Everyone knows Argentina’s ubiquitous mouthwatering Malbecs: Those indelible undeniable inky reds brimming with rich, dark juicy fruit, luring you in with their velvety texture and robust tannins. And while Argentinian Malbecs have earned their popularity, they are not all that Argentina has to offer. We found 5 unexpected facts about Argentina that might make you look at this South American stunner in a whole new way.
1. Although Argentina is technically part of the new world – the wine industry is not that new. The first vines were planted in 1551 by visiting missionaries, and the first commercial winery was established in 1577. It was also around this time that they created the irrigation system, which would bring snow-melt from the Andes down to the vineyards.2. Along with Chile, Argentina has never suffered from Phylloxera (knock on wood). Phylloxera is a vine root eating louse that ravaged the vineyards of Europe in the 19th century – almost wiping them out entirely. A solution was found in grafting vitis vinifera (fine wine grapes) vines onto American rootstocks that were repellent to the little buggers. This is the course of action that has been taken in every wine producing country in the world, with the exception of Chile and Argentina. Chile enjoys natural barriers that have protected them from infestation: the ocean is on one side and the Andes on the other. Argentina does not enjoy such protection and phylloxera has in fact made into the country, but has never reached vineyard soils. It is a big country afterall.
3. Mendoza is on the same latitude as Baghdad. Yeah seriously – it’s that close to the equator. So how on earth do they grow grapes there? The answer is in the altitude. Argentina has the largest concentration of high altitude vineyards in the world. As any fan of winter sports will tell you – the higher up you go, the cooler it will be.
4. Argentina is home to the highest vineyard in the world. At 10,2000 feet/3,111 meters above sea level in the northern part of the Calchaqui Valley, Bodega Colomé maintains the vineyard with the highest altitude in the world. This extremely high altitude give their grapes greater exposure to the suns rays, causing them to have higher concentration of flavors, colors and aromas and thicker skins for a richer body.
5. And last, but not least, Argentina offers unique expression of many grapes.
This variety is actually homegrown: a cross between Mission (the neutral white grape used to make wine for the sacrament by the priests that first planted vineyards in the country) and Muscat. The result is a grape that creates wines with killer floral aromatics, full body and crisp acidity.
Delicious in the warmer Mendoza region where is produces more tropical wines, and when it hails from the cooler regions within Patagonia like Rio Negro and Neuquén. The southern Patagonia regions also produce that Chardonnay the forms the base of most sparkling wines from the region
Sauvignon Blanc here is far zippier than a Bordeaux Blanc, but tamer than the sassy Sauv Blancs that hail from New Zealand.
The star of Sauternes, Bordeaux’s honeyed dessert wine, is becoming increasingly popular in Argentina, where it produces, dry, full-bodied wines that are smooth on the palate with flavors and aromatics of honeyed tropical fruits.
Argentina’s signature variety does not generally need an introduction, but we felt remiss leaving it out. This grape historically served as the backup singer to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot’s lead singers in the Bordeaux blend. Thankfully escaping to Argentina allowed Malbec to become the rock star we know today. Malbec is infinitely sippable on its own, but do not dismiss it as a mere cocktail wine – this baby rocks with grilled steak.
This obscure Italian grape originally hails from the Piedmont, but has made itself right at home in Argentina where it is the second most widely planted grape. It generally produces wines that are light, fresh and brimming with ripe red fruit and just the right amount of acidity. However, there are older vine that tend to be receptive to oak aging, making them robust and age-worthy.
Cabernet is at its cassis-y cedar-y best. Different regions produce different expressions, ranging from robust and mouth-fillingly fruity to lean, herbal and mineral driven.
Syrah was originally grown as a blending grape to lend some fruit and spice to sometimes austere Cabernet Sauvignons. However, winemakers have started to allow this little bird to fly solo in mono-varietal wines. Argentine Syrahs vary from lean, herbal and well-structured to rich, fruity and spicy.
Like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir thrives in the cooler, almost Burgundian southern climates of Patagonia. The wines are light, beautifully berried yet with its characteristic gamey funk.
Writer Amy Ullman is the irrationally exuberant founder of Wine for Rookies. She received a Bachelor of Liberal Arts from Harvard University in 2009 with concentrations in Economics and French. She holds the title of Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators, and is currently working on her Diploma of Wine and Spirits via the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.