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In a move to recognize the contribution of grape growing and winemaking to Argentina’s industry and identity, a presidential decree on Nov. 24, 2010, declared wine to be the country’s national drink.

Argentina is the fifth largest wine producer in the world, following Italy, Spain, France and the United States. It produces two billion litres each year, most of which is consumed at home. On average, 20 per cent of that production is exported, with consumers in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom ranking as the three leading markets based on 2020 figures.

By comparison, Australia, New Zealand and Chile export 60 per cent, 70 per cent and 90 per cent respectively.

Joaquin Hidalgo, one of country’s leading wine writers, says Argentina is a consuming market, not an export market. That distinction has a significant impact on the styles produced.

“We drink wine, we produce wine, we love wine,” Hidalgo explained during a virtual master-class for Canadian wine students and trade.

While the popular multiregion blend of malbec from Mendoza, a red wine blended from vineyards in different parts of a province, continues to be an important category, the style is more refined. After years of research and care, winemakers have greater understanding of the differences between sites, which makes for wines with more nuance as opposed to ripeness and power. Once rampant, the use of oak is more tempered. It’s a seasoning, not a main ingredient.

The diversity of vineyard locations in Mendoza is immense because of the rapid rise in altitude. A 45-minute drive from the City of Mendoza into the foothills of the Andes mountains puts you into the Uco Valley at an altitude of 1,600 metres above sea level. The temperature drops as you climb, leaving behind vineyards that are as warm as ones in Lodi, Calif., where robust zinfandels are prominent to spots that are as cool as Champagne in northern France.

It’s impossible to treat vineyards across such a dramatically changing landscape the same. Each site requires its own care and attention.

The modern wine industry is equally varied, ranging from boutique producers making fewer than 100 cases each year to wine giants producing more than one million cases of 12 bottles.

As a result of the determination to improve across the board, the quality of affordable malbecs from producers such as Luigi Bosca, Catena, El Esteco, Terrazas de Los Andes and Zuccardi may stop consumers from reaching for more expensive bottles. Considering what they’re getting for the price, what more could they expect.

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