earlier ripening fruits in the Argentine environment, harvesters typically start gathering Malbec during the early weeks of March.
A second red Bordeaux is Merlot, which is often the dominant grape when it is included in a Bordeaux blend. A Merlot grape is usually juicy and thin-skinned, which means you’ll get lighter acidity and less tannin than you’ll experience with other reds. Merlots also contain high amounts of sugar, which means you’ll get a higher alcohol content if it is present in a wine.
This is why Merlot is often thought of as a light-bodied, smooth, juicy wine typically used as a blending grape. As a result, these characteristics are used to soften harsher acidic or tannic properties of other grape types.
Flavors and aromas often associated with the Merlot come in a wide range. They could be red berry fruits found in cooler climates or the dark fruits like blueberries or plums that are usually found in warmer areas. However, Merlot also oaks very well, taking on some of the tannic properties of the wood as well as its flavor structure.
Just like the Malbec, Merlot has sensitivities to the climate. It like cooler areas, however, it is vulnerable to rot and mildew. Even though it suffers when there is humidity in the atmosphere, Merlot develops nicely when it has great levels of humidity in the soil. Like Malbec, Merlos ripens early and is usually harvested in early March in Argentina.
Sangiovese is the base of Chianti and many Tuscan-based wines, including Montalcino and Brunello. As a result, this fruit is perhaps the signature Italian grape. This sweet, juicy, thin-skinned grape provides a lot of acids, but just a bit of tannin. That means it’s often thought of as an early drinking, light-bodied, fresh wine.
The Sangiovese is packed with aromas of black and red berry fruits, offering the bitterness associated with young cherries. Thanks to the acid in a Sangiovese, their wines usually age well and take on a plum-like taste.
There are only a handful of options available when it comes to Sangiovese, primarily due to the fact that the grape is not a widely cultivated fruit throughout Argentina. Those few producers who do put their faith in Sangiovese are some of the more prominent in the country. They primarily focus on the export industry.
Chances are good that eventually, Sangiovese will begin to gain popularity in the Argentinian wine scene. Even though this grape is a late ripener in most parts of the globe, in Argentine it comes to fruition a little early, with harvesting occurring in the first few weeks of March.
The primary component of classic wines like Hermitage and Chateauneuf du Pape is Syrah. This thick, dark-skinned fruit produces acidic, tannic wines that are full-bodied with flavors like raspberries and blackberries. You’ll notice spices like cinnamon or vanilla, as well as notes of herbs such as mint, eucalyptus, and licorice.
Like some of the other Argentinian grapes, Syrah is climate-sensitive. As a result, wines may have deep, dark characteristics, or might have a bright red color. When Syrah is ripe and goes through considerable oak aging, it is often suggested it has a coffee or chocolate flavor. This makes sense, as this is typically the style associated with hot-climate Syrahs.
Syrah usually ripens pretty early in Argentina. Harvesting this early is a problem for growers from a logistical perspective, which results in not many going to the trouble of producing Syrah. However, there are a few who slow the ripening of the grape by using overhead trellis systems. This allows for foliage to filter in sunlight, which slows the ripening process. As a result, Syrah is harvested in mid-March, around the same time other varieties begin to ripen.
The Tempranillo grape is a classic of Spanish Rioja and originally comes from the northern areas of Spain. Even though this grape is thick-skinned and tannic, it has both low sugar and acidity. This means it’s perfect as a lighter-bodied wine.
It also means that using Tempranillo grapes makes it a challenge to create a varietal wine with interest and depth. As a result, it is often blended in Rioja or something similar. You might also find it combined with a Garnacha. Due to its tannic characteristics, Tempranillo is often liberally treated in oak so that it ages well.
Often, the Tempranillo is associated with lighter flavors and red fruits like cherries and strawberries. When the grape is aged by oak, it darkens and takes on a plummy taste. It also reflects the influences of vanilla and other various spices.
Similar to many of the grapes in Argentina, Tempranillo is sensitive to colder regions of the country. Additionally, its water needs to be carefully managed. As a result, this grape is perfect for the foothills of the Andes. Plus, since it ripens early, it’s a versatile, robust fruit that doesn’t need warm weather to ripen.
Wine Zones of Argentina
Even though Argentina is known as the land of Malbec, there are many more options throughout the country. Currently, there is an emphasis in Argentina on producing various types of wine. Those with a basic understanding and knowledge of wine will know about the Salta and Mendoza regions, which are familiar to many.
