Argentina is now the world’s fifth-largest wine producer (after Italy, France, Spain and the US), with three-quarters of the country’s total production coming from Mendoza Province, focused on Maipú and Luján de Cuyo in the south of the city. San Rafael, La Rioja and San Juan are also major wine-growing centres.
Many wine experts would agree that Argentina’s vintages are improving rapidly as a result of both a domestic market that’s fast becoming more discerning and the lure of exports. Table wines still dominate, often sold at the budget end of the market in huge, refillable flagons called damajuanas, and sometimes marketed under usurped names such as borgoña, or burgundy, and chablis. Younger Argentines often only drink wine on special occasions, plumping for lighter New Wave wines such as Chandón’s Nuevo Mundo. Many upmarket restaurants offer extensive wine lists including older vintages – but beware of exorbitant corkage charges. Commonly found bodega names to look for include Chandón, Graffigna, Navarro Correas, Salentein, Finca Flichmann and Weinert.
Although the most attractive wineries to visit are the old-fashioned ones, with musty cellars crammed with oak barrels, some of the finest vintages are now produced by growers using the latest equipment, including storage tanks lined with epoxy resin and computerized temperature controls. They tend to concentrate on making varietal wines, the main grape varieties being riesling, chenin blanc and chardonnay, for whites, and pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and malbec, for reds – the reds tend to be better than whites. Malbec is often regarded as the Argentine grape par excellence, giving rich fruity wines, with overtones of blackcurrant and prune that are the perfect partner for a juicy steak. The latest trend is for a balanced combination of two grapes: for example, mixing malbec for its fruitiness and cabernet for its body, while toning down the sometimes excessive oakiness that used to characterize Argentine wines. Growers have also been experimenting with varieties such as tempranillo, san gervase, gewürztraminer, syrah and merlot, and very convincing sparkling wines are being made locally by the méthode champenoise, including those produced by Chandón and Mumm, the French champagne-makers.