When describing what makes Mendoza, Argentina an ideal place to make wine, one must mention all factors affecting the final product. These factors are usually known as the terroir. Perhaps the most unique quality of the Mendoza region is the high elevation. The best wine grapes are grown at 3000-5000 feet and are subject to wide day and night temperature differences. During the cold nights the fruits stop growing, which allows for gradual maturation and help concentrate sugars. In fact, the average temperature decreases about 2 degrees Fahrenheit for every 330 feet increase in elevation. A Mendoza wine maker will use these different altitudes and microclimates to maximize a variety’s full potential or even to adjust the particular variety’s style.
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The second important characteristic of Mendoza is the desert alluvial soil made up of clay, sand and rock. The soils low organic content actually facilitate vine yield and add to the wine’s dynamics. The soil further contributes to wine quality by allowing proper drainage and permitting the roots to grow deep and constantly.
Irrigation is a third defining factors of the Mendoza terroir. The average rainfall is only 8 inches per year so the early wine makers had to harness run off. They and the early settlers of Mendoza did this with a complex system of irrigation canals that run though the vineyards (as well as on both sides of all roads in downtown Mendoza). The amount of water irrigating the vines is then controlled and therefore prevents the grapes from becoming watery and fragile.
It should also be mentioned that the low humidity, high elevation and low rainfall create an inhospitable environment for fungi and other agricultural pests. Therefore, most vineyards of Mendoza are free of pesticides and many are organic.
Nevertheless, the intense aromas and flavors of Mendoza wines cannot be produced solely from the superior terroir. The rest of the complex equation is made of Russian, Spanish, Italian, English and other immigrants who implemented their own craftsmanship and viticulture concepts. Some mix tradition with technology while others remain purist. They brought varieties such as Tempranillo from Spain, Malbec from France and Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Bonarda, Tocai Friulano and Barbera from Italy.
Argentina’s high altitude wines are best for your heart?
Catena Zapata’s Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Mendoza are shown to be 6 times more potent in healthy ingredients than a selection of red wines from France, Spain, Italy, Chile, and Australia. Studies show that red grapes grown at higher altitudes produce more polyphenols which scientists believe to be the key factor in the connection between drinking red wine and preventing heart disease. So, Bottoms Up!