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Argentina is located east of the Andes Mountain range in the South American continent. In the 1500s with the arrival of the Spanish and later the Portuguese the cultivation of vines started. Today, Argentina is the largest wine producer in the Southern Hemisphere.
The principle region for wine in Argentina ranges between the 22° and 42° South latitude. It follows the foothills of the Andean mountain range along over 2,400 km; from the province of Salta to the province of Río Negro, with a variety of climates and soils that marks each region with its own particular attributes.
Generally, the areas dedicated to vine cultivation are dry and arid with a low level of rain and humidity, a determining factor in the health of the grape. The wine regions profit from irrigating waters off the mountains.
Until the 1970s there was little or no emphasis on quality or the export market and Argentina had a huge per capita wine drinking population happily imbibing the production. The predominant tendency was massive production of ordinary table wines for domestic consumption. Price differentiation did not exist, nor was any relevance placed on trying to plant varieties of vines best adapted to each location. Over-production caused deterioration in price and quality of the product. Planted surface area reached a historical height in 1977 with 350,680 hectares (1 hectare is equal to 2.471 acres) at which time desertion and eradication of vineyards started in a sustained form. This eradication tended to remove those vineyards that were planted with varieties of low enological value or of large production. Wine consumption was leaning toward more quality wines. Between 1982 and 1992 a reduction of approximately 36% of previously existing area occurred.
Starting in 1992 and continuing today, a slow recovery of production areas and more quality wines have been seen. Varieties of high enological quality are being planted in ecological zones appropriate for making high quality wines, as for example the Tupungato Valley in Mendoza.
Argentina continues to invest in and advance its wine production. Not long ago, Argentina began an uprooting venture to replace low quality vines with premium grape varieties such as, Chardonnay and Malbec. Also, Argentina has introduced new technology such as pest control and fertilization. The Argentine wine industry is starting to promote the application, development and use of genetics for the identification of varieties and the implementation of the official certification of various grape varieties.
Mendoza , the epicentre of the Argentinean wine industry, lies just a hundred miles or so east of Santiago, the capital city of Chile. However, the journey between the two is as much vertical as horizontal, separated as they are by the highest peak of the Andes, mount Aconcagua at over 23,000 feet. Mendoza wineries cover 143,764 hectares and produces between 70% and 75% of the national wine followed by the province of San Juan with 48,869 hectares elaborating between 17% and 21%. Today, the total hectares in Argentina covered by vines is around 210,000.
San Juan is characterized by excellent sunshine, scarce rainfall and very low humidity, which results in complex and powerful wines.
Salta , which sits in the very far north of the country, is a region of generally high quality Cabernets Sauvignons and, especially Torrontés in the Cafayate sub-region.
Rio Negro lies at the southern end of the wine production region, in the fringes of Patagonia. It produces cool-climate varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, and first-class sparkling wines, often made in association with top Champagne houses.
Argentina 's main red grape varieties for wine production are Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Bonarda, Tempranillo and Sangiovese with their w hites being Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Torrontes. The Malbec (also spelled Malbeck) from the Mendoza area is Argentina's best known wine.
The two grapes which perhaps hold the most promise for the future of Argentina's wineries are t he Torrontés, a remarkable white wine grape that makes tremendously fragrant, perfumed yet rich and fruity wines with crisp acidity and plenty of body; and the fabulous red wine grape Malbec, with the structure to reach even higher peaks of quality with i ts generous black fruit characteristics, balanced acidity and smooth tannins. Malbec is a grape with many synonym s, possibly best known as Auxerrois when making Cahors in the south of France. But Argentinian Malbecs are perhaps the best in the world, with powerful, smooth deeply-fruited inky black wines full of spice and character.
Argentina is perhaps one of the world's few remaining major wine-producing regions yet to be fully exploited.
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