Situated in the West of the country, Mendoza, Argentina’s most important wine region, is famous for its dark purple Malbec grapes as well as for its Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot amongst others. The province, which has stable temperatures, a lot of sun, and a unique terroir, irrigates its beautiful vineyards with the glacial water of the Andes Mountains that serve as a spectacular backdrop.
The region is geographically divided into many sub regions amongst which Lujan de Cuyo and Valle de Uco stand out in terms of wine production.
Mendoza’s winemaking history is nearly as old as the colonial history of Argentina itself. The first vines were planted by priests of the Catholic Church’s Jesuit order in the mid-16th Century, borrowing agricultural techniques from the Incas and Huarpes, who had occupied the land before them. Malbec was introduced around this time by a French agronomist, Miguel Aimé Pouget.
In the 1800s, Spanish and Italian immigrants flooded into Mendoza to escape the ravages of the phylloxera louse that was devastating vineyards in Europe at the time. A boom in wine production came in 1885, when a railway line was completed between Mendoza and the country’s capital city, Buenos Aires, providing a cheaper, easier way of sending wines out of the region. For most of the 20th Century, the Argentinean wine industry focused almost entirely on the domestic market, and it is only in the past 25 years that a push toward quality has led to the wines of Mendoza gracing restaurant lists the world over.
Altitude is one of the most important characteristics of the terroir in Mendoza. The strip of vineyard land that runs along the base of the Andes lies between 2600ft and 3900ft (800m-1200m) above sea level, and it is this altitude that moderates the hot, dry climate of the region. Warm, sunny days are followed by nights made much colder by westerly winds from the Andes. This cooling-off period slows ripening, extending the growing season and contributing rich, ripe flavors to the grapes that do not come at the expense of acidity.
Irrigation is facilitated by the rivers that cross the region, including the Mendoza itself, which runs down from the mountains. Warm, dry harvest periods mean that winemakers are able to pick their grapes according to ripeness, rather than being ruled by the vagaries of the weather. As with other New World countries, this leads to a reduction in vintage variation, as well as consistent quality from year to year. Predictable harvests also afford Mendoza’s winemakers the luxury of increased control over the styles of wine they produce – a factor which has contributed to the region’s international reputation. The city of Mendoza has become one of the world’s wine capitals, and enjoys a significant slice of South America’s wine-tourism industry, helped along by the natural beauty of the area.