Traditionally, when talking about South American wines, there is an almost automatic reflex to say ‘Chile’, who occupy, and deservedly so, a place among the elite list of high quality wines, as well as the cellars of many a wine connoisseur. However, over the last decade, a neighboring country has slowly been spreading its wings and carving a niche for itself in the international wine industry, luring new admirers every day; Argentina has thrown its name into the hat and now wine from the Land of Maradona has an ever-growing legion of fans.
Surprisingly enough, Argentina is the largest wine producer in all of South America, and 5th in the world; however roughly 80% of its production is for internal consumption. Historically, wine production in Argentina can be traced as far back as the mid 1500s, but production would really only begin in the late 1700s with the arrival of European immigrants who brought with them the necessary skill and agricultural knowledge to grow and maintain vineyards and later produce wine on a larger scale. However, it would be in the 1980s that the Argentines would come to realize the lucrative possibilities behind the wine industry and began to expand the market, both agriculturally as well modernizing the cultivation and fermentation process.
As a result Argentina is producing more and more wines, continually improving the quality of their blend; and while they realize that they are still very far behind in terms of a “market race” with traditional wine producers such as France or Italy, in terms of South America and the rest of the New World, they are more then capable of holding their own.
Argentina produces a variety of wine grapes such as: merlot, malbec, sémillion, barbera, cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, etc, to name a few. Of these, malbec has become the “prestige” grape behind Argentina’s best wines. Cabernet sauvignon is often mixed with malbec, creating a blend that also produces excellent red wines.
The main wine producing regions of Argentina are Mendoza (the largest), Rio Negro, San Juan and La Rioja. Mendoza is located close to the Andes Mountains, in a very arid and dry region, that sees almost no rain during the year. Roughly 4% of the land is actually fertile enough for plantation, and gets its water from melting snow that trickles down from the mountain. Mendoza accounts for roughly 70% of the Argentine vineyards and produces the most popular and sophisticated wines.
Argentina’s success in the wine industry can be attributed to the simply fact of offering “something different” to wine consumers. Technically speaking, there are a number of factors that favor wine production: contrasting temperatures during day and night, reliable soil, good exposure to sunlight. Not only that, they also enjoy the benefit of producing a “household name”: malbec, which is well known to connoisseurs for its pleasant flavor. This particular variety allows the Argentines to produce inexpensive yet highly sophisticated wines. The Ferrer Malbec 2003, produced in the Mendoza region, earned a rating of 96 from the Wine Spectator, the highest mark ever obtained by a South American wine. This result has made Mendoza one of the most sought after locations in the world by investors from the wine industry. The Catena Zapata cellars earned its owner Nicolas Catena Zapata a place in the 2005 edition of the “The World´s Greatest Wine Estates”.
As you can see, Argentina can be thought of as some kind of “sleeping giant” in the wine industry, but now awoken, the giant has been pouring its “potion” into goblets all over the world and earning the country yet another place in the consumer spotlight.