This month we feature wines from South America. In fact, Argentina and Chile have been making wine since the 1500s, when Jesuit missionaries brought vines from Spain and France. It is only recently that quality has improved sufficiently to satisfy European tastes.
In the meantime here is a bit more information about these up and coming areas.
Lying on the west side of the continent, Chile’s climate varies from the hot mountainous desert to the north to the cold Antarctic wilderness in the south. The vineyards flourish in the warm, fertile valleys between. Popular varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay with the original CarmenÃ¨re, a now rarely found variety of Bordeaux, sometimes blended with Merlot.
As Chile began to export wines, the reds in particular often had an unpleasant taste but this is a thing of the past and Chile is now able to offer premium wines to match those of the Australian continent. Only time will tell whether or not the wines have the potential to develop with age into truly great wines.
Regions are (from the north) Aconcagua (hot and dry conditions with few wineries) and Panquehue which produces Sena, a premium red wine. On the coast is the subregion Casablanca, which specialises in white varieties, including Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Inland is Maipo, Chile’s oldest wine region, best known for its red varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon.
South of Maipo is Rapel, which, with its subregions produces Merlot (look out for CuvÃ©e Alexandre) and Pinot Noir.
The southernmost region is BÃo BÃo, a rather wet region, previously producing little of good quality but nowadays producing better Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
You may be surprised to learn that Argentina is one of the worldâ€™s largest wine-producing countries. Altitude is the significant factor, with vineyards planted at 2,000 and 3,000 feet to take advantage of the cooler temperatures. Argentine wines are made from grapes such as the traditional Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and also varieties like Tempranillo, Bonarda, Barbera, TorrontÃ©s and Malbec. The Torrontes grape was taken to Argentina from Spain in 1560 and is now the signature white from this country, with Malbec the signature red.
Mendoza is the area responsible for about three quarters of Argentina’s wine production. Vineyards are planted on the slopes of the mountains up to 4000 feet, with the whites preferring the cooler altitudes. Like Chile, the majority of the wine was consumed by the local population and it is just recently that vineyards have been replaced to provide export quality wines.
There are only a few Uruguayan wines to be found outside the country. The best grape is Tannat which is similar to Malbec but can be rough without long ageing or blending.