Say “Argentina,” and three things may come to mind first: soccer, tango, and beef. But what about wine, an intricate part of Argentina’s culture and business? One of the world’s top 10 wine-producing countries, Argentina is the largest wine exporter in South America, sending one-fifth of its output to the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Brazil. And no grape tells the story better than Malbec.
Introduced to Argentina in 1868 by French viticulturist Michel Aime Pouget, pre-phylloxera Malbec grape vines quickly adapted, producing small berry clusters of intense colors, intense fruity flavors, and velvety texture. In more recent years, Argentina invested heavily in Malbec and now grows more than 70 percent of the world’s production, while France places a distant second, at just under 20 percent. The essential flavors of blueberry, cherry, and plum are apparent, however, Malbec produced in Argentina offers a much different flavor profile to the style produced in Cahors, France.
MENDOZA’S MOUNTAIN VITICULTURE
Argentina’s famed flagship varietal—a full-bodied, fruit-forward, earthy wine—is Mendoza’s answer to Napa’s Cabernet Sauvignon. A New World leader in wine, Mendoza is the Argentine region that has propelled Malbec to its current uber-popular status.
Sourced from extremely high-altitude vineyards, some above one mile in elevation, irrigation comes in the form of glacier meltwater. This region, with views of the snow-capped Andes Mountains, accounts for three-quarters of the nation’s Malbec production.
Known for terroir diversity and distinctive microclimates, some say there’s nothing the wine capital of Argentina can’t do. Exceptionally high altitude is a viticultural bonus due to more ventilation, dramatic diurnal variation, and abundant solar radiation that increases levels of healthy polyphenols in red wine. In addition, thinner air and lower humidity account for thicker skins that result in deeper color concentration and more flavorful, aromatic grapes with more robust tannins.
While dominated by Malbec, there’s more to the Mendoza wine story throughout the 1,500 wineries in Maipú Valley, Luján de Cuyo, and Uco Valley. Across wide open spaces, extensively planted red varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Tempranillo, and Syrah, as well as aromatic whites, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and the native Torrontés.
INSIDE MENDOZA’S CELLAR DOORS
From a base in the city of Mendoza, Maipú Valley is the easiest wine region to explore. Bringing Italian renaissance architecture to the Andean foothills, Trapiche was established in 1883 and is no stranger to lists of the world’s best vineyards. Taste the biodynamic Malbec, available only at the estate. // trapiche.com.ar/comin
Seven miles from center city, Clos de Chacras is a pretty family-owned winery housed in a century-old building, offering tours, tastings, and meals on the patio overlooking a lake. // closdechacras.com.ar
LUJÁN DE CUYO
Thirty minutes south of the city, Luján de Cuyo is ideal for a half-day or full-day outing. Reserve ahead to visit Catena Zapata, founded in 1902 and home to Argentina’s most-awarded wine family. Wine critic Jancis Robinson writes of the Wine Enthusiast recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award and Decanter Wine Legend himself, “Nicolás Catena Zapata is justly credited with putting Argentinian wines on the world map—by the best expedient of focusing entirely on quality.” The winery’s newest venture is Angélica Cocina Maestra, a wine-first 10-course tasting menu restaurant in Mendoza, which opened in February 2023. // catenazapata.com
Also in Luján de Cuyo, Estancia Uspallata vineyard looks down on all the others from a small ravine more than 6,500 feet above sea level. Uspallata vines viticultural produce a complex Malbec with pronounced black fruit and herbal character, earthy aromas, high acidity, fine tannins, and a long finish. // estanciauspallata.com
Not to miss: Carmelo Patti Winery, an artisanal owner conducting his own tours, consistently getting top marks for unbridled passion, friendly personalization, and free tastings. // facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063278986092
Venture 75 minutes south of Mendoza to Uco Valley, where the Andes provide a stunning backdrop to both large-scale and tiny rural wineries. Visit family-owned organic and vegan winery Domaine Bousquet where the Malbec Tupungato 2021 was selected as one of Wine Spectator’s top 10 values of the year in 2022. Here in Gualtallary, at the north end of Uco Valley, they also run a charming winery hotel and restaurant. // domainebousquet.com
For big name recognition, Salentein is one of Argentina’s larger wineries, producing millions of bottles annually that are sold and distributed worldwide. Wander among 5,000 oak barrels on a guided tour in English. // bodegasalentein.com
WHERE GRAPES MEET THE SKY
Malbec is planted in each of Argentina’s wine regions, covering about 1,700 miles from Jujuy in the north to Chubut in the south. Eight hundred miles north of Mendoza in the Calchaquí Valley, Bodega Colomé is Argentina’s oldest and the world’s highest commercial vineyard. An ambitious project representing the extraordinary vision of the late Donald Hess, the site he purchased in 2001 now encompasses a nine-room boutique hotel and restaurant plus the only museum dedicated solely to American artist James Turrell. In addition to a biodynamic winery featuring the Altura Máxima range nearly two miles above sea level, guests come for stargazing and horseback riding at the dude ranch. // bodegacolome.com
Just 225 miles east of Santiago, Chile, the charming city of Mendoza, Argentina, is in the Andes foothills east of Mount Aconcagua, the Western Hemisphere’s highest peak. Every year on April 17, Mendoza leads in celebrating Malbec World Day, established by Wines of Argentina in 2011, to highlight the champion of this international wine capital. // winesofargentina.com