South American wines have become known as great values and great quality wines. It’s no secret that Chile and Argentina are the leading wine producing countries of South America. After establishing reputations as producers of “fighting varietals” (Malbec from Argentina and Carmenere from Chile) that until recently offered acceptable, if unexciting wines at reasonable prices, and are taking the initiative to become world class contenders for making phenomenal wine. Take for example; the #1 on Wine Spectators top 100 exiting wines of 2008 was Casa Lapostolle, “Apalta” 2005 from Colchuagua Valley, Chile. To reach international acceptance for their wine, many changes had to take place to bring these two countries into the focus of European and American markets. But to make change they needed money. With the help and financial backing of wine makers and investors from France and the United States, they updated wineries, and with rigorous advertising, they are able to better compete. Like many New World nations, Chile and Argentina have only made an impact on the World market within the past decade. Both countries have been growing grapes and making wine for centuries. While there are the international grape varietals planted here, such as Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec and Torrontes are the signature varietals in Argentina, and Carmenere in Chile. Both of the grapes Malbec and Carmenere were originally planted in Bordeaux, France. However, Carmenere is no longer a varietal that is planted in Bordeaux. Torrontes was thought to be indigenous to Argentina; recent genetic testing indicates that Torrontes is a hybrid of Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica.
Chile is best known for providing solid, value-priced Cabernets. The best of these Cabernets combine ripe, New World-style fruit with Old World touches of mineral and spice. Carmenre, originally grown in Bordeaux before phylloxera wiped it out in the 1800s, survived in Chile, and is typically marked by plummy fruit, pepper notes with a fleshy, caressing mouthfeel. With its disease-free soils and low labor costs, Chile continues to lure outside investors and spur competition.
New vineyard sites are being developed on lower-yielding hillsides as the emphasis shifts from quantity to quality for this export-minded country. Look for wines from the following regions; Aconcagua and Maipo for Cabernets, Casablanca for Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, Raphel for Merlots and Carmenere, while Curico, and Maule produces Cabernet, Carmenere and Pinot Noir.
Like Chile, Argentina has a small group of elite wines, but their success is based primarily on the Malbec grape. Think of the red wine-producing regions whose fame lies primarily with a grape other than Cabernet Sauvignon – Burgundy with Pinot Noir, Piedmont with Nebbiolo, Tuscany with Sangiovese, Australia with Shiraz. Many are beginning to consider Argentina with Malbec as belonging in this group.
Malbec, which produces the inky, tannic wines of France’s Cahors region, has undoubtedly found its home in Argentina. Lush, fruit and heady aromatics, along with this variety’s typically dark color and meaty notes, make for unique wines.
Argentina is a large country and there are many regions to the east of the Andes Mountains that are important growing areas for winemaking. The Mendoza region is by far the largest producer of wine in Argentina. Just as California is divided into regions, sub regions, and appellations, (Napa and Sonoma, Santa Barbara) Mendoza is similar .Maipu and San Martin are in the North, and Junin, Rivadavia, La Paz y Santa Rosa compose the East. The Mendoza River covers the Lujn de Cuyo and Maip appellations. They are known as the first wine area of the Argentine wines. Such appellation arises from the international prestige that wine labels of this area have gained, considered the top quality wines of the country. The Uco Valley area covers the highest vineyards of the province: up to 1,400 meters above sea level. Tupungato, Tunuyn and San Carlos are also located in this area. The Salta, region offers wines with a wide range of flavors and aromas, such as the fragrant Torrontés, the signature variety in the area.
Wineries in both countries continue to explore the nuances of regional character while experimenting with unfamiliar grape varieties that offer unique and intriguing flavor profiles. We anxiously await the arrival of exciting new wines from Argentina and Chile