La Rioja is a seven hour drive north of Mendoza, passing through San Juan on the way. The climate is a few degrees warmer and considerably drier with an average annual rainfall of just 13cm per year and an average temperature of around 19C, but with wildly contrasting peaks and troughs throughout the year with mid-summer temperatures averaging 35C (95F) dropping as low as -7C (20F) during the short winter months of July and August. The soil is mainly alluvial and loose textured.
With around 8,500 hectares of vineyards, La Rioja is the third biggest Argentinian wine region.
La Rioja is much better suited to producing wines of real quality especially in the Famatina valley between the Velasco mountains and the Famatina hills. Here the vines grow at 1000 – 1400 MASL and the altitude brings freshness and balance to the wines, driven by the huge diurnal temperature range.
La Rioja’s most planted variety is the indigenous, aromatic Torrontés Riojano. Today the giant La Riojana Co-Operative controls almost half the vineyards in the province and produces over 20 million litres of Torrontés a year in every style from sweet, to dry to sparkling.
Other varieties that do well in La Rioja include Bonarda, Syrah and of course Malbec.
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Without doubt the most important province in Argentinian wine production, accounting for around 75 percent of the total vineyards in Argentina. The highest peaks of the Andes are found in Mendoza, with Aconcagua sitting at around 6960 MASL. The presence of the Andes, which acts as a barrier to the humid winds of the Pacific, help shape the climate, generating ideal conditions for the cultivation of vines.