Argentina is the largest wine producer in South America and the 5th largest in the world, with over 1,200 million liters (2003), and the 13th largest exporter in the world (431 million USD in 2005).
Argentine wine, as with some aspects of Argentine cuisine, has its roots in Spain. During the Spanish colonization of the Americas, Juan Cedrón (or Cidrón) brought the first vine cuttings to Santiago del Estero in 1557, and the cultivation of the grape and wine production stretched first to neighbouring regions, and then to other parts of the country.
Due to the high altitude and very low humidity of the main sub-Andes wine producing regions, Argentine vineyards rarely face the problems of insects, fungi, moulds and other diseases that affect grapes in other countries. This permits cultivating with little or no pesticides, allowing even organic wines to be easily produced. The main problems are hail, which can be catastrophic and heavy rainfall at harvest about every 7th year associated with the El Nino climate cycle.
Argentine winemakers have traditionally been more interested in quantity than quality and the country consumes 90% of the wine it produces (45 litres a year per capita according to 2006 figures). However, the desire to increase exports fueled significant advances in quality. Argentine wines started being exported during the 1990s, and its wines are growing in popularity internationally. The devaluation of the Argentine peso in 2002, following the economic collapse, further fueled the industry as production costs decreased.
Argentina probably produces the best Malbec in the world. Ironically, in the 1980s, Argentina almost gave up on the grape through government vine pull schemes. Now it's a flagship and capable of giving Argentina unique 'Icon wines'.
Wine tourism has significantly increased recently in Argentina. When we first took tours there in the mid 1990s it was very new to non-existent. The past years have seen wineries becoming much more tourist-friendly. Some wineries even provide accommodation (such as is the case of Salentein). Now there is perhaps a danger of too many wineries making a basic, rather 'commercial' wine tour offering. If you go along as a member of the general public, that is what you will probably get.
Argentinians are extremely hospitable, and the receptions that we recieve at Argentine wineries are second to none.