Who is Who Argentina

After years of crisis, Argentina’s economy is finally stabilising. Daniel López Roca surveys the new wine landscape.

Martín A. Ramos, Aldo Graziani, Alejandro Bulgheroni, Matías Prezioso
Martín A. Ramos, Aldo Graziani, Alejandro Bulgheroni, Matías Prezioso

After the El Niño event struck in 2016, the production of wines in Argentina was seriously affected by the cold and rain. This resulted in the lowest harvest of the past 30 years. Although in 2017 there was an increase of 25 percent, compared with the small 2016 production, it was still 15.4 percent lower than 2015. It looks as though the 2018 harvest will be 30 percent higher compared with 2017. The situation has forced large, volume-producing wineries to import bulk wines from Chile, France, Spain and Italy.

The ongoing economic crisis of the recent years, plus the pressures of inflation and the booming of the beer sector, has seen wine consumption drop to 20 litres per capita, the lowest level since surveys began. In 2001, similar amounts of wine and beer were consumed — about 1,250m litres each — according to the Observatorio Vitivinícola Argentino (OVA). By 2017, only 900m litres of wine were sold, while beer sales were above 2,000m litres; so beer consumption is now more than double that of wine.

The US dollar strengthened relative to the peso between January and May, which could make Argentina’s wines more competitive, but with inflation running at 25 percent per year, the cost of production will affect pricing. Wineries working within Argentina have to take all of this into account.

Government institutions

The Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura (INV) was created in 1959 as an autarchic entity that answers to the president. Agronomist Carlos Raúl Tizio Mayer has been president since January 2016, with the economist Marcelo Eduardo Alos as the vice-president. 

Fondo Vitivinícola Mendoza (FVM) is a non-state public body dedicated to the promotion of winemaking activity in Argentina, which includes entities from the private sector along with the government of the province of Mendoza. The president is Bernardo Lanzilotta.

Corporación Vitivinícola Argentina (Coviar) is the organisation that manages and coordinates Argentina’s Strategic Wine Plan (PEVI). The president is Ángel Leotta, with vice-presidents Hilda Wilhelm de Vaieretti and Walter Bressia. 

Wines of Argentina is the entity that, since 1993, promotes the brand and the country image of Argentine wines around the world. Alberto Arizu from Leoncio Arizu SA was recently elected president for another period, with Guillermo Barzi from Humberto Canale winery as vice-president.


The Asociación de Profesionales en Enología y Alimentos de Argentina (APEAA) is a non-profit institution that brings together professionals of oenology and food. Together with the INV, it organises the Vinandino y Malbec al Mundo wine competitions, under the auspices of the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) and the International Union of Oenologists (UIOE).

The Asociación Argentina de Sommeliers (AAS) was founded in 2001 and now has more than 500 members; the World’s Best Sommelier competition was held in Mendoza in April 2016. Matías Prezioso is president and Valeria Mortara is vice-president. The outgoing president, Andrés Rosberg, is in the same position at the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI).

Notable sommeliers

Paz Levinson, a professional sommelier since 2006, works between Argentina and France. She holds a degree in literature from the University of Buenos Aires, and recently became the first Argentine to pass the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier Certificate. She was named Best Sommelier of Argentina in 2010 and went on to be Argentina’s candidate for the Best Sommelier in the World contest 2013 in Tokyo. In 2014, she again won the Best Sommelier of Argentina, while she was the ASI & APAS Best Sommelier of the Americas 2015. In April 2016 she came fourth in the Best Sommelier of the World for that year.

Martín Bruno, current brand ambassador for Pernod Ricard, won the Best Sommelier competition in 2017. Bruno, along with second-placed Valeria Gamper, will represent Argentina at the ASI & APAS Best Sommelier of the Americas, to be held in Montréal, Canada.

Wine education

The Escuela Argentina de Sommeliers (EAS) offers sommelier certification that is awarded by the Universidad del Aconcagua and CETT-UB certification, which is affiliated to the University of Barcelona, Spain. The EAS director is Marina Beltrame. Other sommelier courses are available at Escuela Argentina de Vinos (EAV), which offers a Technical Degree in Sommellerie and a post-graduate degree in Sensory Food Evaluation. 

The Centro Argentino de Vinos y Espirituosas (CAVE) has offered the WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits courses in Argentina since 2009.

