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Argentina

Argentinean Wines

Argentina is the 5th largest producer of wines in the world (after France, Italy, Spain and the USA).  Wine production started with the colonization of Argentine by the Spanish at the beginning of the 16th century.  In 1537, a settlement was established where today Buenos Aires is located.  In 1556, vine cuttings were brought in from Chile, they started the viticulture in the region.  The Criolla grape, also known as Criolla Grande, is a direct descendent of these ancient varieties.  The grape is still widely planted in Argentina mainly to produce so-called "jug (volume) wines." French grape varieties were introduced to the country during the middle of the 19th century.  Included in the selection of grapes was the Malbec grape, which by now has become Argentine's national signature wine even though it is very much of French origin and still planted there in large quantities.  Vine growing developed mainly in the western areas of Argentine on the hills of the Andes Mountains (Mendoza and San Juan).  Later the Argentinian wine industry was, like Chile, an indirect beneficiary of the phylloxera epidemic, which at the end of 19th century devastated the European wine industry but did not affect either country.  Many of the immigrants who arrived from Europe were experienced in making wines.  They brought their expertise which benefited their new country.

The beginning of the 20th century saw an expansion of the wine business in Argentine.  At that time, Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world and the richest in South America, with a per-capita income close to that of France and Germany.  However, the Great Depression of the years 1929 to 1939 resulted in a strong decline of the wine business.  After the Second World War, producers in Argentina catered mainly to the domestic market producing high volume, low quality "table wines." The average yearly consumption amounted to about 120 bottles per person.  It was in the 1990s that Argentine finally awoke to its true potential and started to produce highly quality wines, which continue to be highly acclaimed by connoisseurs and wine critics all over the world.  Many foreign wineries and estates are now producing wines there and many so called "flying wine makers"are now introducing the lastest knowledge and techniques.

Argentina stretches for about 3,650 km from north to south.  The length of its border with Chile (along the Andes mountain range) is 5,308 km.  Its borders with Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil and Uruguay are 4,553 km long.  Its highest mountain is the Aconcagua with a height of 6,957 m.  It is the second largest country in South America and the eighth largest in the world.  Given its big size (2,766,890 km²) regional climatic conditions vary considerably.  The north has very hot and humid summers with mild and dry winters.  The weather in central Argentine is hot during the summer and cold in the winter, it is also subject to the world's largest hailstorms.  The southern regions have warm summers but very cold winters with a lot of snow.  The hottest and coldest temperatures in South America was recorded in Argentina i.e. plus 47°C and minus 40°C.  The major wine regions are situated in the west along the mountain range of the Andes. The climate is semi-arid.  Growing vines in the region relies on irrigation from the mountains.  In some regions the temperature can go as high as 40°C during the day only to descend to about 10°C during the night.  Other regions have more temperate climatic conditions.  Winter temperatures can be close to 0°C but rarely go lower.

Like in Chile there is no phylloxera in Argentine.  Some attribute this to the prevailing sandy soil; others think the historic flood irrigation used to drench the vineyards with water is the reason.  The high altitude and low humidity means that growers in Argentina have few problems with grape diseases, which often affect other countries.  Pesticides are rarely used.  Argentina has about 26,000 vintners who grow vines on about 230,000 hectares.  Slightly less than 50% of the wines produced are red, less than a quarter is white and the rest are rose wines.  Seven regions account for over 99% of the wine production.  Mendoza's share is over 65% and San Juan produces about 22%.  Many different grape varieties are grown in Argentina as a result of the many different immigrants whom the country absorbed.  Among the red wine varieties Malbec accounts for just under 30%, Bonarda (assumed to be a Dolcetto variety) for 19%, Cabernet Sauvignon for 18%, Syrah for 13%, Merlot for 7% and Tempranillo for close to 7%.  Among the white wines Pedro Gimenez accounts for 35%, Torrontes dor 22%, Chardonnay for 17%, Chenin Blanc for 7% while Ugni Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc account for 6% each.  If a single grape variety is stated on the label at least 80% of the wine must be made from the variety.

