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Argentina Wine, an emerging force

By Tomas Tonnelier | June 4, 2013


Argentina Wines: An Emerging Force




Wines from Argentina are an emerging force in the world wine market but. Argentina is the world’s fifth largest wineproducer (behind France, Italy, Spain, and the USA) and a major consumer of their own product (per capita consumption is 35 liters vs. 7 liters in the USA).


Until recently there was relatively little pressure to export but that figure of 35 liters per capita in 2000 represents a drop from 92 liters in 1970. As a result, the more insightful Argentina wine producers came to realize that if they wanted to export (to make up for decreased domestic consumption) and to sell abroad and make a profit, they had to raise quality. Consequently, there has been an increased focus on lowering yields, discovering new vineyard sites, and experimenting with clones.




While Mendoza is not Argentina’s only wine producing region, it is far and away the most significant. It features a high desert climate with most vineyards planted at elevations of 2500-4500 feet (and some even higher) resulting in intense sunshine but cooler air temperatures. This results in physiologically ripe grapes in almost every vintage without elevated sugars and high alcohol levels. There are almost no wines in this report with alcohol levels over 14.5%. With its desert climate there is very little rainfall, but no shortage of water thanks to proximity to the Andes mountains (which can be seen from every vineyard, and appear to be next door because of their immense size). Irrigation is the rule.


Phylloxera is not an issue so most vines are planted on their own roots. Soils at these high elevations are poor in organic material so the vines must develop deep roots thus intensifying flavors. Pesticides and herbicides in this climate are rarely used and hand harvesting is the rule. The only significant weather risk is hail (13% of the annual crop is typically lost to this problem) so most vineyards are netted for protection.




Argentina’s increasing fame is primarily due to Malbec. It flourishes at a level of quality unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Cabernet Sauvignon is also important and frequently blended with Malbec. The other Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, even Carmenere) exist, but are used almost exclusively for blending. Pinot Noir is just beginning to make an appearance and appears to have some potential. Syrah and Tempranillo can be found, but play subsidiary roles.


There are two other grapes which are virtually indigenous to Argentina. The red grape is Bonarda originally from Lombardy in Italy where ripening is typically an issue. In Mendoza it makes juicy, flavorful, vibrant wine. Moreover, it rarely sells for over $20-22 a bottle.


The white grape is Torrontes most of it grown in Cafayate in northern Argentina and more subtle and less exuberant options came from Mendoza. Research has shown that it is a cross of Muscat Alexandria and the Mission grape once planted widely in California. When well-grown, it is remarkably fragrant with the fruit nicely buttressed by zesty acidity. For those looking for Chardonnay alternatives, this is a variety worth exploring. There is also some Sauvignon Blanc  and other international varieties, but they are all minor players.




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