THE WINE REGIONS
Mendoza, in the far west of the country only a mountain range away from Santiago, Chile, is the largest and most important wine-growing province. It accounts for about approximately 70 percent of all Argentina’s wine production. The climate and soil here are the best in Argentina for grape production. Climate is continental with the four seasons clearly defined, but without any extremes of temperature. Rainfall typically occurs in the summer months; early hail is the main risk to vines, but frost is rare. The soils here are loose, sandy, alluvial with clay substrata. Waters for irrigation are in ample supply and long rows of protective trees that line the vineyards make summer temperatures of 97F bearable.
Mendoza’s most important zones are the Maipu’ with the sub-districts of Cruz de Piedra, Barrancas, Russell, Coquimbito, Lunlunta and Maipu’; the Lujan divided into Carrodilla, Chacras de Coria, Major Drummond, Lujan, Vistalba, Las Compuertas, Pedriel, Agrelo, Ugarteche, Carrizal, Tres Esquinas and Anchois.
San Martin to the east and San Raphael to the south are also major production areas.
Lujan de Cuyo (which was Argentina’s first DOC in 1993) is in the upper Mendoza and the Malbec seems to do particularly well there.
Red wine grapes account for about one-third of all Mendoza plantings, with Malbec predominating, followed by the Italian varieties Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are increasingly common, especially in high vineyards which can reach altitudes of 3,600 feet.
San Juan is Argentina’s second largest wine producing region. The capital of the province, also named San Juan, is located about 90 miles north of Mendoza and the climate here tends to be quite hot with temperatures of 107F not uncommon in the summer.
Long the home of high-yielding white and pink grape varieties used for blending, concentrating, or for selling as fresh table grapes or raisins, the area is facing an identity crisis as the area has very little to offer the modern wine industry. Still, San Juan produces very acceptable sherry-style wines and provides the base for most of Argentina’s Brandy and Vermouth.
Best areas are in the Ullun, Zonda and Tulum Valleys.
La Rioja is historically the oldest of the wine-producing provinces. Aromatic wines from the Torrontes can be good and the area’s Moscatel wines have a following in Argentina. However, the lack of water for irrigation makes wine-making a difficult activity.
Salta, Jujuy and Catamarca. Although Catamarca is the largest of the three provinces, it is Salta that produces some of the best wines. Here you find the Torrontes Riojano. Around Cafayate in the Calchaquies Valley, it produces an outstanding aromatic wine. Vineyards here can be 4,900 ft above sea level. Climate and soil are much like that of Mendoza. Cabernet is also a successful grape in the Salta zone.
Rio Negro and Neuquen in Patagonia is much cooler than the higher yielding areas of the north and has yet to reach its full vine-growing potential. Historically, the Rio Negro has been the fruit-growing center of Argentina, particularly apples. A cooler climate and chalky soil, combined with a long ripening period, have proven ideal also for the production of wine grapes, notably Torrontes Riojano and Semillion and for sparkling base wine. The distinguished de la Motta family associated with the Weinert winery in Mendoza, have established an experimental vineyard in the Bolzon Valley of the Rio Negro.
Argentina follows the 85% (formerly 80%) rule. That is, if one grape variety is used on the label, the wine must contain at least 85% of the designated grape. If more than one varietal appears, the predominant grape must be listed first with others in descending order.
In March, 2011, the Argentinean National Institute of Viticulture defined the wine terms “Reserve” (Reserva) and “Great Reserva” (Gran Reserva). The new definitions will provide clarity to consumers and facilitate trade. The resolution will take effect with the release of the 2011 vintage. According to the resolution, Argentine wines may incorporate the terms Reserve or Great Reserve on their labels if they meet the following requirements:
• Minimum period of aging: 12 months minimum period of aging for red wines and 6 months for white and rosé (pink) wines.
• Minimum aging period: 24 months for red wines and 12 months for white and rosé (pink) wines.
• All components of wines made up of various years of production must comply with the minimum aging time.