The Patagonia region of southern Argentina is famous for its national parks, wild places, and stunning natural areas. Increasingly, it’s also becoming a region known for wine as more and more winemakers establish themselves in the southern part of the country. Our 2-part Patagonia wine guide provides an overview of this distinct wine region in southern Argentina. Here, an exploration of five wineries in Neuquén and Rio Negro provinces.
There’s no question that the winemaking regions of Mendoza and Salta/Cafayate still dominate the wine scene in Argentina and offer the most evolved wine tourism experiences. However, we found much to love in the evolving wine regions of Argentinean Patagonia, which sprawls over the southern third of the country. There are dozens of wineries here with more added each year.
What makes Patagonian wines different?
The weather in Patagonia is notorious–very cold, very dry, and often very windy (sometimes more than 50 knots) with long periods of intensely strong sunshine and big differences between the high and low temperature each day–and that affects the grapes grown here and the wine made here. For example, the wind in Patagonia creates thicker skins on pinot noir grapes which gives Patagonian pinots deeper color, more tannins, and a generally bolder flavor. Patagonian conditions also coax unexpected qualities out of white grapes. For example, Patagonian chardonnays tend to be crisper and more refreshing than those from California or France and some producers are getting startlingly lively results with gewurztraminer and reisling grapes too.
Global warming, which affects all agriculture including grape growing, and many grape growers and winemakers assured us that it plays a role in the production of Patagonian wine too. One agronomist told us that it used to be risky to plant cabernet sauvignon grapes in Patagonia because they ripen extremely slowly and need to be harvested late in the season which increases the risk of frost on the vine before the fruit is ripe enough to pick. Now the climate has changed so much that his winery plants cab sav with confidence (and makes lovely wine with it).
We visited five wineries in Neuquén and Rio Negro provinces and we hope you use our Patagonia wine guide to plan your own travel and tasting adventures in southern Argentina.
Patagonia wine guide: wineries in Neuquén province
Neuquén province is located in the most northerly part of the Patagonia region of Argentina. Neuquén’s wine country is centered around the town of San Patricio del Chañar which is about 30 miles (50 km) from the city of Neuquén. At roughly 1,200 feet (350 meters) above sea level and at 38.5 degrees south of the equator, the climate here is generally less harsh than in provinces further south.
In 2000, local officials started an organized effort to foster a grape growing and winemaking region in San Patricio del Chañar in order to diversify the local economy. Those efforts attracted grape growers, winemakers, and investors.
Bodega Malma: upstarts with deep roots
Can you be a pioneer and an upstart at the same time? Siblings Ana and Julio Viola prove that the answer is yes. To hear them tell it, their father was a big part of the creation of this wine region. Though his original plan was to buy a large plot of land then divide it into smaller fruit orchards, he soon realized that the area was perfect for grapes and he shifted gears. Eventually, he and the project he started planted “99% of the grapes in the area” establishing vineyards and creating partnerships that ultimately became big players in San Patricio del Chañar.
In 2012, Ana and Julio bought a winery called NQN and officially split with Bodega del Fin del Mundo in 2019. Now Bodega Malma has 295 acres (120 hectares) planted in grapes and they produce about 850,000 bottles of wine per year, half of which is exported around the world. Julio says he’d rather work hard in the vineyard to achieve high quality and a natural balance and then do as little as possible to the wines in the bodega where he wants things to be “boring”. Their lines currently include Malma, P15, and Cholila Ranch which is named for the homestead created by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in Patagonia.
Tours and tastings: Yes…Reservations required and, if you’re lucky, you might be accompanied by a very good dog named Pancho.
Restaurant: Yes…The excellent Malma Restaurant has polished concrete floors, a glass cube wine room, leather chairs, and vine views all around. Our lunch included succulent empanadas, a hearty paella, tender lamb, and poached pears all paired with Malma wines, of course. The smoky 2019 Malma Familia Reserve pinot noir was delicious and the Malma Universo malbec was so good we asked for more.
