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Wine Labels from Argentina

Although Argentina owes much of its oenological success to the European influence from the 1600s onward, its laws in relation to its wine industry, do not adhere to the strict requirements of those of their ancestors.  While many European countries contain specific and strict requirements for practically everything done in the vineyard or the cellar, Argentina is more lax in dictating the terms of winemaking. Depending on your view, this either negatively effects quality by keeping the bar low or improves variety by encouraging creativity and experimentation.  In the latter respect, many would point to the United States AVA system as a model.  And it seems that Argentina has followed its northern hemisphere neighbor.

After passing a law in 1999, the Argentina's wine regulatory agency (Instituto Nacional Vitivinicultura) was able to have tighter controls of demarcating specific geographic indications.  Basically, the law would create less ambiguity on the borders of winegrowing regions.  Winemakers, in turn, believed that it would help define certain terroirs in the country.  Consumers could feel more assured that a wine that said it was from Mendoza actually came from that region.  The law, No. 25-163, provides for three levels of quality based on geographic specificity: Indicacion de Procedencia (IP) requires that 80% of the grapes in the wine come from the IP region, Indicacion Geografica (IG), wines vinified and bottled in a designated area, and Appellation of Origin (DOC), for wines meeting stricter requirements regarding the region, climate, and grape varieties.

Which brings us to wine labels. The regulations on what is required on a label are pretty basic. Outside of the regional designation and a stipulation that a wine must contain 80% of the grape it claims, an Argentinian wine label has to contain the standard information found elsewhere around the world such as producer, volume, and alcohol content.  A recently enacted (November, 2011) law also states that labels must contain the official logo for Vino Argentino Bebida Nacional (Argentine Wine National Drink), drawing some grumblings from cost-conscious winery owners annoyed at increased production prices.

So when engaging an Argentinian wine label, be mindful of a couple of components.  First, if a varietal is stated it will contain at least 80% of the grape, and be pretty representative of the grape's general characteristics.  Also, if the specific varietal is replaced with another term (“Nicolas” from Catena Zapata comes to mind) many wineries will break down the varietal proportion on the back label.  Another consideration to keep in mind is the specificity of the region.  If the label simply states Argentina, the grapes may come from anywhere in the country and may be of lesser quality.  And while a designation of a distinct region, such as San Rafael or Lujan de Cuyo,  (DOCs), does not necessarily guarantee high quality, it is an indication that the wine has met a more specific set of criteria that are generally based on quality wines.

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