Wines of San Juan: Syrah’s playground

The wines of San Juan were once associated with Argentina’s coarse, pink-skinned varieties that are sold in cardboard cartons for a pittance across the country, but that is no longer the case: San Juan has stepped out of the shadows to take center stage among Argentina’s premium wine regions.

Wine makers have been actively developing San Juan vineyards (the second largest producer in Argentina) in cooler sites to create high quality yields dominated by European grapes – with their flagship Syrah and ubiquitous Malbec reigning supreme.

New plantations of high-quality grapes and the implementation of state-of-the-art technology in wineries has allowed for the elaboration of new San Juan wines that have gained recognition on the international stage.

Like most of Argentina, the wines of San Juan are forced to brave a dry continental climate – although natural irrigation from two rivers, the San Juan and Jachal, and meltwater descending from the mountains bring life, while warm winds, alluvial soils and changes in diurnal temperatures create an enviable environment for fine wine making.

As well as Syrah and Malbec, traditional red varieties like Bonarda have been accompanied by Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Tannat – with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier representing the whites. The region also produces sherry-style fortified wines and provides the base for Argentina’s brandy and vermouth.

Cheap strains of Criolla and Cereza are still produced, but generally used for blending or grape concentrates.

The most important wine making regions in San Juan are the five valleys: Tulum, Ullum, Zonda, Pedernal and Calingasta. Of these, Tullum Valley is the most successful in uniting the necessary climate conditions to create fruit laden wines with unique personality and style.

Recently, however, the higher altitude vines planted in the Pedernal Valley, one of the most isolated areas of Argentina, have been earning international respect for producing some of the finest wines of San Juan.

The oldest wine producer in San Juan, Graffigna, sources its grapes from vineyards in both the Tullum and the Pedernal Valleys to create exceptional Graffigna Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio varietals.

Elsewhere, Ullum Valley produces red wines with enviable colour intensity and well-defined aromas; Calingasta is an arising region with extraordinary potential for Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon; and the Zonda Valley – named after the warm wind system that heats the area – is home to some impressive Malbec varieties.

Most of the wineries in San Juan are clustered around the capital city of the same name, which is surrounded by stunning mountain views in every direction. And, in the city itself, the Santiago Graffigna Wine Museum tells about the history of one of the pioneer families in the region’s wine making heritage.

Our local experts can arrange exclusive tours of the San Juan wine region including winery visits, private tastings, luxury accommodation and unique outdoor experiences.

As well as discovering the wines of San Juan, we feature incredible tours of Argentina’s other renowned wine regions: These include Salta and Cafayate where visitors can taste crisp Torrontés white wines – Argentina’s only unique white wine grape.

And, no wine tour of Argentina would be complete without a trip to Mendoza where first class red wines share company with breathtaking mountain views and welcoming locals.

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