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  ABC Wine Issue 13, November 2003   
ArgentinaArgentina  Contents 
Issue 12, October 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 14, December 2003

Argentina

A country having great potentialities but still bound to quantity instead of quality, a factor which is slowly changing and does not allow the spreading of Argentinian wines

 Argentina, when considered as a wine producing country, represents a paradox. Despite the fact this country is currently the fifth producer of the world and the per capita consumption is of about 40 liters (10.5 gallons), ranking eighth in the world, these factors make rightly think about wine as an important and primary product of the country, indeed the quality of most of the wines, in general terms, is pretty disappointing. Moreover if we also consider the fact Argentina has huge possibilities in wine making and that is located in a very favorable geographical position, everything seems to be really perplexing.


Argentina
Argentina

 It should also be considered that Argentinian wines are difficult to find outside the country, no matter the production is pretty high, the domestic consumption is so high that few wine leave the borders and is exported to other countries of the world. Despite things are changing, even though slowly, in general terms Argentina produces pretty coarse wines, high yields in vineyards for productions characterized by disputable quality. Although this is what mainly happen in the wine scene of Argentina, it must be considered as well some producers are trying to change things in order to start that important process towards quality and that would certainly make Argentina and its wines successful all over the world. After all environmental and climate conditions are very favorable to this country, the best wine areas, for example, are located to the same latitudes or the neighboring Chile's best areas, and these conditions are just waiting to be used in the best way possible. It is not by chance it is said that when Argentina will take advantage of its enological potentialities, it is more likely it will become one of the most important wine producing country in the international market.

 The spreading of vine in Argentina is similar, for many aspects, to the one of the other countries of Latin America, where Spaniard settlers introduced European species and started the cultivation in the aim of producing wine. However it is not certain the way vine spread in Argentina, it is more likely it arrived in different historical moments. The first historical evidences are dated back to 1541 at the time it is believed vine was cultivated for the first time in Argentina and was introduced by Spaniards: the first vineyards were planted in the eastern part of the country near the Atlantic coast along the course of Rio de la Plata river. One year later it seems the vine was introduced in the western part in the areas neighboring Andes by an expedition from Peru. Another expedition from Peru in 1550 brought other plants of vine in Argentina and there are evidences of vines introduced from Chile in 1556.

 The first vines species introduced in Argentina were the same spread in Latin America in the course of the past centuries, in particular Mission grape, pretty popular in California and in Chile, known as Pais, a grape which deeply characterized the production of wine in Latin America for more than 300 years. It seems Mission grape is the progenitor of the most common grape in Argentina, Criolla Chica, although some support the idea it is the very same grape, whereas for others it is a mutation of the original Mission. From the very beginning the cultivation of vine focused its activity in the area near the present city of Mendoza, where particular environmental conditions, particularly favored by abundant availability of water because of snow melting from Andes, a condition which is still present today. They were Jesuit missionaries to start the cultivation of vine in these areas just because of the favorable environmental and climate conditions. The first historical evidence about a vineyard in Argentina is dated back to 1557 near Santiago del Estero, four years before the most important wine area of Argentina, Mendoza, was established. Other historical evidences about vineyards in Argentina are dated back to 1569 and 1589 and are concerned the area of San Juan, north from Mendoza.

 The huge quantity of water coming from the tip of Andes because of melting snow certainly represented an advantage for every kind of culture, forced agriculturists to build irrigation channels and dikes in order to properly manage this important resource: soon after the wine production of Mendoza was so high that could completely satisfy the needs of the country. The most important impulse for Argentinian enology was in 1820, after the liberation from Spain's domination, when in the country arrived from Europe many immigrants which led to the construction in 1885 of the railroad that connected the city of Mendoza to Buenos Aires, therefore facilitating the transportation of wine to the eastern part of the country. A further step forward was done with the arrival of more immigrants from 1890 on, in particular from Italy, France and Spain, who brought with them the typical vine species of their homelands, as well as their knowledge in the wine making. This second arrival of immigrants introduced in Argentina particular European varieties such as Malbec, currently the most important grape of the country, Bonarda, Barbera, Sangiovese, Chenin Blanc, Muscat of Alexandria, Torrontés and Tempranillo.

 As a consequence of these premises as well as of the arrival of immigrants from countries where viticulture and wine have always been part of those cultures, everything could make think, from 1900 on, to the development of a flourishing and important wine industry, and this partly happened, however it focused on the production of coarse wine without paying particular attention on quality. The production was mainly oriented to the country's needs with the exception of few cases, few wine was exported from Argentina to other countries. Despite the fact Criolla Grande and Cereza are still the most popular grapes of the country, they are used less and less in favor of other varieties and the most important wineries are paying their attention to international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. Despite this is the new trend of the wine industry of the country, the most important grape in Argentina, Malbec, continues to be the most representative grape of the wine scene of the country.

