Top 5 wine regions of Argentina to visit, taste and savour

Pip
December 07, 2015

Argentina’s wine industry dates back to the 16th Century, but it is only in the last twenty or so years that the country has started to produce fine, premium wines that have made their mark on the world stage. Mendoza is Argentina’s premier wine-growing region, famed for its smooth Malbecs, but there are a number of other worthy destinations within the country, using their unique climate, altitude and topography to develop varieties with distinctive characteristics. From the high-altitude whites produced around Salta to the cool-climate reds of northern Patagonia, here are five regions to spend a day or few sampling fine Argentinian wine within spectacular vine-covered landscapes.

Mendoza: sample the world-renowned Malbecs

Without a doubt, Mendoza is Argentina’s most famed wine region, nestled into the Andes not far from the Chilean capital, Santiago. This high altitude region with an arid climate has created conditions perfect for producing the country’s most famous drop, Malbec. Argentina’s largest wine region is irrigated by water from melting glaciers high above, while low humidity and rainfall mean that few pests, rot or fungus can thrive here and threaten the vines.

To taste some of Mendoza’s Malbecs visit Bodega Luigi Bosca or Bodega Salentein, both of which offer informative tasting sessions, on-site art galleries and beautiful settings to soak up the ambience. Bodega Ruca Malen is the place to visit if you are interested in pairing the region’s red wine with locally-sourced produce (most notably beef and lamb) or try Melipal Winery, whose equally fine restaurant is coupled with impressive views.

If you need to stretch your legs after a few indulgent days of wine tasting and pairing then visit Parque Provincial Aconcagua, near the Chilean border. Home to the world’s largest peak outside of the Himalayas, the park offers fantastic trekking and climbing opportunities within this wild high mountain country. In the city of Mendoza itself, don’t miss the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno or the Museo Histórico General San Martín, honouring the man who helped liberate Argentina from Spanish rule.

Mendoza Vineyard, Argentina
The high altitude region with an arid climate of Mendoza has created conditions perfect for producing the country’s most famous drop, Malbec.

San Juan: taste the full-bodied Syrah

Located to the north of Mendoza is San Juan, the second largest of Argentina’s wine-producing areas. Its climate is warmer than its southern neighbour and in recent years growers are discovering some of the cooler valleys of the region are well suited to fine Syrah (Shiraz) cultivation. The Syrah produced in San Juan is known for being full-bodied, with hints of pepper and blackberries, while the Viognier is also impressive - crisp and zesty. Most of the vineyards are concentrated north of the San Juan river in the Tulum Valley, although the Calingasta and Ulum-Zonda valleys to the south also produce some excellent wine.

To sample some of San Juan’s signature Syrah and Viognier, visit Finca Las Moras, surrounded by mulberry trees, or Fincas Rewen in the south of San Juan. Within the Tulum Valley don’t miss Bodegas Callia and Ayllus, both with beautiful cellar doors settings. Keep in mind when tasting that the boldness of San Juan’s Syrah needs to be paired with strong flavours, particularly grilled lamb or pork, braised octopus, or hearty beef stews, while Viognier makes a perfect cheese platter accompaniment.

San Juan makes a great stop en route to the magnificent Ischigualasto Provincial Park. Otherwise known as the ‘Valley of the Moon’, this landscape of unusual clay formations and exposed mineral layers is not only visually stunning, but also offers a fascinating glimpse into the Earth’s geological evolution.

Syrah Wine and Beef Asado, San Juan, Argentina
Keep in mind when tasting that the boldness of San Juan’s Syrah needs to be paired with strong flavours, particularly grilled lamb or pork, braised octopus, or hearty beef stews.

La Rioja: reap the benefits of long-established viticulture

To the north of San Juan lies La Rioja, believed to have the longest tradition of wine production in Argentina’s history and now the country’s third largest producing region. It was in the 16th Century that Spanish missionaries first planted grapes in this hot and arid region, mostly in the valleys between the Sierra de Velasco and Sierra de Famatina. Here at an altitude of between 1,000 and 1,400 metres the daytime heat which penetrates the grapes drops dramatically at night, allowing the vines to recover and retain their aroma. Low humidity, rainfall and alluvial soils all contribute to produce optimum growing conditions, particularly for Bonarda and, most famously, Torrontes.

