A Beginner's Guide to Argentinian Wine
This South American country is famous for malbec, but there are plenty of other varieties to discover here, too.
It's the world's fifth largest wine producer, so it's not surprising to learn that Argentina is an ideal place for grape-growing. Most of the country's vineyards are in the foothills of the Andes at an average elevation of 900 meters above sea level, which helps the grapes retain freshness. The hot, dry wind known as the Zonda blows through the wine regions, keeping them free from problems that plague damper regions (pests, mold, and fungus), but the vineyards still get plenty of hydration from the snowmelt runoff of the mountains.
Best of all, the continental climate is ideal for a whole range of grape varieties: Malbec is the country's most famous planting, but you'll also find chardonnay, torrontes, chenin blanc, bonarda, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, and more. Here are some key regions and types of Argentinian wine to look for.
Mendoza is the heart of the Argentine wine industry, and more than 75 percent of the country's wines are produced there. Famous for having 300 days of sunshine per year, grape varieties that thrive in the intense sunlight are the most widely planted: First is malbec, the undeniable star of the region, followed by cabernet sauvignon. Both malbec and cabernet sauvignon are originally from France, and when wealthy European landowners colonized South America in the 19th century, they brought vines from Bordeaux and planted them in Argentina. Today, only a small percentage of vineyards in France are planted with grapes for malbec, but they have found lots of success in their Argentinian home. Full of blueberry and black fruit notes with a compelling earthy quality and a smooth texture, some terrific (and wallet-friendly) examples of Mendoza malbec are Septima Malbec 2017 ($11.99, wine.com), Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2018 ($12.99, wine.com), Trapiche Medalla Malbec 2016 ($23.99, wine.com), and Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Malbec 2017 ($17.99, wine.com).
The highest-elevation vineyards in Mendoza are located in the Uco Valley subregion, and the wines from there are powerful, intense, and truly world-class. Try Luca Old Vine Malbec 2016 ($29.99, wine.com) or Zuccardi Concreto Malbec 2018 ($37.99, wine.com). Whichever bottle you choose to try, it's good to note that malbec is traditionally paired with steak: Grilled Flank Steak and Asparagus with Chimichurri Butter is a classic match.
Although malbec put Argentina on the map as a wine destination, there are delicious examples of cabernet sauvignon from Mendoza: Our picks are Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($17, wine.com) and Susana Balbo Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($19.99, wine.com). Bordeaux-style blends are also popular—they're generally made from a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit Verdot. If you want to give one a try, we recommend Salentein Numina Gran Corte 2015 ($41.99, wine.com) and Achaval-Ferrer Quimera 2014 ($34.99, wine.com). Do as the Argentineans do and pair with Basic Empanadas of beef, or Spicy Chicken Empanadas.
Salta, in northern Argentina, is home to some of the world's highest-elevation vineyards. Even though it's relatively small in terms of its wine production, it's become very well known for the white grape torrentes. Torrontes can easily get overripe with extremely high alcohol levels in warmer regions, so Salta's cool winds keep everything in balance and the wines are crisp and fresh, and intensely floral (think jasmine and rose petal) with tropical fruit flavors like pineapple, lychee, and lime. Try Bodegas Lagarde "Altas Cumbres" Torrontés 2019 ($12, astorwines.com) and Bodega Colome Torrontes 2019 ($12.99, wine.com) paired with Coconut-Curry Mussels or Ceviche with Tropical Fruit and Habanero.
Patagonia is one of the furthest southern wine regions in the world. Located in the lower foothills of the Andes, cold air flows down from high mountain peaks overnight, dramatically cooling the hot daytime temperatures (a feature known as a diurnal shift). This creates aromatic wines with elegance and finesse. Pinot noir grows beautifully in this climate; we love Bodega Chacra "Barda" Pinot Noir 2019 ($23.99, astorwines.com) and Alto Limay Select Pinot Noir 2017 ($19.99, wine.com), and either would pair nicely with Salt and Pepper Crusted Rack of Lamb with Blood Orange and Cherry Chimichuri. For a vegetarian option, Grilled Pizzas with Leeks, Asparagus, and Mushrooms are always a solid choice.
If you want to try a malbec from Patagonia, Bodega Noemia de Patagonia A Lisa Malbec 2017 ($19.99, wine.com) is one of the most famous. Other vibrant reds like merlot, syrah, and cabernet franc are also being produced in Patagonia with lovely results.