Familia Schroeder: bubbles and bones
What do you do when you find dinosaur bones on your property while building your winery? Name one of your wines Saurus, of course. When the owners’ father, a successful local doctor named Herman Heinz Teodor Schroeder, decided to join the effort to establish a wine region in Neuquén and invest in the creation of Familia Schroeder in San Patricio del Chañar he had no experience making wine (though he was a wine lover) and even less experience with dinosaurs. He got used to both.
Herman started planting grapes in 2001 and the winery’s first vintage was in 2003. He died in 2015, but his sons have taken over the business. Today, Familia Schroeder produces about two million bottles a year, half of which are exported around the world. Eighty percent of the vines produce red varietals including pinot noir, malbec, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc. The rest of the vines produce white varietals including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and torrontes.
This bodega also has an impressive sparkling wine focus. Half of their production is sparkling wine in the Italian method under the watchful eye of a winemaker who came from Chandon in Mendoza, part of the world-famous global sparkling wine empire owned by LVMH. The H. Schroeder sparkling wines are a tribute to the founder.
Tours and tastings: Yes…Reservations are essential if you want a tour in English
Restaurant: Yes…The simple and chic Saurus Restaurant has floor to ceiling windows with vine views and a wrap-around patio. Our lunch started with a glass of light and floral sparkling rose which had big but gentle bubbles and a tender blush color. Dishes included lamb sweetbreads on rough polenta, shredded lamb with smashed potatoes, and a cloud-like peach flan. The 2018 Barrel Fermented malbec was deeply purple and a perfect match for both the sweetbreads and the lamb. The tart and light 2019 Saurus pinto noir was perfect with the peachy flan.
Bodega Patritti: focused and growing
Many of the area’s other wineries were well underway when Bodega Patritti (recently purchased by the massive Argentinean wine producer Grupo Peñaflor) began planting vines for their first vintage in 2008. Today, the winery, located near San Patricio del Chañar, has 270 acres (110 hectares) planted and produces 1.5 million liters a year with plans to expand to 2 million liters.
They currently have two wine lines. Primogenito wines spend 10-12 months in oak barrels. Primogenito Sangre Azul wines are made with the vineyard’s very best grapes and get more like 15 months in oak. The word promogenito means firstborn in Spanish.
The shape of the Patritti winery was inspired by gently cascading water and the large space feels a bit like an airport with an industrial roof, exposed metal beams, and soaring ceilings.
Tours and tastings: Yes…During our tasting, led by winemaker Nicolas Navio, we tasted pinot noir from both lines, malbec from both lines, and merlot from both lines. Not surprisingly, the Promogenito Sangre Azul wines were consistently better-formed. The very drinkable 2017 Sangre Azul merlot, for example, was deeply red, had a spicy nose, some tannins, and mellow fruit. The pinot noirs from both lines were oddly astringent.
Bodega del Fin del Mundo: big wines from a big producer
This massive and well-established winery in San Patricio del Chañar produces at least 50 different bottles in at least six different labels. There are so many wines it’s impossible to photograph all of the bottles as a group. Vines were first planted here in the 1990s (they claim to be the first winery in Neuquén) and today they have 1,700 acres (700 hectares) planted including 250 acres (100 hectares) of pinot noir, making them one of the largest producers of this varietal in Argentina.
The first Bodega del Fin del Mundo vintage was in 2002 and now more than 9 million liters of wine are produced here each year which, they say, accounts for 50% of all the wine produced in the Patagonia region. So it’s no surprise that the winery facility is enormous and industrial. With so much wine in so many lines being produced, the winery has a team of three winemakers who divvy up the duties to get the job done.
