Over the past decade, the wines of South America have taken international markets by storm. As tastes turn towards the bold, vibrant styles that South America achieves so beautifully, both investment and skilled winemakers have been flocking to these enchanting vineyards.
While Chile and Argentina may be South America’s biggest producing and best know wine countries there are also many rising stars to look out for, such as Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and Venezuela.
Despite being consistently one of the world’s largest wine-producers, Argentina’s wines are still relatively undiscovered internationally. This is largely due to thriving domestic wine sales, which until recently has kept many Argentinean gems hidden from a wider audience.
Wine production is centred along the spine of the Andes, just over the peaks from Chile’s vineyards. On this side of the mountains, the ground can be desert-like during the summer as the peaks create a rain shadow but carefully distributed snowmelt waters from the mountains provide a lifeline for the vines.
The biggest wine producing region of Argentina is Mendoza, a vast and undulating central region that extends into the Andes foothills. A wide range of grapes excels here, from crisp Chardonnay for sparkling wines to rich, full-bodied Shiraz and Malbec. As with Carmenère in Chile, Malbec thrives in Argentina creating smooth, deeply fruity red wines that are distinctly different to those from the grape’s native Southern France.
Salta lies in the far north west of Argentina near the Bolivian border and comprises some of the country’s highest and coolest vineyards. This stunningly beautiful region is enjoying increasing success with its fresh, aromatic styles and exceptional quality. Argentina’s unique white grape, Torrontés does particularly well here. The origins of this beautifully peachy and floral grape are unknown, although it’s likely to have come from Galicia in Spain many centuries ago.
On a narrow strip of land between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Chile is a country of contrast. From the sands of the Atacama Desert to the glaciers of Patagonia, the varied landscape provides a huge diversity of vineyards and wines.
Heading south from the Atacama, the mountainous region of Elqui has relatively new vineyards that extend high into the hills where pure sunlight and cool temperatures create unique wines.
Travelling south, the imposing Andes Mountains provide pure snowmelt water for the vineyards; Aconcagua Valley receives water directly from the peak of Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas.
Further south, coastal Casablanca, the well-known Maipo Valley and the cooler Colchagua Valley make up the historic ‘heartland’ of Chilean winemaking. Colchagua has a superb reputation for quality, particularly for the variety that Chile has made its own: Carmenère. Almost unseen in its native France, Carmenère thrives in the Chilean climate, where consistent sunshine and cool evenings coax rich, dark berry flavours from the fruit.
Some 500 miles south of Elqui, the wide rivers of Bío-Bío Valley appear. Considered ‘extreme’ in vineyard terms, the wind, rain and fluctuating temperatures make winemaking here a constant challenge. The rewards, however, are great as this is a superb area for vibrant, crisp styles such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and aromatic Gewurztraminer.