Argentina Chardonnay Cuyo Mendoza Uco Valley
As the world's fifth largest producer of wine, after France, Italy, Spain and the United States, Argentina has plenty to offer the international wine market in regards to both quantity and quality. Despite this being the case for several decades now, it has only been since the end of the twentieth century that the Argentinian wine industry has really begun to up their game when it comes to the methods and techniques required to produce world class wines, which are both representative of their country and region of origin, and which stand alone as complex, interesting and delicious wines to drink. As Argentina became a serious contender in the international wine market, wineries previously concerned primarily with high volumes began to change their priorities, and formerly struggling small bodegas and independent wineries began to find success. Nowadays, well crafted wines from smaller vineyards in Argentina are being lauded as some of the finest in the world, and the country is starting to reap the benefits of its heritage, which include some very old vines, and up to four centuries of experience in wine production.
Of all the white wine grape varietals, surely the one which has spread the furthest and is most widely appreciated is the Chardonnay. This green skinned grape is now grown all over the Old and New Worlds, from New Zealand to the Americas, from England to Chile, and is one of the first varietals people think of when considering white wine grapes. Perhaps this is because of its huge popularity which reached a peak in the 1990s, thanks to new technologies combining with traditional methods to bring the very best features out of the Chardonnay grape, and allow its unique qualities to shine through. Most fine Chardonnay wines use a process known as malolactic fermentation, wherein the malic acids in the grape juice are converted to lactic acids, allowing a creamier, buttery nature to come forward in the wine. No grape varietal is better suited to this process than Chardonnay, which manages to balance these silky, creamy notes with fresh white fruit flavors beautifully.
Undoubtedly the most important viticultural region of the country of Argentina is Cuyo, the arid and red-soiled area within central-west Argentina which produces over eighty percent of the nation's wine each year. Cuyo represents the finest aspects of Argentinian wine making, with wineries in the region celebrating their traditions which stretch back to the sacramental wines first introduced to the country by Spanish settlers hundreds of years ago. As with much of Argentina, Cuyo is most famous for the production of Malbec wines, with Malbec grapes thriving prodigiously in the hot climate of the region, reaching full ripeness in ways they rarely could in their native France, and producing wines of exceptional flavor and quality. The Desaguadero River is the key water source in this otherwise dry and dusty region, and successful irrigation projects have helped bring water to even the driest vineyards within Cuyo.
When it comes to Argentinian wines, one region stands head and shoulders above the rest. The high altitude wine region of Mendoza has been producing high quality wines for some time now, and has established itself as one of the premier homes of New World viticulture, thanks to its combination of bold, Latin American approaches to winemaking coupled with a European flair for excellence and finesse.
Today, the Mendoza accounts for almost two-thirds of the Argentinian wine output, making it a dominating force in the country’s industry, and wines from Mendoza are exported all over the world. Its success comes from several factors - not least for the fact that it is one of the oldest and most well established New World wine regions, having been planted in the mid 19th century and allowed to develop from heritage vines of the finest European specimens. The altitude is certainly a key factor when it comes to Mendoza. The average elevation of vineyards in this region is 1000 metres above sea level, a factor which creates almost unparalleled consistency in climatic conditions, allowing the vintners to regulate their growing and harvesting for optimum effect.
Mendoza is primarily a Malbec producer, although Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Chardonnay varietal grapes are also grown here to great effect. The Malbec grapes of Argentina tend to have a higher level of expression and flavor than those in its native France, because Mendoza Malbec grows in smaller bunches, with smaller, more intensely charactered berries.