However, Argentina has much more than just these two regions for a wine-lover to explore. If you’re headed to Argentina and you love wine, you should check out these wine zones for some of the best wine this country has to offer.
This wine region in Argentina is for those who aren’t afraid of a challenge. This breathtaking mountainous region is great for adventurers. While there aren’t wineries around every corner, there are amazing ones to find and explore. There is a rough wine route you can follow, but it’s not as defined as others.
However, the wineries you will find are wonderful places that offer fantastic wines. If you’re looking for some good places to start, visit Cuello Roca or Rodriguez Ferrero.
The vineyards in this region were first started in the 16th century by Jesuit missionaries. Today, Cordoba has a robust viniculture thanks to these missionaries. This region’s wine output isn’t as significant as that of its neighboring cultures, however, there are still plenty of wineries to visit that you’ll enjoy. To get started, check out Patente X, Jairala Oller, and Famiglia Furfaro.
Mendoza is arguably the most popular and well-known region for wine in Argentina. At the foothills of the Andes, wine lovers can view vineyards for as far as they can see. The Lujan de Cuyo and Valle de Uco districts are home to some of the most highly-rated wineries in the country.
Additionally, many wineries in the area are partnering up with local artists so you can view enriching galleries while you partake in your wine-tasting activities. You could park yourself in Mendoza for several months and not come anywhere close to visiting all the wineries If you prefer to have a wine route in mind before you get too far into your adventure, start with Alreda Roca or Bournett.
Rio Negro and Neuquen
The southernmost part of Argentina’s wine regions is represented by Rio Negro and Neuquen. The Rio Negro valley is a lush area, which stands in stark contrast to the rest of the Patagonian plateau, which is dry and arid. However, the region consists of high winds, which helps to keep insects that might damage vineyards to a minimum.
Wineries in the Rio Negro and Neuquen region are more spread out than in other regions, so if you plan to pay a visit, we’d suggest you rent a car before you head out on your adventure.
If Mendoza is the veteran of the wine industry in Argentina, Salta is the up and comer. This fun wine region is home to the country’s most extreme weather and terrain. You’ll discover sun-filled days, cold nights, and soaring mountains. Of course, some would balk at the idea of growing wine under such conditions, however, Salta makes it work.
Cafayate is the primary wine-producing area in this region, but this is not the only place to get wine in Salta. Some of the more famous bodegas include Etchart, Colome, and San Pedro de Yacochuya. If you’re really adventurous, visit Bodega Tacuil. This remote winery boasts that it is one of the highest on the planet.
Things to Know About Argentinian Wine
Even though Argentina isn’t a country a lot of people think of when talking about wine, it still offers plenty of variety and options. Here are a few things to know about the wine in Argentine.
Saved the Malbec Grape
Argentina leads the world in the production of the Malbec grape. Over 75% of all Malbec acres reside in Argentina. As a result, the nation restored Malbec in the top 20 of all noble grapes. Currently, Malbec is produced in seven different countries and continues to gain in popularity and growth.
Malbec’s Secret Tell
Want to know whether or not you or someone else is drinking a Malbec? Look for a rim tinged with a magenta color. Malbec wines are a deep purple-red color that is almost opaque. This is very similar to Mourvedre and Syrah wines. The difference is that Malbecs often sports a rim of bright magenta.
Malbec Likes to Get High
When grown in lower elevations, Malbec grapes have trouble producing the acidity required to create a long-lasting and great tasting wine. These grapes like to be in high elevation regions with hot days and cold nights. These make the grapes produce more acidity, which results in much better tasting wine.
Doesn’t Oak as Long as Expected
Due to the richness and bold flavors that accompany a Malbec, many who enjoy it think that a long period of oaking is used. However, this isn’t the case. In many instances, Argentine Malbecs are oak aged for half a year. When oaked for 10-12 months, Malbec wines will give off a classic smell of blueberries.
There are some Malbec options that are oak-aged for longer periods of time, usually between 18 and 20 months. However, you’ll have to pay for these wines. You’ll spend roughly $24 for a Reserve Argentine Malbec, but if you can afford it, it’s well worth the price.
No matter where you go to Argentina, you’re sure to find a region that offers fantastic wine. Each zone provides a distinct blend of wine, adventure, and nature. Whether you’re visiting Salta or the Rio Negro, you’re sure to find a wine that you enjoy. Without a doubt, a trip to any of these amazing regions is sure to create an unforgettable experience for anyone who enjoys wine.