Master of Wine

Marina Gayán is the only Master of Wine of Argentina. She was born in Buenos Aires where she lived until she moved to London in 1999. Matías Chiesa is a stage one student in the programme.

Biggest wine company

In 2010, the Bemberg family — former owners of Cervecería y Maltería Quilmes — acquired Grupo Peñaflor’s full stock of shares, giving the company a new start. Grupo Peñaflor’s position as industry leader is indisputable. With annual sales of $560m, 28.9 percent of Argentina’s market and annual exports reaching $180m — or 26 percent of exports — it is Argentina’s biggest producer of fine wines. Grupo Peñaflor has a presence in more than 95 international markets with a stable of successful and well-known brands, and was ranked as the ninth biggest wine producer in the world by Euromonitor. The company owns 6,000 ha of vineyards and employs more than 2,800 workers. The CEO is Martín A. Ramos, the oenology director is Daniel Pi and the agronomist is Marcelo Belmonte.

Oil and gas billionaire Alejandro P. Bulgheroni continues building his international wine business. His portfolio now includes Vistalba, Tomero and Argento wineries in Argentina; in Uruguay he built Garzón and Brisas wineries near Punta del Este; in Tuscany, he bought Chianti Classico estate Dievole, along with Podere Brizio and Poggio Landi, both of which are in Montalcino, and Tenuta le Colonne in Donoratico in Bolgheri. In Bordeaux he owns organic estate Château Suau and Château de Langalerie; in Australia he owns Greenock Farm in the Barossa Valley and in California he owns Renwood Winery as well as his flagship Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate in Napa Valley. Bulgheroni is also building a new winery in Argentina’s Patagonia region near Capitán Sarmiento, Chubut Province, which will be the southernmost winery in the world.

Wine stores

Winery, the largest wine chain in Argentina, is currently undergoing a financial nightmare. Owner of 22 shops in different cities, it has fired 100 workers and accumulated debts of more than $26m. Originally developed by three brothers, Jaime, Moisés and Amelia Chmea, it is Jaime Chmea who is now in charge of the financial reorganisation. The main creditors include important wineries such as Catena Zapata, Peñaflor, Chandon and La Rural, along with several banks. 

Other important wine chains include Ligier, Tonel Privado and Frappé.

Despite this, it’s the Chinese supermarkets that are the main wine sales channel in Buenos Aires and other provincial capitals. According to Kantar Worldpanel, the Chinese channel is responsible for 46.1 percent of the whole wine retail market. Because of aggressive pricing policies products are offered at 20 to 30 percent cheaper than at other outlets. The main reason to achieve these prices is that the owners of the Chinese supermarkets make group purchases and pay cash, which allows them to get extremely competitive prices. 

Online wine sales continue to grow. The most notable players are Tonel Privado, with both an online and offline presence, Cristóbal wines and Chakana wines (both wineries) and POL (Polargentina).

Wine importers

Until 2015, regulations made importing wines very difficult. After changes were made in 2015, Argentine consumers witnessed the resurgence of imported wines from France, Spain and Italy, as well as from the New World, something that was unknown in the past two decades. Local wineries have added imported wines to their portfolios. Alejandro Bulgheroni imports Garzón wines from Uruguay; Freixenet and Codorniú their Spanish products and Moët Hennessy Argentina, the local branch of the French group, brings in their Champagne portfolio. Some wineries have developed their own wine distributors, such as Catena Zapata and Casa Pirque, which distributes the wines of Château d’Aussières from Languedoc-Roussillon; Kaiken imports and distributes Aurelio Montes’ Chilean wines. Apart from the wineries, there are few wine importers; one is Ricardo Luis, who has been distributing Pommery Champagne for decades. However, the strengthening of the US dollar is hitting the retail prices of imported wines hard. 

Notable personality

Aldo Graziani is undoubtedly one of the most active sommeliers in Argentina. He founded Aldo’s Vinoteca restaurant and wine bar in 2011 in the historic centre of Buenos Aires and it has a wine list has more than 500 wines from all Argentina’s wine regions. He also created El Garage, a wine distribution company. Today it sells 140 wines from the producers’ association Productores Independientes Paraje Altamira (PIPA). In 2017 Graziani opened his second wine bar and is about to open his third. He hopes to address the Millennial market by offering cheap prices, good products and strong music. He has 120 employees and a turnover of $4.2m per year.  

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