Tours and tastings: Yes…Our tasting, lead by winemaker Ricardo Galante, included a very flexible 2019 Fin del Mundo Reserve chardonnay which had a great light nose (only part of this wine is oaked) with citrus and butter and bright acidity in the first sip. The nose opened up with a bit of capsicum and the flavor got more floral with time. The 2018 Fin del Mundo Reserve pinot noir was much darker than most pinots from the region with a spicy nose and a mouthwatering almost salty element. The 2018 Fin Single Vineyard pinot noir had a yeasty, astringent, slightly soapy nose with uncommonly big flavors including tannins, old lemons, and a velvety mouthfeel with a peppery finish. The Fin Single Vineyard malbec was buttery and almost salty (thanks to very minerally soil) with a light finish of gentle dark berries. The excellent Fin Single Vineyard syrah had a sexy, smoky nose with flavors of chocolate and dark fruit that never got too heavy. The 2018 Special Blend (malbec, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot which are all fermented separately then blended) was very dark in color with a spicy nose with butter and smooth jam in the finish.
Neuquén wine country lunch stop travel tips
Picada 11, a stylish cafe/bistro in San Patricio del Chañar, is an extremely popular lunch option. Hamburgers, oven-roasted chicken, lasagne, and more are all tasty and fresh and the black and white decor, fresh flowers, and butcher paper on the tables creates a surprisingly chic environment. Don’t miss the fantastic lemonade and their signature Vaca Muerte sandwich (named for a massive nearby oil field a nod to the area’s oil industry backbone) which is made with tender shredded beef, avocado, sliced ham, lettuce, and tomato on a branded bun. Bonus: they serve a wide range of Malma wines.
Another food find in the area is the Nada Pescado Local Frito food truck in a pullout next to a very large fruit stand on the shoulder of Ruta Nacional 151 between Neuquén city and San Patricio del Chañar. Here, 400 ARS (about US$5) gets you a takeaway box packed with legit fish and chips always made with a local catch. Homemade tartare sauce is the icing on the cake.
Patagonia wine guide: wineries in Rio Negro province
Rio Negro province abuts Neuquén province but the wine area here is closer to Neuquén city than the wineries in San Patricio del Chañar. Rio Negro province is also where you’ll find the oldest and most established winery in the region.
Humberto Canale: old school, old cool
The Canale family empire started in the 1800s as a bakery in Buenos Aires which eventually expanded into a food empire including nuts, pasta, canned tomatoes, and more. Young Humberto Canale worked as an engineer in the port in Buenos Aires and, in 1909, he bought 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of land in Patagonia with a partner under a belief that the area is “just like Bordeaux”.
Humberto brought vines from France and planted vineyards along with pears which he transported to market in Buenos Aires via train. The oldest vines (reisling) date back to 1937. Humberto died in 1957 and today the fifth generation of the family runs the business in their own Canale style. For example, they have their own nursery for propagating new vines and they still use flood irrigation, not the more modern drip irrigation method used by most vineyards.
Tours and tastings: Yes…Our tasting with winemaker Horacio Bibiloni (pictured above) included a refreshing 2019 reisling that smelled of pears and freshly snapped pea pods wrapped up with zingy acidity and a green apple finish. The 2018 pinot noir (made from fruit off vines planted decades ago) had a smoky nose and a silky almost fatty mouthfeel with a spicy finish. The 2019 Estate malbec, which spent eight months in oak, was buttery with big tannins, then heat and fruitiness near the finish. The Finca Los Angelitos blend, made with old vine fruit including 60% malbec and 40% cabernet sauvignon, was very dry, velvety, and warm. And the very compelling 2015 Gran Reserve merlot was the color of raisins with a lot of dried fruit in the nose, tannins along the edge of your tongue, and an earthy, almost fortified finish.
Restaurant: Sort of…There are two menu options at Humberto Canale. The first includes empanadas and a charcuterie plate with your wine tasting. The second is a three-course menu including empanadas, Patagonian meat grilled on an open fire, and dessert with your wine tasting.
When to visit Patagonian wineries
South American seasons are opposite to those in North America, which changes key events like veraison and harvest. In Patagonia, for example, harvest generally happens in February and March. Many hotels, restaurants, and attractions in Patagonia also close during the heart of winter between July and November. Plan your visit accordingly.
Part 2 of our Patagonia wine guide covers winemakers and wines in Chubut province.
Here’s more about travel in Argentina
Here’s more about Patagonia Travel
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