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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.
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.
The purple Malbec variety grapes which now grow all over the Old and New Worlds had their origins in France, where they are one of the few grape varieties allowed to be used in the highly esteemed blended wines of Bordeaux. However, it is perhaps the New World Malbec wines which have attracted the most attention in recent years, as they thrive in hot southern climates in ways they cannot in their native country, where the damp conditions leave them highly vulnerable to rot. Malbec grapes are renowned for their high tannin content, resulting in full-bodied red wines packed with ripe, plummy flavors and held in their characteristically dark, garnet colored liquid. In many countries, Malbec is still used primarily as a varietal for blending, as it adds a great level of richness and density to other, lighter and thinner varietals. However, single variety Malbec wines have been greatly on the rise in recent years, with some fantastic results and big, juicy flavors marking them out as a great wine for matching with a wide range of foods.
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.