In South America, the Wine Is the Adventure
By Cathy Brown
I’d always been more of an outdoor adventure girl, so when I thought about South America, it involved images of rafting the Futaleufu River or mountaineering Aconcagua. My first trip to Mendoza, Argentina, changed all of that.
Lazily sipping an exquisite malbec after a four-hour lunch, I slowed down my pace. I had no other decisions to make than whether to take a poolside siesta, gaze at the snow-capped Andes that towered behind the vines, or try yet one more fabulous red. Exploring the wine regions of South America was one of the loveliest adventures I’d ever been on.
Regions of South America have actually been producing wine since the 1500s. Franciscan monks planted mission grapes to make basic wine for religious purposes, not contemplating things like tannins or how alluvial the soil was. In the late 1800s, the wine movement migrated from Peru after the region suffered a major earthquake. It moved down to Chile and Argentina, this time with malbec, cabernet sauvignon and carménère varietals that were perfectly suited for the region — ultimately kickstarting an era of outstanding vino on the continent. Today, Argentina is fifth in the world for wine production and Chile is sixth, just ahead of Australia.
Mendoza is Argentina’s most important wine region, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the country’s entire wine production. Several other areas in the country, such as Salta, Córdoba, San Juan and even Patagonia, produce wine, but Mendoza is the star due to the diversity of its production. Its wines range from the 100-point cabernet franc of the poetic and melodramatic bodega El Enemigo to simple and cheap vino patero (foot-pressed wine).
That diversity is also evident in Mendoza’s terroir. The eastern region called Maipú is where wineries Trapiche and Zuccardi can be found 2,300 feet above sea level. To the south, the Instagram-worthy Uco Valley tops more than 3,600 feet elevation. Malbec is the heavy hitter throughout all of Mendoza, while Bordeaux-style reds such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc also farewell. Torrontés, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier shine for whites, thanks to over 330 days of blue skies and sunshine per year.
In contrast to the sunny, dry climate of Mendoza, Chile’s major wine region is cooler and wetter. Chile is blessed with a jaw-dropping location, hugged by both the Pacific Ocean and the stunning Andes mountain range. The valleys along the Pacific coast collect cool air as it travels up the Andes, helping it to produce peppery and earthy cabernet sauvignon. While Argentina prides itself on malbec, Chile touts a memorable carménère, similar to cabernet
Both countries are fantastic for travelers, with luxurious hotels, gourmet restaurants (including a not-to-be-missed Francis Mallmann open-fire restaurant in each wine region), and outdoor adventures. In the past few years, both regions have embraced more organic, biodynamic growing methods, with Matetic in Chile and Chakana in Argentina being standout vineyards that make high-quality wines while consciously caretaking the earth as they do so.
Where to Sip & Stay
Park Hyatt Mendoza Hotel, Casino & Spa: Grill Q – Parilla Argentina serves up traditional Argentine dishes such as locro and empanadas, while the adjacent Uvas Lounge & Bar is the place for beginners and experts alike to sample a huge variety of boutique local wines.
Exclusive: Enjoy a complimentary wine tasting for two hosted by the property’s sommelier.
Sofitel Buenos Aires Recoleta: The Brick Kitchen is both refined yet incredibly comfortable with a lounge-style atmosphere perfect for kicking back and sipping new varietals. The exquisite preparation of risottos, meats, and fish can be seen through a large window into the kitchen.
Exclusive: Take a break from wine tasting with an elegant afternoon tea for two.
The Ritz-Carlton, Santiago: Sustainable farm-to-table products mixed with international cooking techniques craft the ever-changing menu of Estro’s new Chilean cuisine.
Exclusive: Your stay includes $100 in dining credit.
W Santiago: Try erizos(sea urchins), locos (Chilean abalone) and ceviches accompanied by local wines just as memorable as the panoramic view of the Santiago skyline offered at Terraza restaurant.
Exclusive: Spend $100 in dining credit during your stay here.
Cathy Brown is raising her three children on a farm in Argentina’s Patagonian Andes, where she writes for publications such as Lonely Planet and Fodor’s.