Argentina is one of the most important wine-producing countries in the New World, and the largest producer of wine in South America. The high altitude deserts of the eastern Andes mountains have given rise to a high quality wine industry. Indeed, the terroir here is well suited to Argentina's adopted grape variety, the ubiquitous Malbec. Originally from Bordeaux, this grape variety is now responsible for some of Argentina's most famous wines, which are characteristically bright and intense, with floral notes and flavors of dark fruit.
Covering just over one million square miles (2.8 million sq km), Argentina is the second-largest country in South America. It stretches from the southern border of Bolivia in the north to the southern tip of the continent.
It is home to a vast array of landscapes, from the rocky peaks of the Andes in the west to the fertile Pampas lowlands in the east. Most viticulture in Argentina takes place in the foothills of the Andes.
Of its wine regions, Mendoza is, without doubt, the largest and best-known in the country, often producing great wines to ciritcal acclaim. Here, desert landscapes and high altitudes combine to make a terroir that gives rise to aromatic, intensely flavored reds.
Vineyards in the Mendoza region reach as high as 1,500m (5,000ft) above sea level. Here, increased levels of solar radiation and a high diurnal temperature variation make for a long, slow ripening period, leading to balanced sugars and acidity in the grapes.
Nearly three-quarters of Argentinian wine production takes place in Mendoza. Indeed, Mendoza produces 85 percent of the Malbec made in the country.
In addition to its flagship grape, Argentina boasts significant plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Bonarda. More recent additions can be found with wines including Cabernet Franc and the more hispanic Tempranillo.
Mendoza's position in the rain shadow of the Andes means that there is little rainfall, and irrigation is effectively supplied by Andean meltwater.
Further north, the regions of Salta and Catamarca are even higher. A world-topping vineyard owned by Bodega Colomé in Molinos sits at 3000m (9,900ft) – higher than the peak of Mount St. Helens in the Pacific Northwest of America.
Low latitudes in this corner of Argentina – which, at 22°N to 28°N, are considerably closer to the Equator than any European wine region – are tempered by the high altitude and cold mountain air. Here, Argentina's signature aromatic white grape, Torrontés, is grown, making an pungent, intensely floral, white wine.
There are also some wine producing regions in Argentina closer to the Atlantic coast than to the lofty peaks of the Andes. Patagonia, in the south of the country, is now home to two regions: Rio Negro and Neuquen, the cooler conditions of which are suited to creating wines made from Pinot Noir.
Argentina has a long viticultural tradition, and wines have been made here since the 1500s – initially by Spanish missionaries, and later by Italian settlers. Until very recently, Argentinian wines were exclusively domestic, based mostly on the high-yielding Criolla Grande and Cereza grape varieties.
However, over the past 20 years, the country's wine producers have raised quality levels and successfully consolidated an international export market. Argentina has risen to become the fifth most-prominent wine producing country in the world, following France, Italy, Spain and the USA.