Argentina's wine country inhabits a hot, high-desert region on the sunny, rain-shadowy eastern side of the Andes, where summer temperatures can soar into the triple digits. To cheat the inhospitable heat, Argentines plant their vines at high elevations.
At altitude, wine grapes not only catch a break from the brutal heat, they also enjoy better sun exposure and cooler night-time temperatures, which helps build complex wines with admirable acids and rich fruit flavors. Such are the characteristics of Argentine wines.
Most of Argentina's best wines are red. And of these, the most auspicious are undoubtedly Malbec. Though native to the South of France, Malbec has found a comfortable home in Argentina. The Argentines are defining it for the world in a way not unlike Californians have done with Zinfandel. Argentina is also doing well with the Spanish grape Tempranillo and with Italian grapes like Sangiovese, Barbera, and Bonarda. In the cooler vineyards, Argentina produces crisp, floral wines from its signature white grape, Torrontes.
Let's take a tour through a few of the more notable Argentine wine regions--and select some recipes to go with the wines being made there.
Undoubtedly Mendoza is Argentina’s most important wine region. It’s high desert out here, and growers depend on irrigation to bring snowmelt down off the Andes. The eastern part of the region, furthest from the mountains, is the hottest; and many of the wines that come from here are big and dark, and frequently high in alcohol. The central part of the region is a prime spot for red grapes; the vines soak up the sun, catching a break at night, though, when cool breezes drop down out of the mountains. This is a great spot for big beautiful Malbec. In the spots closest to the Andes, where the vines are planted at even higher elevations, the climate adds a refreshing acidity to the wines. It’s not all Malbec all the time in Mendoza. Traditional French grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Chardonnay are gaining interest, as well, along with the Spanish grape, Tempranillo.
Salta is the northernmost region in Argentina, where some of Argentina's highest vineyards are planted, including some that approach 5,000 feet in elevation. Torrontes, Argentina's signature white grape, produces full-bodied, fruity whites with flowery aromas and refreshing acidity. Cabernet Sauvignon is coming on here, too.
At the southern end of Argentina's wine growing country, Rio Negro borders on the outer edges of picturesque Patagonia. Cool weather grapes do well here on chalky soils, producing quality Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes, and sparkling wines. You might also find Pinot Noir and Merlot coming from Rio Negro. These cool-climate reds are typically not as big and brash as those from the north.