Argentina's wine-producing regions are found primarily along the western edge of the country, stretching north to south along the curving backbone of the Andes Mountains, but the nation's wine industry is spreading eastward, too: Of the country's 24 provinces, at least 13 are wine producers.
More than 80 percent of all Argentinian wine is produced in Mendoza, a province in the Andean foothills and high foothills of west central Argentina. Ranging in altitude from 1,640 to 4,921 feet (500 to 1,500 meters) above sea level and receiving an average of just less than 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain each year, Mendoza produces 14 different varieties of grape, from the well-known malbec, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir to white-wine grapes including torrontes and chardonnay.
Argentina's second largest wine producer is the province of San Juan, just north of Mendoza in the west central region of the country. The San Juan Valley, as the group of valleys between the Andes Mountains and the San Juan River are collectively known, ranges in altitude from about 1,968 to 3,937 feet (600 to 1,200 meters) and is best known for its syrah grapes, but also produces 12 additional varieties including merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. Just to the north of San Juan, La Rioja features a dry, warm and sunny climate perfect for producing torrontes, as well as cabernet sauvignon, syrah and malbec.
Salta is the northernmost wine producing region in Argentina, and with altitudes ranging from 5,577 to 9,842 feet (1,700 to 3,000 meters) its vineyards are the highest commercial vineyards in the world. Although just 5,184 acres (2,098 hectares) are planted with vines, as compared with Mendoza's 392,484 acres (158,833 hectares), the region grows at least eight varieties of grape, and its torrontes white wines are considered among the best in the world.
The Rio Negro province stretches west to east across the southern region of Argentina known as Patagonia, touching both the Andes and the Atlantic coast. Most wine is produced in the Rio Negro Valley, just 984 feet (300 meters) above sea level. Rio Negro and its neighbor to the west, the province of Neuquen, lay claim to the southernmost vineyards in the world. With average annual temperatures of just 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius), this area is no Napa in terms of its climate, but together the two regions produce eight varieties of red and white grapes.
While most of the vineyards in Neuquen, the fastest-growing wine producer in Argentina, are less than a decade old, the history of Argentinian winemaking goes back much further than that. We'll talk history next.