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Argentina is a vast country. With a land area of close to three million square kilometers, it is ranked as the 8th largest country in the world. The country has huge biodiversity; extending all the way from the equator to close to the Antarctic circle, its spans a diverse range of climate zones and the terrain ranges from mountain peaks to coasts and wetlands. This diversity allows a rich flora and fauna.

Macroeconomic Overview

The country has a population of 47 million and a GDP of $450 billion. The country has emerged as a middle-income developing country, heavily dependent on agricultural exports, which account for 56% of merchandise exports. Soya beans, maize and meat were the biggest exports. Land use is widely regarded as inequitable: IFAD said in a 2011 report that land use in the country “is far from equitable” and estimated that just 2% of farms control half the country’s land, while 57% of farms control just 3%. This tendency toward concentration in a few large entities is also reflected in the wine sector.

Viticulture, Climate and Terrain
 

 

Argentina is fenced off from the cooling breezes of the Pacific by the high mountains of the Andes. The climate ranges from cool in the mountainous north of the country where the altitude is highest to warm and arid in the center, particularly around parts of Mendoza, to cool and maritime in the southern region of Patagonia.

Altitude rather than latitude plays the biggest role in determining which regions are suitable for growing the various grape varieties. Spring frosts are an occasional hazard, but the biggest risk to crops is from summer hail, which can destroy the harvest. Netting is widely used to avert this risk, but large wine-makers spread their risk across several vineyards, one advantage of the large-scale agriculture practised here.

The pampas region of Argentina stretches across the eastern half of the country, and wine production is confined to the western part towards the border with Chile. The Andes mountains in the west create a natural rain shadow that limits the spread of diseases in the vineyards.

The pergola system of trellising has traditionally been used, and is known as parral in the country. This raises the grapes off the ground, and allows for a dense canopy that provides partial shade for the fruit. This system is still used for growing the native Torrontes grape, but black grape growing has tended to move towards vertical trellising systems but still with the need to shade the grapes from the hot sun.

Phoro of red and white grapes in back of truck

Black Grape Varieties

Malbec is the most widely grown black grape. Originally from Cahors in France, this grape has been well adapted to Argentina and is the signature variety.

Bonarda is the variety that is commonly grown here. It is a high tannin acidic grape that is light ripening, and it makes dense red wines with deep colour.

Several international grape varieties have flourished in the country. Tempranillo is growing in popularity. Cabenret Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are also represented.

Photo of bunch of black grapes hanging on vine

White Grape Varieties

Torrontes is the main varietal for white wine production, an aromatic variety that has stone fruit and melon flavours.

Although this makes high quality wines, plantings of the domestic Pedro Gimenez grape are actually more extensive, making large volumes of cheap plonk for domestic consumption. Other grapes used in cheaper wines are Croalla Grande and Tannat, although these are increasingly seen in wines for the export market as well.

International varieties that have found favour with Argentinian winemakers include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Viognier.

Photo of bunch of white grapes hanging on vine

Regional Analysis

Salta

This is a high altitude region in the north, near the border with Bolivia. Vines here are grown as high as 3,000 meters, and most vineyards are above the 2000 meters mark. This region has clear air that is free from pests and disease. The Cafayate region around the town of the same name is a premium region, producing good quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, as well as large plantings of Torrontes.

La Rioja

This region, which bears the same name as Spain’s great wine-making region, is the third biggest producer in Argentina. Wines from this region are exported under the brand name Famatina, to avoid confusion with Spain’s Rioja. La Rioja produces mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, and Torrontes among the white grapes.

San Juan

The San Juan region ranges in height from 450 to 1500 meters above sea level. The main plantings are of Bonarda, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Chardonnay and Viognier.

Central Argentina

Mendoza

The Mendoza region is far and away Argentina’s biggest producer. It comprises five main zones. The Northern and Eastern parts of Mendoza tend to be large volume producers of middling quality grapes. The southern and central zones are better quality. The central zone includes quality areas such as Lujan de Cuyo, the Uco Valley, including the western edge Tupungato, and the eastern Maipu region. In the south, the San Rafael region is a high volume region with a distinct style and aiming to get better.

The Lujan de Cuyo region is a high altitude area 900-1100 metres above sea level, growing good quality Malbec. The Uco Valley has a cooler climate and grows Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes and Chardonnay as well as fine Pinot Noir among red wines. The Maipu region has plantings of Bonarda and Tempranillo, as well as international varieties such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. IN the southern San Rafael area, Syrah and Chenin Blanc are grown.

Southern Argentina

Patagonia

This includes the regions of Rio Negro and Neuquen. The slopes in Rio Negro only rise to around 250 meters, but the cool air allows for diverse range of grapes. The region has long sunshine hours, strong winds, and a wide diurnal range. Sauvignon Blanc is produced here, as well as international black grape varieties including Malbec, Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Statistical Data
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Production Trends
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Consumption Trends
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Trade Outlook
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