Have you heard about Argentinian wines? Recently, we got a few Argentinian wines from a wine club order. Consequently, we thought it would be fun to learn more about Argentina wine country. So we searched Airbnb and found an Argentine wine class with Diego. Now I will share these tasty secrets with you. Plus I will let you know where you can find Argentinian wine in the U.S.
Our host, Diego, lives in Buenos Aires. Therefore he hosts steak and wine dinners as well as food and wine pairings. However, he started teaching Argentinian wine classes virtually during the pandemic. Lucky for us!
He broke down Argentina wine country into 3 distinct areas. Highlights include Salta and La Rioja in the Northwest, North Patagonia, and the Mendoza region.
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Travel Northwest to the Andes mountains in the Argentina wine country
To plan a trip to this region, take a two hour airplane ride from Buenos Aires. Then travel to the vineyards by car. Diego says that Salta is the most inexpensive place in Argentina. As a result you can get a 5 course meal with wine for each course for approximately 26 American dollars. What a bonus!
This area of South America has an altitude from 6000 to 10,000 feet. Consequently, these wine regions have a cooler, drier climate. In fact, the sun shines 350 days a year with almost no rain. Subsequently, the grapes grow thicker skins to protect the fruit from the sun. In addition, the grapes are more concentrated with less liquid. The extra sweet fruit means more reaction with the yeast during fermentation. In turn this leads to full bodied, dry wines with a higher alcohol content. The thicker skins also mean more fruit flavor.
The wines here are made with tanat grapes. These have a high tannin concentration due to the thick skins which are mixed with the juices to get the red color. Because of the high tannins in these Argentine red wines, they pair well with beef and heavy Italian foods of the region. Tannins help break down fat content and proteins.
How is wine made?
Let’s face it, we’re not scientists, so I will give you the simple explanation. To make wine, grapes are crushed to extract their juices. Then wineries mix the juices with water. After that, they add yeast to produce a chemical reaction. The yeast then feeds off the sugar. The byproduct of this process is alcohol.
To clarify, a higher concentration of juices means more sugar. Further, more sugar means higher alcohol content.
Tempting our taste buds with Mercana Torrontes 2021
What wine did we drink during this experience? We sipped a 2021 Mercana Torrontes from La Rioja. This white wine certainly felt light and dry to the taste buds. While the information I found about the wine said it had notes of green apple, honey, white peach, and lemon rind, my less developed pallet noted fruit and floral scents. Interestingly, even though this wine was fruity, it was not sweet. I told Diego it was deceptive, because the scent was sweet, but the taste was dry. He laughed and said they call this wine el vino borachero, the drunken wine. Although it goes down easy, it has 13.4% alcohol so people get tipsy if they aren’t careful.
While this refreshing wine can stand alone, I recommend pairing it with food.
Beware penguins serving wine in Patagonia
Patagonia takes up over half of Argentina. And it certainly attracts visitors for its wide array of outdoor activities. While tourists usually flock to the southern part of this region for whale watching, sea lions, and penguins, the northern region is slowly becoming known for its wine country. In the past even the northern part of Patagonia was too cold for growing grapes. But due to climate change, some varietals can now survive here.
You can find vineyards in this area inland and near the coast. In fact, they need to remain away from the mountains because if they are too close they will freeze. You will find these wines contrast strongly with the wines from La Rioja and Salta. The grapes have ample water and don’t need to struggle. Therefore they produce thinner skins because they don’t need to protect precious juices from the relentless sun.
What does this mean for the wine?
To sum up, thinner skins mean less tannins. Also, the grapes have less sugar which means these wines have a lower alcohol content. As a result, these light, crisp wines make great summer sippers. The Rio Negro area produces several refreshing wines such as pinot noirs, merlots, and malbecs. While these are red wines, they have a light body and can be served chilled for summer days. Natives eat from the abundance of seafood and fish in the area which they pair with these light bodied reds.
Although this area produces mostly lighter wines, there are exceptions. Wines from this region labeled Reserva or Gran Reserva have been aged for 1-2 years in oak barrels. This increases the tannins, making these wines perfect for pairing with lamb, which is also prevalent here.
What about the penguin?
Diego warns against getting wine labeled penguino. He explains that in tourist areas restaurants often have this as a tourist gimmick. Further, the wine comes in a trendy penguin shaped pitcher which makes a cool souvenir. However, if you like wine, this is not for you. While the pitcher looks cool, the wine is usually a really bad house wine or the worst sangria. Stay away!
Mendoza, the most popular region in Argentina wine country
Mendoza has the widest diversity in climate and minerals. While the Uco Valley sits at 6000′, you will find other vineyards in this area at only 1800′. Of course, this makes a big difference in the wines grown here. The vineyards receive snow runoff from the mountains, the purest form of fresh water. Malbec is the number one grape grown here. This wine has a lot of tannins and is full bodied as well.
The second most popular grape grown in the region is Bonarda. Bonarda grapes grow quickly and can easily be mass produced. However, when grapes grow quickly they don’t develop much flavor and produce a fruity watery wine. Traditionally used as table wine and for getting drunk, Bonarda earned a reputation as the patito feo, or ugly duckling. Locals often mix it with club soda.
More recently, some wine producers decided to try something new with the Bonarda grapes. They diverted much of the water from the vines and pruned the leaves severely. This forced the plants to struggle, creating richer grapes, and consequently much improved wines. Because the process is very labor intensive, producers often mix the Bonarda grapes with Malbec grapes to create a unique red blend.
Next: 2021 Tasca Malbec/Bonarda Blend
Where did our next bottle of wine come from? You guessed it, the Mendoza Region. This wine was dry with fruity notes of strawberry, cherry, and raspberry. Further, I could definitely feel the tannins on my tongue. I recommend this paired with food. It complimented our tapas of pork, jalapeno stuffed olives, and cocktail onions nicely.
Now for a toast, Argentina wine country style!
Sharing wine and good food goes hand in hand with friends, both new and old. Of course, our new friend Diego had to teach us the proper way to toast. You must use your left hand because it is closest to your heart. Raise your glass. Then say, salud. Most importantly, make sure to make direct eye contact.
Final notes from Diego about Argentina wine country
- Argentine wines sell in the U.S. at price points starting as low as $8 and and high as $250. The wines get better the higher the price. However, above $50, the prices are based more on exclusivity rather than taste. He recommends staying away from high priced wines unless you are a collector or a wine connoisseur.
- Italy labels wines with DOC, DOCG and other ratings to let you know the quality of the wine. Argentina has only recently started using these ratings. Diego recommends sticking to the regions he mentioned for the best wines.
- You can find a wide selection of Argentine wines in Total Wine, Trader Joes, as well as in many supermarkets.
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Donna Emperador is a creative blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and wine. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time traveling and making wine culture easier to understand for readers.