Argentina has the potential to produce some of the best in the world. Until recently, this potential had not been realized. In the past, crops were huge and quantity was more important than quality. It was common to find bottles labeled Margaux, Rioja, Chablis, Beaujolais and Champagne, while whatever was inside the bottles had no relationship with the European originals. The wine was usually different versions of the Criolla grape. Even now there are still virtually no laws in place to control vintage dating, place names or brand names. Three-quarters of Argentina’s wines are made in the province of Mendoza, which on its own produces more wine than the entire country of Chile. Most wineries are large and industrial, with huge fermenting tanks capable of producing mind-boggling quantities.
The acreage under vine is similarly enormous. Current estimates have it at 750,000 acres under vine. 750,000 acres are Malbec, the classic variety of southwest France, while 18,000 are Cabernet Sauvignon. (To put this in a better perspective, our entire Niagara Peninsula has approximately 24,00 acres under vine.) Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir have been introduced here more recently. An influx of Italian immigrants at the turn of the century brought native varieties such as Barbera, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese a huge irrigation system using melting using ice and snow from the Andes mountains has been used to turn a flat, arid, empty and featureless plain into one of the most efficient grape growing regions in the entire world.
Although the country itself may not have organized wine laws, the best producers always set their own high standards. The first quality wine producer in Argentina was a man named Don Tiburcio Benegas who, in 1870, married the daughter of a wealthy landowner in the Mendoza province.
Soon he started to grow vinifera varieties- Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon -that he had already been experimenting with on his own property of EI Trapiche. He found the growing conditions in Mendoza ideal and he is created with bringing the idea of quality wines to Argentina.
A lot of foreign investment is now coming into Argentina’s wine industry and the search for quality is being taken more seriously. The champagne house of Moet & Chandon, the Italian vermouth maker Cinzano and the Mega Corporation Seagram are all investing in better wines. Argentinian winemakers are doing what Chile had done years before- brings in French and Italian exports to lead their experience.
Most Argentine wines we see Ontario are under ten dollars and the quality quite good. The best way to discover these wines is to try then and then remember which producers they came from. Look for other offerings from these producers in the future.
Peru has grown grapes since the middle of the 16th century. Production is fairly small-about 2 million gallons a year- and all of the wine made there is consumed locally. The Pais or Criolla grape is dominant and the majority of wines are made in either a dry Mediterranean style or a fortified style like sherry or port.
Peru is responsible for creating a unique brandy called Pisco. Pisco takes its name from the southern Peru seaport it was shipped from. It is distilled from Muscat grapes and the flavour has a perfumed, floral undertone. Traditionally it was matured in clay jars and consumed when it was quite young. Because it was not aged in wood like some spirits
(Whisky, for example), Pisco did not draw any colour from the charred or toasted oak barrels. Pisco is usually crystal clear.
In Uruguay, there are four small provinces that grow wine grapes commercially. These provinces are Canalones, Colonia, San Jose and Soriano. All of them are adjacent to the capital city of Montevideo.
This area is made up of predominantly low, humid flatlands, comparable to some of the southern vineyards in Italy. Almost all the wine produced in Uruguay is consumed there.
The winemakers in Uruguay are improving rapidly. The University of Uruguay has been working on a program to expand their winemaking industry and make it more international, to the extent that lately a number of students have gone to Italy and France to learn from the acknowledged masters.
Brazil didn’t have any wine grapes planted until after World War I. After that, Italian immigrants brought their own varieties. Now, native Italian grapes like Barbera, Malvasia and Moscato all grow alongside small quantities of vinifera varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Semillon and Riesling.
Most vineyards are grown on a small area called Rio Grand do Sul, in what is called the South Temperate Zone. The Rio Grand do Sul borders the Atlantic, runs south into Urguay and inland into Argentina. To the north of it there are three smaller regions, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and a fourth new region, Santa Caterina. The rest of the country, while huge, is mostly tropical and therefore too hot for winemaking.
In terms of viticulture, Chile is a virtual paradise. Since almost the very beginning of its status as a country, rather than a colony of Spain, it has sought to create quality wines.
In 1851, Don Silverstre Ochagavia Echazarreta, a wealthy Basque landowner, decided that he wanted wines as well as those he had in Europe. In particular, he liked what he had tried in Bordeaux.
He hires a French oenologist named M.Bertrand, who brought with him vine cuttings from Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and, for the sake of experimenting, Riesling. He found that they all worked exceptionally well here, including the Riesling.
What he and no one else knew then was that at almost the exact same time M.Bertrand was stepping off the boat in Chile, phylloxera, the vine louse, was about to devastate European vineyards. Unwittingly, M.Bertrand had essentially saved the better vinifera varieties. Over the next 40 to 50 years, the same vines in Europe were virtually wiped out.
Even today, Chile is the only country in the world totally untouched by phylloxera. Chile has also avoided another plague, a downy mildew called Oidium. These are probably the two most destructive diseases ever to affect the grape vine.
Phylloxera has never affected Chile because the Andes are too high to climb, the land north of the vineyards is too hot and the prevailing onshore wind (generally by the Humboldt current) is too cold for the lice to survive from the Pacific side. The air is too dry and arid for any sort of fungi to live so you never see Odium. Chile also has fairly strict government controls dealing with any kind of plant life coming into the country, so phylloxera had never been inadvertently imported.
Chile is the only major wine producing country in the world that does not have to graft its vines to North American rootstock.
The land itself a wine grower’s paradise. Sunshine is plentiful and the soil is incredibly fertile and free of disease. The Andes Mountains provide the same irrigation for Chile as they do for Argentina, and Chile has the added advantage of the cold Humboldt Current, creating a coastal fog that feeds the leaves of the vines.
Below the capital city of Santiago in the Chile you find the chief wine region. There are five designated wine regions, and about half of the acreage requires irrigation. Traditionally the Maipo valley has produced the best quality wines but in 1978, Miguel Torres of Torres wines in Spain bought Vina Maquehua in the cooler maule valley further south, and started producing excellent reds and whites.
Torres completely replanted his vineyards and brought in state of the art equipment. He ferments his wines in Spanish stainless and ages them in small American oak barrels. He is credited for producing the first cold fermented white wine in the country. Prior to this, Chilean winemakers fermented and aged wines in large vats made from a local wood called Rauli, which imparted an old wood aroma and flavour to the reds but an acidic astringency to the whites. Most producers now use modern methods.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most successful red grape in Chile and Riesling is considered the best white, although not many Chilean Rieslings are exported. The current government has an extensive program underway to remove most of the Pais grape plantings and replace them with the more classic varieties. Classic varieties are in greater demand in the world market.
Chile’s National Council for External Trade administers wine laws in Chile. Wines for export have to be 11.5% alcohol if they are red and 12% if they are white. A wine at least one year old must be clear, brilliant and have good colour.
Export wines are classified by age. Wines one year old must be labeled Current, while Special is tow years old and Reserve, which is considered the best, must be at least four years old. Gran Vino is used to refer to wines, which have aged for six years or more. Unfortunately, rules regarding vintage labeling are not as stringent. If the wine label says 1982, it may or may not be from 1982 vintage.
If you would like to try your hand at winemaking, check out our easy to follow wine kits!