Mendoza may reign supreme over Argentina’s wine scene, but that’s not to say it rules uncontested. To the south of Mendoza’s high altitude vineyards, lies Patagonia. While many of us may not be familiar with Argentina’s southernmost wine region, it’s time to sit up and start paying attention — Patagonia is poised to step out of Mendoza’s shadow at last.
It’s a cool region blessed with a long growing season. Long hours of sunshine warm the vineyards, nurturing the grapes, and chilly nights preserve acidity. By the time they’re harvested, they have that perfect balance of high acid, ripeness and plenty of flavor and aroma compounds. For red varieties, the tannins get nice and ripe too, sparing would-be wine drinkers from the bitter green taste that crops up when grapes are harvested before reaching phenolic ripeness. These are the reasons winemakers are making their way south and setting up boutique wineries throughout the region.
Thanks to the rainshadow effect of the Andes, Patagonia’s climate is dry; large parts of Patagonia are desert. Many vineyards are nestled in the foothills and plains at the base of the Andes. The altitude is significantly lower than its northern neighbor, but Patagonia’s vineyards are still high enough above sea level to have an effect on the vines. Also crucial to the climate is La Zonda. Although it’s more associated with tearing through the vineyards of Mendoza, this warm, dry wind passes through Patagonia as well. The effect is a warming one, helping to keep the vines warm and aiding with ripening. And like in Mendoza, La Zonda helps keep disease at bay, although it can wreak havoc on young vines.
It’s a bit of a mix down here, red and white country, still and sparkling. The cooler climate is ideal for making out of this world bubbly. Grape-wise, you’ll find the usual French international varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir — and since this is Argentina we’re talking about — of course, there’s plenty of Malbec. It’s these latter two grapes that are starting to make waves in the wine world. Three provinces make up the whole of Patagonia: Rio Negro, Neuquen and La Pampa. All three are dedicated to Argentina’s star variety, Malbec, but producers are branching out. Rio Negro has made a name for itself with its elegant yet ripe Pinot Noirs.
Like many other areas of Argentina, winemaking is only possible through irrigation. As a result, most of Patagonia’s vineyards are within shouting distance of rivers. Thanks to the proximity of the nearby rivers, there’s plenty of alluvial soils. Vines burrow deep into the ground, helping produce grapes with incredible intensity. Perfect for winemaking.
To sum up Patagonian wines in three words we’d have to pick fresh, elegant, and flavorful. Throw in underrated, too. These are marvelous wines that are definitely worth getting to know, especially if you’re in the mood to drink something delicious at a great value!