Bonarda is produced as an ‘everyday’ drinking wine in Argentina, much like Malbec was in years gone by, while the Torrontes has enhanced fruity and floral flavours, distinguishing it from that produced in Cafayate.

To sample some of the best Torrontes La Rioja has to offer, visit Santa Florentina or take the winding Riojan Costa road through spectacular mountain scenery and traditional villages to Chañarmuyo Estate Winery. Based at the foot of the Paimán range in the Famatina Valley, this winery/hotel makes a perfect base to not only taste the region’s wine, accompanied by gourmet produce from its on-site restaurant, but also explore the trails of nearby Talampaya National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Listed landscape includes significant petroglyphs of the region’s indigenous people, as well as dinosaur fossils.

La Rioja Vineyard, Argentina
To sample some of the best Torrontes La Rioja has to offer, visit Santa Florentina or take the winding Riojan Costa road through spectacular mountain scenery and traditional villages to Chañarmuyo Estate Winery.

Salta: visit the high-altitude vineyards around Calchaquí Valley and Cafayate

Salta, in the far north of Argentina, is home to two concentrations of vineyards - one in the Andean foothills at Calchaquí Valley and one centred around the city of Cafayate. This high altitude region sits at between 1,700 and 3,000 metres and sees hot days and cool nights conducive to the warm weather varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and, most notably, Torrontes, for which Cafayate is particularly famous. The Calchaquí Valley is less accessible along poorly maintained roads, and is known for its powerful, full-bodied reds, intensified by the high-altitude sun.

If you are visiting the Salta region then Bodega Colomé, boasting the world’s highest altitude vineyards at El Arenal (2,700 metres) and Altura Máxima (3,111 metres) are known for both their Malbec and Torrontes, a white wine that goes perfectly with smoked salmon, foie gras or spicy Asian dishes. Amalaya in the northern Cachaqui Valley is also worth visiting and blends Malbec and Torrontes into a fruity Rose.

As you are driving between wineries, take the time to explore the red canyons, river-cut valleys and impressive rock formations, such as ‘Garganta del Diablo’ (Devil’s Throat) and ‘El Amfiteatro’ (the Amphitheatre) which are scattered throughout this stunning region.

Cafayate Vineyards, Salta, Argentina
Salta, in the far north of Argentina, is home to two concentrations of vineyards - one in the Andean foothills at Calchaquí Valley and one centred around the city of Cafayate.

Northern Patagonia: experience the warming Pinot Noir

While southern Patagonia is known for its glaciers and bitterly cold winds, the north of the region is considerably milder and home to Argentina’s coolest wine regions - the Rio Negro Valley and Neuquén. The reduced temperature and lower elevation result in less robust flavours in the slow-ripening Malbecs and Pinot Noirs which are produced, while the purity of the water available is reflected in the overall quality of the wine. A lack of humidity and limited rainfall eliminates the need to spray the vines for pests, now a rare occurrence in viticulture throughout the world.

Don’t miss Bodega Noemía de Patagonia in the Rio Negro Valley, one of the most progressive vineyards in the area which was originally planted with Malbec vines in the 1930s, or Bodega Chacra which has evolved as one of the premier producers of Pinot Noir in Argentina. Also worth visiting is Bodega del Fin del Mundo, the first winery to establish itself in Neuquén. Its tasting tour along aerial walkways is excellent, finishing with a platter of Patagonian produce to complement its wines, most notably the region’s famed lamb.

The wine growing regions of northern Patagonia make a perfect break when travelling from the capital, Buenos Aires, to the tourist town of Bariloche to the west or into the dramatic landscapes of Chilean Patagonia.

Pinot Noir, North Patagonia Vineyard, Argentina
While southern Patagonia is known for its glaciers and bitterly cold winds, the north of the region is considerably milder and home to Argentina’s coolest wine regions - the Rio Negro Valley and Neuquén.

The changing face of Argentina’s vineyards

While Argentina’s wine tourism may be riding on the back of Malbec, the diverse growing regions within the country are creating a name for themselves with other, equally impressive varieties. With producers constantly developing and improving the quality of their wines for the international market, it is an exciting time to experience the country’s viticulture and reap the benefits of the affordable wines on offer. The country’s beautiful cellar doors, restaurants and hotels set within spectacular landscapes, together with plenty of fascinating historical and natural attractions nearby, mean that an Argentinian wine tour encompasses so much more than the vineyard.

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