Stunning landscape of Mendoza

Wines of Chile & Argentina

Stunning landscape of Mendoza

The rise of new world wines that began about 15 years ago has brought an increased influx of wine tourism to Chile and Argentina. But these two countries have a wine industry that stretches back nearly 500 years.

Grape cuttings were first brought to Chile, then Argentina by Spanish missionaries in order to produce wine for the celebration of Mass. The favorable climate, abundance of water from the melting glaciers of the Andes, and higher altitude compared to Europe (which meant a reduced risk of insects, fungi and grape diseases) allowed the Patagonian wine industry to flourish over the centuries.

The arrival of European immigrants during the 19th century brought new grape varieties and winemaking techniques. Chile has been exporting wines to Europe since the 1880s, while Argentina primarily focused on producing for the domestic market until quite recently.

In Chile, the main wine-producing regions are the Colchagua Valley, the Aconcagua Valley and the Maipo Valley. The largest wine region in Argentina is Mendoza, followed by La Rioja (which, curiously, is also a winemaking region in Spain), Salta and San Juan.

International Expeditions has two distinct options combining wine and wildlife in these spectacular countries! Here is a brief overview of where to taste the best wines of Chile and Argentina:


wine-chile-maipo-valley

WINES OF CHILE

Maipo Valley Region

This is Chile's most established wine region, located just south of Santiago on the other side of the Andes from Mendoza. It was here that the first vine cuttings were planted in the 1540s, and by the mid-19th century the industry was already flourishing.

Red wines reign in the Maipo region, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Merlot, which are all widely exported abroad. As one of the oldest wine producing regions, it's possible to visit some of Chile's best known wineries in the Maipo Valley, including:

  • Concha y Toro: This is the Maipo region’s flagship winery, and the ideal place to start learning about Chilean wines. It's a good place to see a large winery in action, and visits on International Expeditions' Birds & WInes of Argentina & Chile tour include entrance to the Casillero del Diablo, the cellar that gives its name to a famous brand of Concha y Toro wines.
  • Santa Rita: One of Chile's aristocratic wineries, founded at the end of the 19th century. The great wines are matched by the beauty of the winery itself, which is set in a 200-year-old house. The adjacent Doña Paula restaurant offers a great lunch experience.

wine-chlie-colchagua

Colchagua Valley Region

If there ever was a perfect wine-growing climate, it's in the Colchagua Valley. The climate is Mediterranean – warm with a gentle ocean breeze, mostly dry, but refreshed by rivers. The western boundary of the region is formed by coastal hills, while the east is limited by the foothills of the Andes.

Red wines prefer warmer conditions. As such, most reds (especially Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot) are produced in the warmer east, while whites (Chardonnay and Sauv Blanc) benefit from the ocean breezes of the cooler west.     

Some of the best wineries to visit are:

  • Lapostolle: This is the Colchagua region's most prestigious winery, set up by the granddaughter of the creator of Grand Marnier liqueur. Lapostolle offers small-group tours of the stunning winery, which includes a roof garden and a glass-topped tasting table, allowing visitors to appreciate the color nuances of the wine. 
  • Viu Manent: Set in wonderfully retro surroundings, a visit here includes a horse-cart tour of the vineyard and an outdoors tasting area with a view over the valley.

wine-mendoza

WINES OF ARGENTINA

Mendoza Region

The majority of Argentinian wines come from Mendoza, in the central part of the country. It’s a place that’s well worth visiting for the stunning Andean scenery alone. The variety of microclimates in the region helped achieve a varied terroir. Malbec is the star of the show in Mendoza, but Bordeaux-style Reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and local whites such as Torrontes, also fare well.

The Mendoza region is highly focused on wine tourism, so there's something for everyone here, from five-star wineries and celebrity restaurants to locally-owned vineyards offering vino patero (foot-pressed) and homemade food. Here are a couple of wineries we recommend visiting if you are in the Mendoza region:

  • Bodegas Lopez: This is one of the oldest working wineries in the Mendoza region. The tour takes you through the history of Argentinian winemaking, from wooden presses and delivery trucks dating back to the 1920s to the modern champagne-making plant.
  • Bodega Carmelo Patti: Owner Carmelo Patti started picking grapes as a 10-year-old, then sold his car to finance his winemaking enterprise. He often leads the tours himself, and afterwards invites visitors for a drink in his office.

wine-argentina-bodega-etchart

Cafayate Region

Nestled in the Andes near the northwestern city of Salta at 5,600 feet, Cafayate is one of the highest wine-producing regions in the world. Around Cafayate the scenery is to die for: The barren peaks of the Andes offset the greenery of the vines, and the crisp high-mountain air means that views stretch for miles. Unlike Mendoza, which is really spread out, the Cafayate region is reasonably small, making it possible to tour many vineyards.

The most popular grapes produced in the Cafayate regions are Torrontes (a native crisp white with floral undertones), Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.

We recommend visiting:

  • Bodega Nanni: This is a small organic winery, conveniently located in Cafayate city center, producing an excellent Torrontes Tardio.
  • Bodega Etchart: This is one of the largest winemaking operations in the region, dating back to the 1850s. The tour will allow you to understand what is special about the Cafayate wine region. 

Margherita Ragg is one of the creators of The Crowded Planet, a blog whose motto is “Finding nature and adventure everywhere.” She has an MFA in Creative Writing and a background of literary non-fiction writing, and her freelance work has included editing for National Geographic.