BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine wines have won international acclaim for their high quality and affordability, and winemakers are confident the country's exports will keep growing next year despite the global economic downturn.
Wine industry officials are showing optimism even though Argentina's main export markets -- the United States, Britain and Canada -- are in the throes of economic turmoil.
Wine exporters say they are bracing for a drop-off in demand, but they still see a slowing global economy as an opportunity for sales.
"We'll probably see lower levels of growth, but there are some good signs," said Guillermo Daniel Garcia, president of the state-run National Institute of Wine Production.
Juan Carlos Pina, manager of a trade group of Argentine vineyards, said many wines were well-positioned to withstand any changes in spending habits by wine drinkers in recession-gripped countries.
"Instead of going to a restaurant and ordering $30 bottles, people are getting together at home and drinking $15 bottles of wines and we're very competitive in that range," Pina said.
Wines from Argentina, along with those from Chile, Australia, South Africa and the United States, are known as "New World" wines whose prices are generally lower than wines produced in Italy, France and Spain.
Argentina is especially renowned for its Malbec wine.
Argentine wine exports are on pace to reach a new record this year, boosted by a weak currency that has helped give vineyards a competitive edge.
Argentina's foreign wine sales totaled $446.7 million through September, well ahead of the $346.2 million it exported during the same period last year. In 2007, exports reached a record $482.3 million.
Nearly 27 percent of wine production is destined for exports, according to government statistics.
"Wine drinkers are curious and always looking for something new, and Argentina is still fairly new to many. That could help us get through this bad spell," said Pina.
Writing by Kevin Gray; editing by Jim Marshall