“The potential of [Argentina] in the wine industry is astonishing; the diversity of its future development, breathtaking. Perhaps this potential is better appreciated by those of us who are escaping the conservative production regimes of the traditional European wine countries. If there is one place on earth where all the optimum conditions for the development of a new and formidable wine industry- climate, soil, costs, human resources, and little bureaucratic regulation- exist together, that place . . . is Argentina.”
- Michelle Rolland, EGOWINES, 2003
“By the year 2015, the greatness of Argentine wines made from the Malbec grape will be understood as a given. This French varietal has reached startling heights of quality in Argentina. Both inexpensive, delicious Malbecs and majestic, profoundly complex ones from high elevation vineyards are already being produced, and by 2015 this long-ignored grape’s place in the pantheon of noble wines will be guaranteed.”
- Robert Parker, Food and Wine Magazine, 2004
These are exciting times in the wine industry in Argentina. Argentina has exploded onto the world wine export market in recent years with the amount of Argentine wine imported to the United States increasing over 40% per year in each of the past five years. There are many factors contributing to the growing popularity and quality of Argentine wine.
Argentina is the fifth largest wine producing country in the world. Winemaking and vineyards were well established by the middle of the 1800s by Spanish, Italian, and other European immigrants who brought their traditional grape varieties from Europe to plant in the New World. Until the 1990s, most Argentine wine was bulk wine made for domestic consumption. In the past two decades, the focus has shifted from bulk production for the domestic market to high quality wines for the export market. This shift has been caused by several factors, including a favorable exchange rate, surplus old growth vines from declining per capita domestic consumption, and the discovery of Argentina by European and American winemakers. As a result of the introduction of modern winemaking and vineyard management techniques, the Argentine wine industry has been transformed.
Argentina is uniquely blessed with a geography and climate that allows production of superior grapes in relatively controlled, almost ideal climate conditions, with almost no chemical treatment of the vines and grapes. The main wine regions are in semi-arid, desert conditions at the foot of the Andes mountains. The weather is extremely sunny, so the vines receive an abundance of sunshine to fully ripen. Although rain is sparse, the vineyards are irrigated by water originating in the towering, snow covered peaks of the Andes Mountains, which reach almost 22,000 feet. Irrigation allows maximum control of watering conditions, and thus there is little risk of too much or too little rain. This environment results in great consistency in the quality of wine produced from year to year, unlike in Europe.
Many of the vineyards are at elevations over 1000 meters above sea level, which results in important benefits for the vines. First this elevation has warm temperatures in the day and cool temperatures in the night (these can often vary from 95 degrees in the day to 42 degrees at night in the summer months), which is ideal for grapes as it creates more sugars, tannins, and other complex substances in the grape. Also, the strength of the sun’s rays at this elevation produces more pure color in the grape.
Of particular and growing interest is the fact that the dry climate and altitude of Argentina’s vineyards means the grapes can be grown almost completely organically, with minimal to no use of pesticides which are commonly required in most humid wine regions such as those in France and the United States. Other than the small amounts of sulphites used in the winemaking process to preserve the wine, many Argentine wines are 100% organic and free of any chemical treatment. The vines are also more resistant to pests (notably the Phylloxera insect), and many vines are over 75 years old.
Finally, while exchange rates continue to make European and other wines more expensive, the favorable exchange rate with the Argentine peso and low costs of production make these wines outstanding values in today’s marketplace.
Almost ideal climate and geography, an abundance of old vine vineyards, a new focus on quality production, and favorable exchange rates have all combined to make Argentina a bright and emerging star in the world of wine.