South America has slowly become a signature area for wine production. However, in recent years it has started to gain notoriety for its quality. For a long time, South American wines tried to compete based on price rather than quality. As their strategies changed some exciting wines have started to be produced in this region. There are currently three countries that are dominating South American wine making: Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. Brazil is also gaining in popularity, however is still trailing behind the top three.
It surprises most people when they discover Argentina have more land committed to viticulture than almost any other country in the world. However, Argentina has not had a large amount of success on the international scene until recently because most of their wine was being consumed domestically. After some major renovations, Argentina now produces many wines that are French in origin.
The largest wine producing region in Argentina is easily Mendoza. Mendoza is in the western part of Argentina and produce almost 75% of the entire country’s wine. The vineyards span from the foothills of mountains to over 4000 feet above sea level. Argentina leads the world in sky-scraping vineyards. The average vineyard sits at about 3,000 feet in elevation, which is much higher than many of their counterparts in California and Western Europe. In fact, many Argentinian wines will have the elevation listed on the label. While a large majority of Argentinian wine is still destined to be of very low quality, they are consistently improving and making a stand in the international market.
Chile, like many other New World nations, has made an impact on the international scene for only a few decades. However, it offers a variety of grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and many others. In fact, many grapes that were originally considered to be Merlot grapes, have recently been identified as Carmenere, which is a variety that is hard to find. For the most part, most of the wine that comes from Chile is red, however there are some excellent white wines as well.
The North region in Chile is known as Aconcagua, Panquehue, and Casablanca. This area has been able to produce some quality red wines with a spattering of white wines such as Chardonnay.
Below the Northernmost region is Maipo. This is the oldest wine region in Chile and is well known for a variety of red wines, however they are most known for their Cabernet Sauvignon.
South of Maipo is Rapel and Maule. This region features lighter and fruitier red wines than their northern counterparts and are most well known for their Pinot Noir.
The Southernmost region of Chile is Bio Bio. This region is very wet and is known primarily for its low quality jug wines. However, some varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are starting to take root.
Many international consultants and vineyard owners have started to make their way to Chile, which has led to a dramatic increase in quality over the last decade. However, these improvements will not be fully recognized for several years.
Uruguay produces a large amount of internationally recognized wines, however it is important to note because they rely heavily on Tannat. Tannat requires a long aging process, so the improvement in Uruguay’s wine industry will not be seen for several years. They seem to be making advances at a similar rate to their counterparts in Argentina and Chile. Within a few years, Uruguay could be the “next big thing” in wine. They have also brought in several other red grapes that are native to France and should excel in this region.
South American wine is still working its way into the international market. While several countries have already had a measure of success, it is likely that their full impact on the international market is yet to be seen. They continue to take chances, which has primarily led to disaster, but has also yielded some amazing results. As they continue to experiment and create unique and successful wines, their practices will soon standardize and these countries will be set to break into a large portion of the international market.
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