The history of winemaking in South America is actually older than most people realize. In fact, it has been making wine since the 16th century AD. However, the quality of wine in South America was poor back then. The Catholic Franciscan friars there grew the Mison grape, the Pais and Criolla Grande varieties of Spain. The wines produced by these friars were for the Church’s own use. Later, viticulture and winemaking techniques slowly spread from Peru to Chile and eventually to Mendoza, Argentina. It wasn’t until the late 19th century, after Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere began to be planted in South America, that some great wines began to be produced.Today, the wine industry in South America is thriving, and it has its own unique advantages. Argentina is the fifth largest wine producer in the world, while Chile is ninth (just ahead of Portugal). So let’s take a look at what has made South America’s wine industry what it is today and what wines it is known for.
Argentina is the largest wine producer in South America, and its most famous wine is Malbec. In addition to Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontes are developing very well here, well adapted to the hot, arid conditions. Among Argentina’s emerging wine regions is Patagonia, which produces excellent Pinot Noir wines. So far, Argentina’s exports have been mainly Malbec wines, although its Cabernet Sauvignon is actually very commendable and comparable to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.Chile
Beginning in the 17th century, after an earthquake destroyed the wine industry in Peru, Chile began to emerge as the leading wine producing country in South America. Chile’s main wine producing regions and capital, Santiago, have a typically cool climate. The cool sea breeze, as it blows from the sea to the Andes, also fills the valleys there with a cool air. The Cabernet Sauvignon produced in Chile is very similar to that of Bordeaux, with a spicy, rustic style. The king of Chile’s red grape varieties is Carmenere, a grape with a flavor profile much like Cabernet Franc.
Uruguay’s most famous grape variety is Tannat. Tannat is a relatively bold variety with plenty of tannin and a medium to high alcohol content. Tannat wines are very popular in South America and are best served at barbecues, although not many are exported to the United States.Brazil
Brazil’s wine industry is growing quite rapidly, with most of its fine wines coming from the Serra Gaucha region in the south, the best of which are Chardonnay and Merlot wines. The Brazilian wines have a more prominent herbal flavor, closer to the style of Old World Italian wines and less like New World wines.
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