Most storms developing out at sea in the Pacific Ocean eventually come ashore along the Chilean coast, but the towering Andes Mountains block these winds and rain from traveling further east. As a result, Argentina remains dry and sunny, nearly all of the time. And with 320 days of sun annually, I truly mean nearly all of the time!
Argentina has a long history of grapegrowing, dating to the Spanish conquistadors who brought grapes with them when they established colonies in the New World. From the 1500s through the 1800s, Argentine viticulture remained essentially unchanged. While a handful of today’s winemakers may still cling to the old ways (cow hide fermenters anyone?), most of Argentina’s wine industry has entered the 21st century, with temperature controlled fermentation, drastically improved sanitation and other modern conveniences.
Argentina is home to many European immigrants from Spain, Italy and France, so it is not surprising that many of these grapes landed on Argentina’s soil. Malbec, originally from Bordeaux, took incredibly well to the climate of its new home, especially once it was discovered that growing it at high elevation could significantly influence the outcome.
Though white wine plays a much smaller role in Argentine viticulture, the Torrontés grape has become its signature white. Torrontés handles the heat well and although it had been previously used exclusively for sweet, bulk wine, the variety has been repurposed to create a heady, aromatic wine that is now dry on the palate with floral and tropical fruit notes. Even within this taste profile, several styles have emerged from the restrained to the more flamboyant versions. Additionally, winemakers are experimenting with blends such as Amalaya’s Torrontés-Riesling.
Thankfully, there is more to Argentina than these two varieties and the range includes Barbera, Petit Verdot and the other usual Bordeaux suspects – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – as well as Pinot Noir. The latter thrives in Argentina’s cooler, southern areas such as Patagonia as evidenced by Bodega Humberto’s Canale Estate Pinot Noir 2010, produced from 40 year old vines. Given that Argentines consume 8 oz. of meat per person per day, reds dominate the vineyards.
As a very large country, Argentina’s wine growing regions are vast and spread out from Salta in the north to Patagonia in the south, but most of the production is centered near and north of Mendoza, which lies west of Buenos Aires. Although certain regions within Argentina are becoming known for specific varieties – Salta’s Cafayate Valley for Torrontés, for example – Master Sommelier, Keith Goldston, suggests that the aspects of terroir are still being worked out and for now, come down to three things: distance from the Andes Mountains, elevation and vine age –some vineyards today are 100 years old. Of course, regardless of these three elements – we know it will be sunny.