The first vitis vinifera vines came to Argentina 400 years ago with the Spanish colonizers, who first planted them in 1551 for sacramental wine. More recently, the 1850s to 1880s saw the first significant growth of wine as an industry, with 20,00 acres planted between 1873 and 1893
Today, Argentine wines production emphasizes modern growing techniques and quality over quantity. (Unfortunately, focusing on quantity was an affliction many wine growing countries suffered, particularly in the 1970s.)
Malbec, which originated in France, thrives in Argentina’s soils and is firmly established as the country’s signature varietal.
The country’s marquee white grape, Torrontés, is believed native to Argentina, a cross of two European varietals that likely happened first in the vineyard, eventually noticed and taken advantage of by winegrowers.
Other grapes grown in Argentina include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.
The country offers a diverse growing environment. It has a truly continental climate with minimal ocean influence. The lack of rain means significantly less chemical intervention is needed in the vineyard, making it easier to farm organically. Varying altitudes and soils generate an array of microclimates, allowing large areas that can be dedicated to grape growing.
These conditions allow plantings in seemingly inhospitable places, from icy Patagonia to the hot, dry northern regions that are home to the highest vineyards in the world.
Northern Argentina features two wine appellations: Catamarca and Salta. In addition to their high altitudes (vines are planted between 3,280 and 9,800 feet above sea level), these areas benefit from scarce rainfall, high average temperatures and sandy soils. Torrontés is this area’s key grape.
The middle region, called Cuyo, or “the land of deserts” in the indigenous tongue, is home to the La Rioja, Mendoza and San Juan areas. Together, they make up the largest wine district in Argentina. Though a rugged mountain area, vines are planted between 2,300 and 5,600 feet, and irrigation is provided by the Andes’ meltwaters. Malbec is the most widely grown varietal.
Furthest south is Patagonia, where the La Pampa, Neuquén and Río Negro appellations are found. This area is characterized by harsh winters and cool summers, conditions that allow long, slow ripening of the grapes. A wide variety of vines are planted here.