The Real Argentina: Wine Regions

Argentina’s wine regions are all over on the western side of the country and stretch from Patagonia in the south to sub-tropical Salta in the north – next stop Bolivia. From tip to toe that’s a distance of over a thousand miles – a greater range of latitude than you will find within the wine regions of Europe. Salta is joined by the other wine-producing provinces in northern Argentina – La Rioja and San Juan, while in the middle, lies the real heartland of Argentine wine, Mendoza. This one province is responsible for nine in every ten bottles exported.

The common thread linking the country’s widely dispersed vineyards is the Andes – the great curving spine of Latin America. The jagged peaks form a constant backdrop, sometimes there in the distance, sometimes almost close enough to touch. They keep out the Chileans next door and they prevent damp air seeping in from the Pacific. The result is a uniquely dry and healthy atmosphere in which to grow grapes. Any rain that does drift across falls in the Andes as snow without which there would be no wine. It is only by collecting the melting snow in Spring and funnelling it through a maze of irrigation channels that crops can be grown at all. The average rainfall in Mendoza, the heartland of Argentine wine is just 200mm a year (in Glasgow it is 889mm!). By the time you get to La Rioja, it is drier than the Sahara.

As well as the country’s wide range of latitude, Argentine wine makers have some serious altitude to play with. These start with the relatively low-lying vineyards of Patagonia at around 400m above sea-level and rise up to the dizzying heights of Salta where the vineyards lie above the clouds at almost 3000m (9,840 ft) – next stop the moon!

No other producing country has such a range of altitude and this brings a whole new dimension to Argentine wine, and nowhere more-so than in Mendoza where wine-makers are climbing ever-higher into the foothills of the Andes to enhance the aroma and purity of fruit in their wine. In an hour’s drive you can go from the lowest vineyards in the province at 500m to the highest at over 1000m to create totally different wines. In Europe you would have to travel from the sun-baked Mediterranean south to the coolest vineyards in northern France to achieve the same effect.

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