The heart of Argentina’s wine region is in the province of Mendoza, an arid, spectacular landscape at the foot of the Andes. The wines of this region are gaining recognition around the world for their excellence and value. A tour of the wineries or bodegas, of Mendoza is one of the highlights to any trip to Argentina.
Our guide to Argentina’s wines was created specially for Argentina’s Travel Guide by the top flight wine tasting room in Mendoza, the Vines of Mendzoa.
Discover the different varietals and Argentina’s wine regions below. See the guide to the region’s best bodegas on our Wineries page and see our Tour Tips to plan the perfect trip from securing a rentals car to deciding which bodega is best at sunset.
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INTRODUCTION TO ARGENTINE WINES
The mostly undiscovered wine regions in Mendoza are now producing premium wines that enjoy a continental climate, an abundance of sun, low humidity, rocky soil, and minimal rain. This gives Argentine Malbecs, Syrahs, and Cabernet Sauvignons their characteristic high concentration, intense color, velvety soft tannins, fruitiness, and food friendly low acidity. Unlike many European wines, Argentine red wines can be enjoyed young, although many will benefit from aging.
The myriad of microclimates within Argentina’s wine regions (which cover a 2000 kilometer stretch between 22 and 40 latitude south) provide ideal growing conditions for a wide range of grape varietals. In addition to Malbec, Argentina’s signature grape, with origins in France’s Bordeaux region, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Tempranillo, and Pinot Noir are just some of the red varietals that thrive here. Among whites, Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and the indigenous Torrontes also flourish.
As in all of the great wine regions of the world, Argentina’s Malbecs, Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignon’s and regional Torrontes develop distinctive characteristics that reflect the terroir of the vineyards’ soil composition. Mendoza’s five principal wine regions — the central areas of Lujan de Cuyo, Maipú, and Godoy Cruz, the Uco Valley, the northern area of Lavalle and Las Heras, the eastern areas that include San Martin and Rivadavia, and the southern region of San Rafael and General Alvear — these areas all encompass their own unique combinations of climate, soil, altitude and viticultural practices which exemplify each specific regional terroir.
For example, Lujan de Cuyo, where grapes grow at altitudes between 800-1100 meters in sandy soil, specializes in elegant Malbecs characterized by their plum, cherry, red pepper, and vanilla flavors. Meanwhile, the cold, dry winters, high altitudes (between 1000 and 1300 meters), and thermal amplitude of the Uco Valley produce premium balanced wines with intense color and higher tannins and acidity than other regions; Uco Valley Malbecs are spicier and more floral than their fruitier cousins from Maipú and Lujan de Cuyo.
The high yield Malbecs and Syrahs that grow in eastern Mendoza, with its mild climate and average altitude of 600 meters, are the least acidic in the region. Northern Mendoza’s warm climate and saline soils produce aromatic, fruity Chenins, Torrontes, Syrahs, and Bonardas (among others) that are best enjoyed at an early age.
Irrigated by the Diamante and Atuel Rivers, southern Mendoza’s cooler climate generates subtle Merlots, Syrahs, and Sangioveses, along with fruity, lightly acidic Chardonnays, Chenins, and Semillons.
Although Mendoza’s northern, eastern, and southern zones – including areas such as Las Heras, San Martin, and San Rafael – are also producing impressive wines, the below recommendations are all located within one hour of Mendoza city:
Approximately 60 minutes south of the city of Mendoza, the Uco Valley encompasses the highest altitude Argentine vineyards, averaging between 900 and 1200 meters above sea level. Known especially for Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Semillon, and Torrontes production, the Valle de Uco draws winemakers from all over the world (including world renowned enological consultant Michel Rolland). Its striking natural setting — below a stretch of the Andes that includes the 6,800 meter Mount Tupungato — the valley’s dry weather and the wide thermal amplitude between day and night have created its distinctive microclimates that result in wines that are rich in color and ideal for aging.
Part of the Mendoza River high region (also known as the Central Valley), Maipú comprises a high concentration of bodegas that are known for producing some of Argentina’s finest Malbecs from the region’s oldest vines. A thirty-minute drive southeast of Mendoza’s city center, Maipú is also a good place to sample other red varietals (including Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and Syrah) in addition to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin, Torrontes and Viognier.
Luján de Cuyo
Luján de Cuyo is a part of the Mendoza River high region (along with Maipú). The majority of the vineyards in Luján de Cuyo are planted with red varietals with the highlight being Malbec. Considered by many winemakers as a viticultural ‘promised land,’ Luján de Cuyo was the first region to institute the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) for Argentine Malbec. Approximately 40 minutes southwest of the city of Mendoza, many Argentine wine experts regard Luján de Cuyo as the birthplace of the movement that catapulted Argentine wines from the common table to the international stage.
A ten minute drive from Mendoza’s city center, Godoy Cruz offers visitors easy access to Mendoza bodegas that showcase history alongside the latest advances in Argentine winemaking. In addition to offering Malbecs, Cabernets, and a range of bi and tri-varietal blends, Godoy Cruz is home to some of Mendoza’s most prestigious restaurants, making it an ideal place to savor the marriage of Argentine wines with local cuisine.
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