Regions

Catamarca - La Rioja - Medanos (Buenos Aires) - Mendoza - Neuquen - Salta - San Juan

Catamarca back to list

Catamarca  The vine growing area of about 2,600 hectares is not very large.  Traditionally simple table wines were produced in this region.  But this is changing rapidly as the region is turning successfully to grow higher quality grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah for red wines and Torrontes for white wines.

La Rioja back to list

La Rioja  Being one of the first areas in Argentina to be planted with vines La Rioja has a long vine growing tradition.  With about 8,500 hectares under vine it is a middle-sized area.  For a long time water shortage has meant that any expansion was difficult.  However the development during the last years of drop watering systems has improved the area's ability to grow more and higher-class wines.
The weather in the area is dry and rather windy.  Growing altitudes range from 800 to 1,500 meters.  The principal area is the Famatina Valley.  The Torrontes (white) wines produced in this area are reputed to be elegant yet richly voluptuous.  The growing of Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda and Chardonnay grapes is also expanding.
 

Medanos (Buenos Aires) back to list

Buenos Aires/Medanos  The Medanos area in the Province of Buenos Aires has become a small, (about 55 hectares) sought-after area to produce premium wines.  Its sandy soil over limestone, long hours of sunshine and oceanic winds provide for grapes with healthy, thick skins producing deeply colored, complex and fruit driven wines.  Mainly Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and Merlot red wines as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc white wines are produced in this small area.

Mendoza back to list

Mendoza  Despite a considerable reduction in areas planted with vines during the last 30 years, from over 200,000 to about 160,000 hectares, Mendoza remains Argentina's largest wine growing area producing over two-thirds of its wines.  The region can be divided into three districts, in the north the areas around the rivers of Mendoza and Tunuyan, the center and the south.  Compositions of soil vary as do vine growing altitudes which vary between 600 and 1,200 meters.  The Malbec grape has become Mendoza's most planted variety.  Generally the soil is sandy and alluvial on substructures of clay.  Mendoza is renowned for having a continental climate with four distinct seasons thus offering the vines a period of recovery (dormancy) in the winter.  A very large number of grape varieties are grown in the region.  About half of the area is planted with so-called "premium" varieties (red and white) while the other half is still planted with high yielding volume varieties.  The sub-region of Lujan de Cujo was granted Argentina's first appellation designation in 1993.  Maipu may be the next district to follow.

Neuquen back to list

Neuquén and Rio Negro  The region's climatic conditions are considerably cooler than Argentina's northern and central vine growing regions.  Both, Neuquén and Rio Negro are not traditional vine growing regions.  In fact most of the about 4,200 hectares have been planted during the last 10 years.  Owing to its cool climate the regions are particularly well suited to grow cool climate varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Semillon and Pinot Noir.  Yet Torrontés, Malbec and Merlot are also grown successfully in the area.  While the vines profit from a drawn out growing season and the chalky soil strong winds create a major challenge for producers.

Salta back to list

Salta  Salta is Argentina's most northern vine-growing region.  The world's highest altitude wines are grown here.  The main growing area is the Calchaqui Valley where altitudes for growing vines range from 1,500-3,200 meters.  Although the region is reputed for producing the finest and most fragant Torrontes (white) wines many other varieties, among them Malbec,  Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc are grown here.  The high altitude contributes to produce wines with a higher level of total acidity which in turn enhances the balance and depth of the wines produced.  Vines are grown on about 2,300 hectares.

San Juan back to list

San Juan  San Juan is, with 50,000 hectares of vines, Argentina's second largest vine growing region.  The climate in the region is rather hot and dry.  Summer temperatures often surpass 40°C.  The best areas to grow quality grapes are said to be the Calingasta, Ullum, and Zonda areas and the Tulum Valley.  Vine growing altitudes range from about 600-1,200 meters.  Syrah wines made from grapes grown in these areas are said to be particularly appreciated by connoisseurs.  All important red and white vine grape varieties are grown in the region including the Greco Nero, these days rarely grown in other regions.


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GUKI CELLARS Japan KK
231-0862 Yokohama,Naka-Ku,
Yamate-cho 155-7, Japan

Tel : 045-232-4499
Fax : 045-623-7906