You’ve no doubt heard at least some praise about South America’s best wine regions, but what you probably haven’t heard, is just how affordable even the best drops of wine can be. As a young and frugal backpacker, I thought I’d hit the fine-wine jackpot lottery when I purchased a carton cask of wine for USD3 at a supermarket in Santiago, and it ended up tasting better than 90% of wines I’d ever tried before…
A brief step back in history
In case you really didn’t know, South America is home to some of the world’s most revered wine regions. Having escaped unscathed from the pest scourge that started in France in the mid-1800s, and nearly wiped out an entire continent’s wine supply (oh, the horror!), Latino vines have been thriving with gusto uninterrupted, ever since Jesuit missionaries imported viticulture to the New World over 500 years ago.
Wine aficionados have been in the know about South America for years (all the while pompous connoisseurs keep on sipping, slurping, and spitting out Bordeaux, like wasting a good vintage doesn’t offend anyone), although the best wines in the continent are still relatively unknown internationally. Outside of their home turf, Chilean wines enjoy the most fame and are certainly the most distributed. Yet ask anyone who’s visited, and they’ll tell you Argentinian wines are the ones you ought to be seeking out. Although it’s probably best not to start that argument again…
If that’s not enough, there are actually plenty of awesome wines also produced in Brazil, Peru and even Uruguay. The continent’s fertile soil, plentiful altitude and ideal climatic conditions have combined to create ideal wine-growing regions, with only a lack of infrastructure and marketing prowess preventing them from completely taking over the wine-world. Not that we’re too crushed about that. There’s something about enjoying a superlative glass of wine of unknown label – overlooking a stunning landscape – that makes it feel like you’ve just discovered South America’s best kept secret.
PS. Yes, you have.
The best South American wine regions
It’s all well and good that there may be dozens, no, hundreds of exceptional vineyards spread out all over South America, but there probably isn’t much point in listing them all if you actually can’t visit them.
So, to this end, here’s a list of the best wine growing regions you can actually
CHILE – To say that one could actually drink one’s way through Chile is not as much of an overstatement as you may imagine. Sure, the Atacama Desert’s had a bit of a dry spell lately, but if we told you there are 13 wine-growing valleys stretching the length of the country, you’d probably start booking your trip already. The most famous valleys to tour are the Maipo Valley (for reds primarily) – home to famous wineries like Concha y Toro (best lunch stop!), Santa Rita and Tarapaca – and the Cachapoal Valley (for whites), home to Chateau Los Boldos and Altair, among an abundance of other big names. Both wine regions are within wine-swirling distance to Santiago, and although day trips are super popular we’d actually recommend spending a few days in each valley, as the natural surroundings (not to mention hot springs) complement the wine tasting beautifully.
ARGENTINA – One of the best wine regions, Mendoza, springs to mind immediately when mentioning Argentinian wines, and it is here that famous Malbec, Cab Sav, and Torrontés grow happily in the high and dry environment. But what makes the Mendoza region so popular, we believe, is that this is not just another superb wine-growing region: this is one of the most breathtaking places you in the country. Framed by two Andean peaks over 6,000 metres high, Mendoza is a narrow corridor of desert among impressive mountains and the juxtaposition of barren landscapes, and fertile vineyards stretching thousands of acres is simply mesmerizing.
If that’s not enough, the city itself has emerged as a culinary queen, attracting award-winning chefs and restaurateurs eager to complement the premium wine production. With her leafy streets and beautiful architecture, gorgeous fountains and hip cafés, Mendoza is one of those towns that seduces you to stay far longer than you ever expected. If you enjoy being surrounded by superb scenery, and all the comforts you could wish for – including characteristic lodges with sweeping vistas – Mendoza’s the place you need to visit.
Mendoza is just over 1,000km from Buenos Aires, but less than 400kms from Santiago, so including a few days here on a tour of Argentina or Chile (or both!), is superbly easy.
Patagonia is also emerging as a wicked wine-growing region, most especially for Pinot Noir grapes, which are used in many sparkling wine varieties. The areas of La Pampa and Rio Negro – far away from the icy shores of the southernmost regions – are emerging as top wine growing areas, thanks to the harsh winters and cool summer nights, resulting in fruity grapes with just the right amount of acidity, and a slow ripening process that lends itself well to the production of intense, full-bodied wines. Take but a sip of Fin del Mundo’s Reserva Malbec 2005 and you’ll know precisely what that means. It’s certainly no coincidence that we included this is our South America’s Top Sundowners blog post.
A totally off the beaten wine path destination, a tour of Patagonia’s best wineries is bound to be a truly unforgettable experience.
URUGUAY – Montevideo is arguably the most enchanting capital in South America. Something about its compact yet charming centre makes it feel more like an overgrown village rather than a cosmopolitan city. Brimming with an array of fantastic restaurants, where you’ll certainly be able to get your hands on great wines, Montevideo is also the springboard for tours of nearby wineries, including the über-charming Bodega Carrau and Bouza Bodega. Having caught on to the wine-tourism craze, Uruguay has established its own Wine Route (Ruta del Vino) in the Canelones Region just outside the capital. Welcome to Uruguay Wine Route website offers a comprehensive list of wineries that are open to the public.
Come drink with Chimu! *Responsibly, of course (ie. you drink, we drive)*
We offer a phenomenal 4-day Mendoza Wine Experience in Argentina that’ll have your head spinning (get it?!) Try the Malbec, long considered a national treasure here, as well as other lesser-known but equally brilliant varieties, while we indulge you in a gourmet 6-course lunch and throw in a Mendoza city tour to cap things off.
In Chile, how about a luxurious 6-day Luxury Wine Experience, where the emphasis is on gourmet food, exceptional wines and outstanding landscapes? Or if you’re short on time, a 4-day adventure meandering your way through Santiago’s Wine Valleys ought to still give you a good taste of the country’s best vinos.
Can’t decide? Then hop aboard for a comprehensive week-long Wine Trail Tour and we promise to indulge your taste buds in the most delightful drops South America’s best wine regions have to offer. Alternatively, you can always let us create a tailor-made itinerary for your coming tour of South America.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”