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Argentina produces about four times as much wine as Chile does — almost as much as the entire United States. It boasts the largest wine production in South America and the fifth-largest wine production in the world.

In recent years, winemaking has shifted away from large-volume wines suited to the domestic market and toward higher-quality wines that suit wine drinkers outside Argentina. Not only is Argentina now a major player in the world wine market, but it’s one of the world’s most exciting countries for wine production.

Argentina's wine regions and grapes

Argentina’s wine regions are situated mainly in the western part of the country, where the Andes Mountains divide Argentina from Chile. High altitude tempers the climate, but the vineyards are still very warm by day, cool by night, and desert dry. Rivers flow through the area from the Andes and provide water for irrigation.

Argentina's wine regions include:

  • Mendoza: Within the Mendoza region — Argentina’s largest wine region — are wine districts such as Maipú, San Martín, Tupungato, and Luján de Cuyo. Most of Argentina’s oldest wineries and their vineyards are clustered close to Mendoza city, but the Uco Valley, south of the city, has attracted many newcomers who are building impressive wineries.

  • San Juan: Just north of Mendoza and considerably hotter, San Juan is Argentina’s second-largest wine region. San Juan is particularly famous for Torrontés, a variety that’s probably indigenous to Galicia, Spain. It produces an inexpensive ($6 to $10), light-bodied, high-acid, aromatic white wine that’s one of Argentina’s signature white wines.

  • La Rioja: Argentina’s oldest wine-producing region, La Rioja, is east of San Juan.

Argentina’s red wines are generally higher in quality than its whites. The little-known Malbec grape variety — now seldom used in Bordeaux, where it originated — has emerged as Argentina’s flagship variety. Malbec has adapted extremely well to the Mendoza region, and winemakers are learning how it varies in Mendoza’s subzones.

Arguments continue as to which variety makes Argentina’s greatest red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec. But good Cabernet wines come from almost every wine-producing country; only Argentina and Cahors, a small region in Southwest France, have had success with Malbec.

Wine producers in Argentina

Thanks in part to its high altitudes and sunny days, Argentina’s natural resources for grape growing are among the strongest in the world. Increasingly, foreign investment continues to bring the capital and the winemaking know-how to make the most of these natural resources.

Following are some wine producers in Argentina today:

  • Bodega Norton, a winery that was purchased by an Austrian crystal producer in 1989, now makes some of the country’s best wines.

  • Moët & Chandon, another immigrant, is already Argentina’s largest sparkling wine producer; it also makes the Terrazas varietal table wines.

  • Bodegas Salentein and Finca El Portillo, state-of-the-art sister wineries owned by a Dutchman.

  • Kendall Jackson has a presence, with its Viña Calina.

  • Bodega J. & F. Lurton, a Bordeaux producer owned by Bordeaux’s Lurton family.

  • Trapiche, where French enologist Michel Rolland has worked wonders; try Trapiche’s great-value Oak Cask Cabernet Sauvignon or Oak Cask Malbec, both about $10.

The homegrown Catena Zapata has emerged as one of Argentina’s top wine producers. At $10 a bottle, its Alamos Malbec is one of the greatest wine values around. Catena Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec (both about $21), and the super-premium Malbec Alta or Cabernet Sauvignon Alta, both about $50, are higher-end wines, among the finest being made in South America today.

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