Argentina and the Mighty Mendoza Argentina has long been one of the world's leading producers and consumers of wine. Presently, this sprawling nation, which contains some of the world's most diverse geography: tropical jungle, barren desert, towering snow-capped mountains and windswept deserted islands that herald Antarctica, is the world' fifth largest producer of wine and the planet's third largest consumer of the fruit of the vine, placing it just behind Italy and France. It was in the 16th century that learned Jesuits, with fervor for faith matched only by their desire to cultivate the seeds of civilization, first brought the vine to the land of the pampas. Father Cedron, a Jesuit missionary from Spanish Mexico, is believed to have planted the first vineyard in what is now Argentina in 1556. His early plantings survive as the Criollas grape variety, which still produce light red and rose wines. Once the most widely cultivated grape varietal in Argentina, the ancient Criolla is now giving way to Chardonnay, Torrontes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and most importantly, Malbec. Although Argentina acknowledges its viticultural debt to the early Spaniards who settled there, the modern tale of wine in Argentina really begins with the Italian migration of the late 19th century. Sparked by political strife and economic stagnation, many Italian growers and winemakers headed for Argentina. Settling in the dry rain starved Mendoza at the base of the Andes, these Italian immigrants began to sluice the snow waters from the mountains out over the vineyards, causing the desert to bloom. In less than a century, the Mendoza, a state approximately the size of Illinois, has become Argentina's leading wine producing region, accounting for the vast majority of the nation's wine production and more than half of all the wine made in South America. Driven by Argentina's seemingly insatiable thirst for wine, as well as the burgeoning worldwide demand for fine wine, especially well-made reds, the Mighty Mendoza now comprises some 700,000 acres of vines, and is still growing. The vast majority of wine from the arid, nearly insect-free environment of Mendoza is red, and happily the quality of these wines continues to grow exponentially. The recent attention to quality is much to the delight of savvy North American consumers, finally astute enough to notice the myriad of fine Mendoza offerings flowing north, without holding the region's previous viticultural history of favoring quantity over quality against it. Since the early 1980's, relative political stability along with the infusion of money and talent from abroad has transformed the Mendoza. With the likes of Paul Hobbs, Jacques and Francois Lurton and most recently Marco de Grazia, this recent wave of immigrants and investors has transformed the once sleeping giant into a treasure trove of fine wines. Moreover, savvy consumers would be wise to look to Mendoza for value as well as quality because unlike most other wine producing nations whose prices have risen sharply due to the decline of the dollar, Argentina's economic woes have kept prices in check. And with the likes of 2001 Altos Malbec, this is as good as it is going to get, so enjoy!