Grape varieties and wine styles

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Argentina ranks fifth in the world in terms of wine production and, with 208,000ha (515,000 acres) of vineyards, is unquestionably South America's largest producer. However, the area under vine has declined from a peak in 1980 of 320,000ha (790,000 acres). This can partly be explained by a steady fall in domestic consumption since the 1970s, but the country still ranks fourth in the world (with 54 litres a head).

Wine has been produced since 1557 when missionaries established the first vineyard near Santiago del Estero. In the mid-1850s there were significant plantings of vitis vinifera imported from Europe. Today Argentina makes large quantities of ordinary wines for home consumption, premium wines for export, bulk wines that are shipped to other countries to be bottled, grape concentrate and brandy. It is a world leader in the production of mosto, or grape concentrate, which is used to sweeten soft drinks as well as wine. The revenue generated by mosto is twice that of wine exports.

Vineyards extend for more than 1,770km (1,100 miles) from north to south. The winemaking centre is the province of Mendoza some 960krn (600 miles) west of Buenos Aires. About 70% of Argentina's wine comes from here. Most vineyards are situated in the valleys and plateaux of the lower Andes. South of the city of Mendoza are two high-elevation areas with cooler micro-climates, Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo, where the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec are grown. To the east, in the shadow of Tupungato peak, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and Merlot are very successful.

North of Mendoza, in a slightly warmer climatic zone, the province of San Juan produces 22% of the country's wine total. Other provinces have far fewer vineyards. Salta is the northernmost province growing grapes, and lies close to the Tropic of Capricorn. Vines are planted at 1,700m (5,600ft), and the climate is cooler and suitable for white grape varieties. Though producing only 3% of the national total, Rio Negro, Argentina's southernmost and one of the coolest wine regions, has become a popular area for grapes for sparkling wines. Argentina produces large quantities of sparkling wine for South American markets. Several champagne houses - including Moet & Chandon, Piper-Hiedsieck and Mumm- produce most of it.

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