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Like Chile, Argentina is another country on the up in the wine world at the current time. Boasting a fantastic range of great value wines, as well as the country's two home-grown secrets - Malbec and Torrontes - Argentina is the place to look if you want something a little different and that won't break the bank.
Argentina has an exceptionally grape-friendly climate. Crystal clear skies and sunshine, cooling breezes and melt water from the Andes allow even international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio to flourish. Even Viognier, which can be really tricky to grow, is starting to do very well here. Bonarda is a little-known Italian grape which when grown on Argentine soils, becomes a fruity marvel. Malbec is a Bordeaux grape, which in native France makes rather tannic wines. It's taken to Argentina like a duck to water, the extra sunlight and fantastic soils giving it extra depth, flavour and vigour. Like so many other grape varieties in Argentina, Malbec has found a new spiritual home. It is the perfect choice for barbecued meats, where the big, bold flavours work a treat with the heavy textures of the meat. Torrontes, however, is the most distinctive of Argentinian grapes, as it is the only grape which is considered 100% Argentine. A fragrant, floral white Argentinian wine, Torrontes is deliciously refreshing and tastes great with spicy food.
The two key Argentinian wine growing regions are the centrally located Menzoda and San Juan. Mendoza is the largest producer of wine in Argentina and most of the large volume producers come from here. Try Mendozan Malbec for rich ripe peppery reds whereas wines from San Juan tend to be lighter in style. Wines from the hotter still La Rioja will be labelled as being from the Famatina Valley to avoid conflict with Spain. You can pick up some very good bargains from this region. In the far North of this stunning country, the hot days and cold nights suit the growth of Torrontes, preserving its wonderful aromas and flavours. Look out for Cabernet from Cafayete too. It will express all the black cherry goodness of this variety. Way down in the South in cool Rio Negro is the home of higher quality Malbec, which has higher acid and drier tannins that its Mendozan counterparts. These Argentinian wines are far more Old Worldy and have much greater potential to age well.
Since the arrival of the open economy in 1990, there has been considerable investment in Argentinian wine production. The country has really upped the stakes and is now producing wines that the Old World would be proud of. However, because many wine growing regions in Argentina don't, as yet, have the same status attached to them as some of the more traditional areas in Spain and France for example, you'll come across some really great tasting bottles of Argentinian wine at really reasonable prices.
The growing conditions in Argentina are very, very different from those that you might come across in Europe. Most of the vineyards lie in the rainshadow of the Andes high above sea level, and although the landscape is arid and the rainfall is very low, the vines benefit from meltwater from the mountains. Because of the dry climate, Argentinian vines rarely suffer from disease or pests.
The grapes in Argentina are planted at very high altitude and therefore receive maximum sunlight and low humidity. Because of this, they benefit from very high levels of antioxidants, which makes Argentinian wines some of the healthiest in the world.