Argentina is the 5th largest wine producer in the world, between the United States and Australia. Wine was initially imported by Spanish conquerors in the 16th Century and nows plays an important part in Argentine culture.
Until recently, Argentine wine production was more about quantity than quality, mostly directed to local consumption where price was the most important criteria. However in the 90’s they began to export their wine which pushed the producers to focus more on quality.
Devaluation of Argentine Peso fuelled tourism, making Argentina a fashionable and affordable destination where the tourists were able to discover the fabulous local produce.
One particularity of the Mendoza region, producing 60% of Argentine wine, is its high altitude. Located on the Eastern foothills of the Andes, vineyards are planted between 2,000 and 3,600 feet above sea level. Because of the altitude and dry air, vineyards don’t suffer much from insects and grape diseases, allowing cultivation with little or no pesticides. Some vineyards in Saltra are planted as high as 9,900 feet, among the highest in the world. Another consequence of the altitude is a very wide diurnal temperature variation, which can reach above 40°C during day time and drop below 10°C in the night.
In these arid regions it rains about 10 inches per year only. In the North, hurricane force winds can disrupt the flowering process and severely affect production. In 2015 production dropped by 30% due to poor weather conditions.
Local varieties initially brought from Spain like Cereza, Criolla Chica or Criolla Grande are less popular today and dedicated to mass production. Immigrants have brought their own varieties to grow in Argentina like French Malbec and Cabernet-Sauvignon or Italian Barbera and Nebbiolo.
There are over 1,500 wineries in Argentina, but the 2 biggest companies (Bogedas Esmeralda and Peñaflor) are responsible for 40% of the country’s production. Today, Argentina has a few “star wines” known around the globe and served in gastronomic restaurants, such as Torrontes from the Salta region or La Azul, a typical Malbec.