Great winemaking areas usually have some kind of incline and is close to a body of water, either between 30-50 degrees North of the equator or 30-50 degrees South of the equator.
Now the incline can take on a number of guises and is of particular interest to us with reference to Argentinian wines; as a major geographical feature of Argentina is the Andes mountain range. 7000km long, 200-700km wide, spanning 7 South American countries, 4000m high, home to the highest mountain outside of Asia and birthplace of the Incas. Now THAT is a mountain (range). Acting as a kind of natural border between Chile and Argentina, the Andes provides the perfect terrain for grape growing, both on its Chilean side and its Argentinian side, in very different ways. One might argue that the Andes is the reason that there IS wine in South America- though we’d rather not get into that discussion with an actual South American.
There is much mythologizing around mountains. For instance most Stellenbosch locals will swear (or at least concur) that Simonsberg is merely Simon van der Stel lying on his back (having indulged in a bit too much trademark Stellenbosch red - conjecture on our part of course). Similarly, or maybe more seriously, the Incas assigned various spirits to the important mountains within the Andes mountain range, they were called Apus (Apuses?). They believed the Andes to act as a portal to middle-earth, which probably provided a viable backstory for any mountain man who chose to wander into town...we’re getting sidetracked. For our purposes it would be best to steer clear of middle-earth and stick to Argentina and its potential as a wine growing giant.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the vineyard acreage in Mendoza alone (ONE of Argentina’s wine regions) was slightly less than half the entire acreage of the United States and MORE than the acreage of New Zealand and Australia combined. Argentina is the world’s 5th largest wine producer and given the mere surface area of the place it is not surprising. Years of political unrest had severely hampered the growth of their wine industry but at the end of the 20th century they started tapping into the export market. The flying winemakers from France, California and Australia started imparting their knowledge of yield control, temperature controlled fermentation and the virtues of new oak barrels. With THAT came the French varietal Malbec, the Italian varietal Bonarda and the tools to temper their native aromatic white varietal, Torrontés. The diversity of the terrain allows Argentinian winemakers to grow a wide range of varietals well, with a particular emphasis on high altitude winemaking. The foothills of the Andes in Mendoza produces particularly distinctive Malbec, while the Northwestern regions such as Salta boast the highest elevated vineyards in the world and produces particularly aromatic Torrontés. (which we are proud to be able to offer you right here)
Argentina to us is a combination of a slow tango on the streets of Buenos Aires; Evita Péron addressing the crowds in her heyday; the 650 South African Boere who emigrated to Argentina during the Anglo-Boer war, refusing to be ruled by the English, and the 300 who still remain in Las Pampas; the Gauchos riding their Criollo horses over the vast plains and a political history that we, as South Africans, have sympathy with. We’re now adding the Malbec of Mendoza and the Torrontés of Salta to that list - you should too.