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The winelands of Argentina

By Martha Hales

The territory of Argentina is vast, incorporating the heat of the desert in the northern regions, glaciers in the south, the towering Andes running along the western frontiers and the Atlantic coast in the east. A strip of land suitable for wine cultivation runs from north to south along the flank of the Andes, higher in altitude in the northern desert zones, and dropping down into the valleys and onto the plains the further south you go. There are broadly three areas of wine cultivation in Argentina, namely the north, Cuyo and Patagonia. Until the 1990s, Argentina’s wine was known for its quantity rather than quality, but all that has changed over the last couple of decades and Argentina now produces some of the finest wines in the world.

Wine harvest in Mendoza

Tourism in Argentina has developed hand in hand with its wonderful wines, and today you can enjoy some top notch gastronomic experiences in one of many ‘bodegas’ or vineyards, where generations of pride and tenacity have resulted in great wine and delicious food in historic yet comfortable surroundings. Our local experts are ready and waiting to build an itinerary around your priorities, so if you fancy a wine focused trip to Argentina, they will be only too happy to oblige. Here is a brief introduction to what you can expect when you spend time touring Argentina’s beautiful, historic winelands.

Vineyard in Mendoza

Winelands of the north

This narrow band of cultivation in Argentina’s far north includes some of the world’s highest vineyards, topping out at just over 3,000 metres altitude, allowing the vines to thrive in the alpine climate. Excellent exposure to the plentiful sun, low humidity and rainfall coupled with the extreme temperature range from day to night ensures the perfect conditions for lively wines with lots of character. Located within striking distance of Salta, one of Argentina’s most charming cities, Cafayate is a beautiful wine region for touring and has the added bonus of combining some stunning landscapes with fabulous wineries to visit. The surroundings on the approach from Salta are incredible rippling mountains of many colours, from ruby red to ochre and steely grey.

Striking mountains in Cafayate

The Cafayate winelands are a wonderful combination of rustic and slick, and many of them have truly outstanding restaurants as well as offering informative (and sometimes participatory) winemaking tours, so you can really settle in for an immersive experience. Combined with some time in Salta absorbing the history and culture of the northwestern region of Argentina, Cafayate and the surrounding countryside makes a fantastic addition to your itinerary. Generally, Cafayate wineries are less well known to non-Argentinians and so it’s a slightly more niche, off the beaten track destination for wine lovers. The local Torrontes wines are particularly recommended, especially as they are only available from this region.

Sprawling vineyard in Cafayate

Winelands of Cuyo

Dating right back to the Spanish colonisation of the area, vineyards in the central Cuyo region are some of the oldest in Argentina. The foothills of the Andes has proven to be a fantastic site for viticulture, and today this region is one of the most productive in the whole of South America, incorporating the wine growing zones of San Juan, La Rioja and Mendoza. All three produce excellent wines, but it is only the latter which is well known outside Argentina. San Juan and La Rioja enjoy lower footfall than Mendoza so if you are looking for a slightly more off the beaten track experience, head for these regions.

Andes Foothills

If you are more interested in visiting the star of Argentine winemaking, the Mendoza winelands are justly famous for their fine wines and attractive setting. Tucked up in the foothills of the huge peaks behind, the Mendoza winelands are fed by an ancient network of irrigation channels which were built long before the arrival of the Spanish. The channels were initially used for crop cultivation, but are now put to use bringing meltwaters from the Andean summits down to the vineyards to plump up the grapes. This clean meltwater, together with the perfect climate, means that grapes flourish here and are produced in large quantities.

Malbec grapes in Mendoza

The majority of grapes grown in this area are for red wines such as malbec and cabernet sauvignon, and these produce tannins which allow the wines to age into some of the best known vintages in Argentina. Tours of Mendoza wineries give you an overview of the production processes unique to the area, and immerse you into this wonderful landscape of striped green hillsides, attractive architecture and the awesome backdrop of the Andes. In common with the wineries of Cafayate, many of the traditional Mendoza bodegas offer fabulous accommodation and outstanding restaurants alongside their wonderful wine, so if you are planning to indulge while in Argentina, the winelands around Mendoza are a brilliant place to do just that.

Mendoza winery

Winelands of Patagonia

Cooler climate wines thrive in this lower altitude, flatter region in the north of Patagonia where the landscape is cut through by three major rivers, the Negro, the Neuquen and the Limay. Compared to the winelands further north which are mostly above 800 metres and right up to 3,000 metres in altitude, this is a low zone, with vineyards located between 250 and 300 metres above sea level and a steady wind for much of the year. The cool conditions lend themselves to varieties such as pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, among others.

Argentinian delicacies

The wind tends to thicken the skins of the grapes which in turn means wines will be stronger in colour and more tannic. The Patagonian winelands are more modern and industrial than those further north, without an obvious base city such as Mendoza or Salta, so visits to the region are perhaps less appealing unless you are a true wine buff who likes to tick off the more obscure wine growing areas from the list. That being said, the wineries of the High Valley of Rio Negro are the best known and most historic, so head for these if you are visiting the area.

Rich landscapes in Patagonia

Make it happen

Argentina’s winemaking regions are appealing and easy to tour, with some fabulous places to stay and some world class restaurants, so tone up those olfactory senses and get your trip booked. Our local experts can combine your choice of regions, accommodation and activities into a bespoke itinerary created just for you, all they need to get started is a few details. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.