argentina, chile, malbec, país -

south american wines

The two most famous wine-producing countries in South America are Argentina and Chile, although great wine is made elsewhere, most notably Uruguay. The wines can get overlooked, often seen as inexpensive, entry-level supermarket wines or simply poured by the glass in bars. But there is far more to South American wine, and I'm excited to have two new wines in the club to share some of the love.

Argentina's wines became popular in the early 1990s because of Malbec, which was first planted in the country in the 1850s. It’s a French variety that had mostly been forgotten about, but the wine-drinking world was ready for new styles of wine which fit in for the trend for full-bodied reds. The wines from Argentina were affordable, fruity, and fun: now Argentina is firmly established as an international wine producer.

But it's also important that Argentinian producers do not get stuck in a Malbec rut, where everything tastes the same. Alpamanta is a producer not afraid to experiment, while also making wines characteristic of Mendoza, Argentina's main wine region. They make a Sauvignon Blanc called "Breva," which is a little cloudy in appearance. They also make a pét-nat from Criolla Chica (the same grape variety as País or Mission, see below), which is fun and tasty. But they also make more traditional wine: I've got a Malbec of theirs into the club called Natal because it is such a classic example of the variety in Mendoza: great for blind tastings, great with steak, great on its own. Malbec from Mendoza is much more varied than you might think: elevation plays a key role in determining quality and style. This wine comes from Luján de Cuyo, where plantings are at 950 meters, allowing the fruit to retain its freshness and immediacy.

Across the Andes, I've also got in a wine from a Chilean producer, Roberto Henriquez. He's based in Bío Bío (I love that name), which is to the south of the country, far from the traditional base of Chilean wine in the center around the capital city of Santiago. It's much cooler there, for lighter styles of wine. "Rivera del Notro" is made from País (see above), a variety brought from the Canary Islands by Jesuit missionaries in the 1500s. Roberto has made it his mission (sorry, couldn't help myself) to find old-vine País and make fine wine from the variety. Too much Chilean wine is nondescript: the wines of Roberto Henriquez and other like-minded producers are far more individual and could only come from Chile.

And if you want to know more about the wines of other South American countries, check out my podcast episodes on Bolivia and Brazil, or my interview with Amanda Barnes on grape varieties only found in South America. It's such a vast continent, and there is so much to discover.