Grape Varieties of Argentina
More than Malbec!
There is no doubt that Malbec is the grape on which Argentina's international reputation as a wine producing nation is founded. It is a difficult grape to which the climate and conditions around Mendoza are arguably ideally suited. It is also a grape which no other country in the world cultivates to anything like the same degree - and certainly not for production of single grape varietal wines.
But Malbec is not the only grape grown in Argentina. In fact, technically speaking it's not even the most widely planted - there is a greater area planted with the pink Criolla Grande variety than any other in Argentine vineyards. But while Criolla is a remnant of the cheap 'table wine' industry, there are also considerable and increasing areas planted with the other key varieties essential for a mature wine industry - because of the possibilities they allow for blending in response to growing conditions on a year-by-year basis, as well for greater diversity in varietals.
What about the whites?
While white grapes are grown - Torrontes and Chardonnay in particular - Argentina is, predominantly, a red wine-producing nation. The hot, dry climate is simply better suited to red grapes (although this may not be the case in the future, as growers look increasingly further south for good grape-growing land).
The harvest in the Mendoza region generally runs from late February through to April. Exactly when it starts depends on a number of factors: systems used in the vineyard such as high trellises or hail protection which may slow ripening, climate conditions (some years, fearful of late summer hailstorms, many growers rush their harvest in earlier than would otherwise be ideal), and the winemaker's judgment.
Once the harvest starts, though, all grapes need to be in within 6 to 8 weeks, usually starting with the white varieties if present. As a very rough guide, some indication of relative position in the harvest is given in each grape's profile.
Harvest is a major logistical operation for vineyards, requiring coordination of pickers, transport, quality control, and virtually constant operation of the winery process from the very first day. Fruit has to be feed into the winery process at just the right rate to allow the winery to handle it. A poorly planned or executed harvest which results in fruit backing up, sitting in crates waiting to be de-stemmed, crushed and so on, would seriously affect the final quality of the winery's wines.
Below are brief profiles of some of the most important red varieties grown in Argentina.