Argentine Malbec, characterized by dark fruity, spiciness and almost always a low price, has seduced American wine drinkers—it's been one of the fastest-growing red wines in the U.S. over the past decade. But there's more to Argentina than Malbec. Lively, aromatic Torrontés is a white wine that's well worth investigating, and the cool-climate Patagonian desert has become one of the world's newest sources of outstanding Pinot Noir.
Italian winemaker Roberto Cipresso and his four partners in Achaval-Ferrer are obsessed with two things: old vines and Malbec. Their winery makes three highly sought-after, single-vineyard Malbecs from ancient vines. Cipresso also crafts two more accessibly priced bottlings: Quimera, a polished red made from three sites, and a basic Mendoza Malbec.
Bodega Catena Zapata
Nicolás Catena transformed the bulk-focused wine property he inherited in 1989 into one of Argentina’s most successful fine-wine pioneers. Today his children help manage what has become an iconic estate. Its Mendoza wines include the Catena, Alta and Zapata tiers, plus the well-made, entry-level Alamos line.
Few wineries have as interesting a backstory as this Patagonia estate: Piero Incisa della Rochetta, Italian winemaking nobility of Sassicaia fame, was bewitched after tasting an oddity, an old-vine Pinot Noir from the Patagonia region. He visited the remote, barren spot and quickly bought and resuscitated three neglected Pinot vineyards dating from 1932, 1955 and 1967. Today, each site produces a unique, small-lot wine.
Swiss-born wine entrepreneur Donald Hess and winemaker Thibaut Delmotte are pushing the boundaries of high-altitude winemaking in the Salta region. Hess’s Colomé winery and biodynamically farmed vineyards lie at elevations of up to about 10,000 feet; the resulting wines display terrific freshness and purity.
Dominio del Plata/BenMarco
Argentina’s premier wine power-couple, Susana Balbo and Pedro Marchevsky, produce a handful of high-profile labels from their Mendoza facility. These include winemaker Balbo’s affordable Crios line (whose Torrontés helped catapult this grape to international stardom) and her namesake reds, which have set standards for balance and precision. Marchevsky, a top viticulturist, crafts red wines under his well-regarded BenMarco label.
For most of the year, Luca’s energetic owner, Laura Catena, is an emergency-room doctor and mother of three in San Francisco. She spends the remainder of her time back home in Argentina running Luca and consulting for her family’s famous winery, Bodegas Catena Zapata. Catena’s brilliance is on display in Luca’s lineup: exquisite, small-lot wines made from old vines.
Roberto de la Mota made his name crafting superbly balanced and complex wines at prestigious labels Terrazas de los Andes (owned by luxury giant LVMH) and Cheval des Andes. Mendel is de la Mota’s personal project, focusing on just four wines: three reds and a Sémillon sourced mostly from old vines planted in the gravelly soils of Luján de Cuyo.
Like many of Argentina’s oldest wineries, Rutini was founded by emigrants from Italy—in this case Don Felipe Rutini, who planted Cabernet vines in Mendoza’s Maipú area in 1885. Now part-owned by vintner Nicolás Catena, the largish producer operates vineyards in five Mendoza subregions. Its wines include the entry-level Trumpeter line and the Felipe Rutini label.
Terrazas de los Andes
Hervé Birnie-Scott made sparkling wines for Champagne Moët et Chandon’s Argentine venture, Bodegas Chandon, before heading up this sister winery. Its vines grow in terraces (terrazas) and grapes are matched to specific altitudes to encourage ideal ripeness. Offerings range from the basic Terrazas to the more refined reserva and single-vineyard (Afincado) cuvées.
Celebrated California winemaker Paul Hobbs fell in love with Argentina on a visit in 1989, and has been returning ever since as a consultant. In 1999 he founded this Mendoza winery with two Argentinean enologists. His Viña Cobos label showcases Hobbs’s classic style—rich, indulgent, crowd-pleasing wines that have impressive poise and balance.