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The rise of Argentinian wine

Foreigners are wading into Argentina's wine industry.

MENDOZA, Argentina — Frank Ansel knows good wine when he tastes it.

As a food and beverage executive with Hyatt International, Ansel spent 35 years crisscrossing the globe sampling the world’s finest culinary delights. When it came time to retire last year, he decided to leave Chicago and settle overseas. One country in particular stood out.

“I always thought that I would live in Europe, perhaps in France," he said. However, "with the euro/dollar exchange today, that didn’t make sense anymore. But in Argentina, your dollar can go a long way."

Ansel is one of a small but growing number of foreigners who were originally drawn to Argentina because of its affordability, and who are now getting involved in the country's burgeoning wine industry.

Ansel purchased land in Mendoza, which sits 650 miles west of Buenos Aires and serves as the epicenter of Argentina’s wine country. He paid $15,000 for two acres of terroir in the sunny Uco Valley and plans to begin planting his grapes with the help of an Argentine partner in September.

“The wine business in Argentina is fascinating," he said. "And Malbec is the grape to plant.”

Argentina is the world’s fifth-largest wine producer, and the popularity of its wines has soared in recent years, thanks largely to increased exports of Malbec. The rich, earthy red has become Argentina’s signature grape, and most experts agree that the best Malbecs in the world are produced here, below the towering white-tipped peaks of the Andes Mountains, where the soil is ripe, the water is clean and the sun is strong.

“Argentina really found its identity with the Malbec,” said Andreas Larsson, who in 2007 won the title of Best Sommelier in the World. “The last 10 years has been quite a revolution in regards to better quality wine. Argentina’s challenge now is to find a personality, and evoke the elegance and layers of its wines,” he said.

While some, like Ansel, are taking a do-it-yourself approach to boutique winemaking, there is also a growing number of companies in Argentina that offer hands-on help to wannabe winemakers.

In 2006, Michael Evans, a former tech executive from Washington D.C., and his Argentine business partner, Pablo Gimenez Riili, purchased 650 acres of land in the Uco Valley. They've since sold small parcels to more than 50 owners from around the globe, including celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, who plans to sell his Argentine wine at his restaurants in the United States.

Their project, which they call the Private Vineyard Estates, is run under the direction of renowned Argentine winemaker Santiago Achaval, whose Achaval Ferrer wines are among the most highly decorated of all Argentine wines.

“We provide all the services, from clearing and planting, to the actual winemaking, including barrel aging, bottling and shipping," Gimenez Riili said. "So it’s a turnkey operation."