The early wine history of Argentina is similar to that for Chile both in time and the Spanish colonization.
Similar to Chile, Argentina’s first recorded wine production dates from 1557. Like Chile, it has also suffered from political upheaval. In its heyday in the 1920s Argentina was the 8th richest nation in the world. The subsequent turmoil led to a decline in the economy, hyper inflation and a decaying infrastructure and industries. In 1960 Argentina had the 3rd highest per capita wine consumption in the world. However, wine quality and prices were low and most was consumed domestically.
Today, there is increased investment in wine production including greater use of stainless steel and better quality oak barrels for maturation. Production has declined but quality has increased significantly. Argentina is the 5th largest wine producer in the world (production is twice that of Chile) but has so far failed to make the same impact in the UK as Chile. Argentina only exports around 14 of production...but up from 5 just a few years ago.
The Argentinean wine industry also benefited from railroad construction particularly the railroad from Buenos Aires to Mendoza – in the 1890s. Mendoza produces around 70% of all Argentinean wine.
Like Chile, Argentina has never had a phylloxera problem. Also in common with Chile, many of the ungrafted vines have considerable age.
Altitude is very important and perhaps an under marketed aspect of Argentinean wine. Altitude can have a beneficial effect on the character of the wine and the health of the vine. Many of the vines are grown at over 3,000 feet and Argentina has the highest vineyard in the world – this is Colome in Salta province, 9891 feet.
Red wine represents 60% of total production. In recent years the mix of grapes has changed with the once dominant Criolla Grande grape being replaced with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. Malbec is the country's most planted grape variety. Originally from Bordeaux and Cahors, the grape has now established itself as the signature grape of Argentina. Malbec plantings are now higher than for Bonarda....a little known grape in other countries but one that is often compared with Pinot Noir, but far less expensive.
Although Chardonnay claim the largest area planted for white grapes, Torrontes has become the signature white grape for the country. Grown mainly in the north – Salta - it has a unique character, perhaps akin to Viognier.
Argentina continues to hold great promise but has yet to realize it.