According to The Real Argentina Web site, the first Argentinian vineyards were planted in the northern part of the country and the Mendoza region sometime in the mid-16th century by newly arrived Spanish settlers who needed grapes to make communion wine. Their primitive winemaking techniques continued for the next 300 years or so, until European settlers brought their own tastes and winemaking traditions to their new home. Sometime around 1860, a French agronomist named Michel Pouget brought vine cuttings of malbec, cabernet sauvignon and syrah from France, introducing both a higher quality of grape and more sophisticated growing techniques.
The widely varying climate and terrain of Argentina proved to be ideal for grape growing, with good soil, plenty of sunshine and temperatures suitable for any number of grape varieties. This broad diversity in growing regions helps to explain the continued influence of other cultures and nationalities on Argentina's wine industry: No matter where in the world you are from, or what sort of wine you hope to produce, you can probably find a region of Argentina where the conditions are just right. So cabernet sauvignon grapes from southwestern France thrive here, as do the sweet rieslings associated with the Rhine region of Germany.
While the Argentinian wine industry is behind only Italy, France, Spain and the United States in terms of production volume, Argentina is still very much an up-and-coming wine region, and the industry here is still very young compared to other international wine producers. Until just a few decades ago, the majority of production was devoted to high-volume, low-quality grapes such as the criolla grande used for the inexpensive table wines traditionally consumed mostly by residents of Argentina. Today, the malbec grapes in Argentina far exceed the quantity (and, many would argue, the quality) of malbec grapes in their native France. Of course, malbecs are far from the only game in town. Argentina produces no fewer than 15 distinct varieties of grape. Read on for a description of a few of the most commonly grown.