When one thinks of Argentine wine, the most common thought to come up is Malbec. It fills our Argentine sections of US wine shops, the favorite at the barbeque, so juicy and spicy. It also happens to make up close to 40% of red grape plantings in Argentina. But when Malbec first arrived in Argentina from France in the middle of the 19th century, she came with her Bordeaux sisters; Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. While neither of these grapes comes close to matching the percentage of planting that Malbec enjoys, (Cabernet Sauvignon is the closest at just over 12% of total red grapes compared to Malbec's 40%), they do have a place and each can be expressed beautifully when grown in the various Argentine climates.
Cabernet Sauvignon is planted at high altitudes in the continental climate of Mendoza as compared to the low altitude maritime climate of Bordeaux. The high altitude intensifies tannins in the already quite tannic grape. As in Bordeaux Mendoza winemakers use French oak to soften the tannins. While the grape develops aromas of cassis and black cherry it also holds on to the savory aroma of green bell pepper giving it elegance and complexity.
Merlot is grown in the very high altitude vineyards of Uco Valley The high altitude mitigates the warm climate, allowing the grapes to ripen more slowly as they develop aromas of potpourri and black fruit.
Unlike the other Bordeaux grapes, Cabernet Franc did not come to Argentina in the 1860's, but was first brought over 130 years later in the 1990's. Cabernet Franc is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. He is an ancient grape originally from Bordeaux though well entrenched in the Loire Valley of France . Cabernet Franc's own parents are ancient grapes themselves by the names of Morenoa and Hondarribi Beltza. In the high altitude vineyards of Mendoza Cabernet Franc displays its floral and red fruit aromas along with a savory green bell pepper note that pairs perfectly with chimichurri. In the cool climate of the Patagonia in the region of La Pampa, Cabernet Franc becomes even more savory and elegant.
Along with these classic Bordeaux grapes, Argentina also grows Syrah, Tempranillo, Tannat, even Pinot Noir and white grapes such as Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
While it makes up a majority of the plantings in the country, there is more to Argentine wines than Malbec.