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Argentina is one of the worlds largest wine producing countries, a fact that is still relatively unknown to many visitors that come here for the first time.
First to a little geography: Argentina´s premiere wine region is Mendoza, a province in the central part of the country which can be found just to the right of the Andes mountain-range. Mendoza is the first region that comes to mind when talking about wines from Argentina, much like California and/or Napa comes to mind when thinking of wines in the USA.
However, Mendoza is not alone. To the north of Mendoza, you have various provinces producing wines... two that have to be highlighted are Salta and San Juan. Both are growing both in volume and (more importantly) in quality wines that are slowly catching up to Mendoza in their incursion into foreign markets. To the south of Mendoza, a generic region known by many for its natural beauty, fly fishing and wildlife... Patagonia, is making a name for itself in the world of wines. Two provinces make up the bulk of the Patagonian wine map, these being Neuquen and Rio Negro. A newcomer, Chubut, has a couple of pilot projects going that may see some interesting things in the future.
Argentina´s flagship grape is Malbec. This varietal has deeply rooted French heritage, but has found its real home in Argentina. Hailed by Robert Parker as one of the next great varietals, Malbec from Argentina is the undisputed king in its category, with many of Argentina´s best Malbecs gaining a cult following.
If you are on the lookout for wines from Patagonia... watch for Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Some Merlots also do especially well in this region. Malbecs are very different from what you may know from Mendoza and Salta... Patagonian Malbec is somewhat more austere in style and has less power/fireworks that are associated with the typical Argentine Malbec. Beware, though, as Patagonia has seen a large number of wineries come online over the last few years, and many wines (while inexpensive) are somewhat rushed, over oaked, over extracted and lacking in complexity. Look out for the smaller producer, one that has at least a 10 year track record and/or a producer that has relevant wine pedigree and works with older vines (super young vines is still an issue in this area).
If the north of the country is what you are looking for... in Salta, concentrate on the super high altitude Malbec and also the Cabernet from the area of Cafayate. In the whites department, Torrones (a quasi-indigenous white variety) is a local specialty. Torrontes makes mostly simple, easy going wines... nothing overly complex but still quite interesting. Its what one calls a trick wine... with a very floral (almost sweet) nose that is followed by a dry mouthfill (at least when its made in the traditional way). In the other northern province, San Juan, look out for Syrah... this grape will make headlines a few years from now... and try the flagship wine of San Juan, the Mora Negra made by Finca la Moras - a blend of Malbec & Syrah.
Mendoza.... is such a large wine area that there are various very different microclimates... so each sub-area has its strong suit. Look for the best Chardonnays from the higher altitude regions like Valle de Uco, where also some good Pinot Noir is now being grown.