 

The Argentinian Quality System

 The Argentinian quality system does not have strict laws and norms such as the ones, for example, adopted in many European countries. The system does not have specific laws about allowed grapes as well as about the definition of wine areas, indications on cultivation of vines and procedures for wine making. As a matter of fact, there is an official bureau of control, Instituto Nacionale de Vitivinicultura, but its purpose is uniquely to control the production of grape and wine exports. Quality is therefore delegated to producers who set own norms to be adopted for the production of their wines. However it must be observed there have been attempts to set real and proper wine laws, also encouraged by the some wine industries of the country, which unfortunately did not lead to any useful result. The only norm currently regulating wine production in Argentina is about labelling: in case the variety of grape is stated in the label, the wine must be produced with at least 80% of the named grape.

 

Production Areas

 Wine production in Argentina can be defined in two different ways: the first one is characterized by a production in huge quantities with little or no care for quality, the second one is the production of some wineries which are trying, although with little steps, to turn Argentina into a great wine producing country and paying lots of attention to quality. Despite most of the wine produced in Argentina belongs to the first case, mainly destined to domestic market and usually sold in cartons, the example of the neighboring Chile, which was capable to export its wines in every market of the world while getting a good reputation, seems to be unnoticed by Argentina. After all the environmental and climate conditions are pretty similar and it would be just enough to take advantage of such conditions. It is not by chance Argentina is often defined as the sleeping wine giant waiting for something or someone to wake it up.


 

 It should be observed that in recent times Argentina is getting the attention of foreign investors, in particular of wineries from the United States of America, Chile and some European countries, with the specific aim of making wine in that country. Even technology and modern equipments for wine production are progressively introduced to the country and the current goal for quality production is mainly focused on the so called international grapes, in particular Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, however the importance of Malbec in the country, a grape which probably represents Argentina more than any other else, continues to play a role of primary importance and is capable of producing interesting and excellent wines.

 Vineyards of Argentina can be considered among the highest of the world, located in many areas at the base of Andes, they even are planted at an altitude of 1.500 meters (4,920 feet). Because of snow melting from the tip of Andes, the availability of water is not a problem, however this excessive quantity of water, just like in Chile, is frequently cause of problems, in particular when quality wines are going to be produced. Abundance of water in vineyards has promoted a very high yield and however a production of huge quantities of wine, unfortunately of disputable quality, and it was necessary to adopt proper strategies for irrigation as well as adopting proper systems in order to control the enormous flows of water in the aim of promoting a lower yield in vineyards while, on the other hand, increasing the quality of wine. A historical event which should be mentioned is that in Argentina, just like in Chile, the fearful phylloxera, responsible for conspicuous damages everywhere in the world, never appeared in this country.

 The most cultivated varieties in Argentina have mostly been introduced by immigrants who moved in the country in the course of time. The two most popular species of the country are Criolla Grande and Cereza. These two grapes, which are believed to directly derive from the first grapes introduced by Spaniard missionaries in the half of 1500's, have a rose colored skin and are mainly used for the production of huge quantities of mediocre white wine, sometimes blended with other grapes, destined to domestic consumption and often sold in cartons. Among white berried grapes cultivated in Argentina there are Chardonnay, a grape mainly used for whites destined to export, Chenin Blanc, Moscatel de Alejandria, name of which is known Muscat of Alexandria, and Torrontés, probably the white berried grape which is capable, better than any other else, to make interesting white wines in this country. Torrontés certainly is the most interesting white berried grapes of the country and Argentinians are rightly proud of it. Despite the fact this grape is also known in other countries, mainly in the Spanish speaking countries, it is right here which reaches the top: its wines are aromatic and pleasing, often comparable to Gewürztraminer. Among red berried grapes of the country there are Barbera, Bonarda and Sangiovese, introduced in the country by Italian immigrants, and Tempranilla, name used in Argentina to refer to Tempranillo grape introduced by Spaniards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, the latter to be considered as the most interesting and promising red berried grape of the country. It is not by chance 60% of total production is made of red wines.

 Wine production in Argentina is mainly focused in the region which historically have always been involved in this activity and that are located in the western part of the country near the Andes. The most important wine areas of the country are Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja and Salta, of which Mendoza represents the most important and renowned one. To these regions are also added other minor areas, including Jujuy and Catamarca, near Salta, as well as Río Negro, the most southern region of the country. Mendoza is the most important wine region of Argentina and about 70% of total production of the country comes from this region. Mendoza includes two important subareas: Luján de Cuyo and Maipú. The most renowned grape of the region, as well as of Argentina, is Malbec, a typical grape from Bordeaux, and in this area is capable of producing excellent wines. The area having high importance after Mendoza is San Juan, however its warmer climate does not favor a good quality of grapes. La Rioja is the region considered as the most ancient one of the country and here are produced the best Argentinian wines from Torrontés grapes, probably the best white berried grapes that can produce the best white wines of the country. Among other areas, Salta plays an important role for the production of white wines from Torrontés grape. South from this region is located Río Negro and thanks to its cooler climate mainly produces white and sparkling wines.

 




 Editorial  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 13, November 2003   
ArgentinaArgentina  Contents 
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