South American Wines

Wine Tasting to Benefit the Center for Women & Enterprise

Every year I donate two in-home wine tastings to worthy organizations. For the last ten years, one of those organizations has been the Center for Women in Enterprise, whose mission is to be “an inclusive economic empowerment organization. CWE helps women business owners and aspiring women entrepreneurs launch and grow their business by providing greater access to the resources, tools and support they need.”

Last night, the winner of this year’s CWE Silent Auction, invited me to their home to conduct a tour of South American Wines. I served up fifteen wines from three countries, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. The wines all showed well, some better than others, and by the end of the evening, the attendees were like giddy little school children, their minds filled with new experiences.

South America, while considered a “New World” wine region, has a rich history of winemaking tradition.



Chile generally follows behind Argentina in Latin American wine producing countries, with the second largest amount of land under vine (132,000 Hectares, or 318,000 Acres) and a per capita consumption rate for wine of 12.3 Liters, or 3.25 Gallons.

Annual wine production was measured at 6.6 Million Hectoliters or 176 Million Gallons in 2000, ranking Chile as the 10th most productive wine region in the world.

Chile has a wide range of climates, very similar to the growing regions of California and Bordeaux. Chile’s low per capita wine drinking rate underscores the fact that there is no strong domestic market for wine; therefore foreign investment has largely overlooked Chile’s agricultural potential. This combined with unstable economic conditions throughout the 1930’s and a brutal military regime in the 1970’s, hamstrung the wine industry throughout the 20th Century.

This is changing, which is evident from the influx of foreign investment and the increasing availability of finer, Chilean wines.


The history of the Chilean wine industry begins with it’s colonization by the Spanish:

  • 1535 – Diego de Almagro leads the first forays into Chile, but native Indians drive the Spaniards out.
  • 1541 – Santiago is founded by Pedro de Valdivia and violence against the Mapuche Indians follows for the next three centuries.
  • 1548 – Francisco de Carabantes, a missionary brings the first vines to Chile.

The wine industry continued in lock step with the growing settlements, primarily using indigenous varieties, like the less than spectacular Criolla grape.

The burgeoning revolutions in France and the United States began to foment the idea of independence in the minds of the Chileans and beginning in the early 19th Century, the fight for Chilean independence was at a climax. At this time, wine had grown into a major industry for Chile. The independence movement acted as a national impulse to the wine industry and the evolution of the Chilean wine industry was spurred on by these major factors:

  • 1830 – Foreign engineers arrive in Chile and construct new major irrigation channels that allow for much more land to be put to agricultural use.
  • 1838 – The National Agricultural Societies and Banks are established to energize the growth of agricultural land use.
  • 1845 – French vines are first brought to Chile on pre-phylloxera root stock. An interesting fact to note – because of the isolation that the Andes Mountains provides, most grape vines in Chile are still planted on these pre-phylloxera root stocks.
  • 1860 – British investments fund the construction of the national railway system in Chile, creating easier distribution channels throughout the country.
  • 1865 – Growing wealth in Chile allows for travel overseas to Europe, creating a taste for wines made with French grapes, now maturing in the vineyards planted in 1845.

The wine industry met with considerable challenges in the 20th Century. First was the almost continuous economic upheaval of the 1930’s and 1940’s, which was capped by a prohibitionist-like law that severely limited wine production to 60 liters of wine per person per year. This law was followed by extreme acts of taxation, which effectively stifled any meaningful wine production until mid-1960. Production and quality began to rebound until more political unrest, followed by the ascension of Pinochet to power in 1974 effectively shut down the industry again.

In 1989, Pinochet was removed from power. This event ushered in a new hope for the Chilean wine industry. Foreign investment, which had virtually been boycotting Chile during Pinochet, flowed in. This new found source of money, combined with the natural agricultural potential of Chile fueled resurgence in the wine industry. New technologies, better techniques and foreign expertise have now brought Chilean wine making to the forefront of the wine world.


There is no specific government agency that oversees Chilean wine law, largely because there is no real system of wine laws like you would see in Europe. Instead, after nearly twenty years of failed attempts, the government succeeded in 1996 in enacting the “75% rule.” This law stipulates that in order to list the varietal, vintage, place of origin or estate bottling statements, 75% must apply in each case. For instance, to list Cabernet Sauvignon on the label, the wine must contain 75% or more of the varietal. Other than this requirement, there are no other standards for labeling.

Chile is comprised of six recognized regions, which are further divided into sub-regions, production zones and areas. Generally speaking, the more specific the labeling of the wine region, the more expensive the wine. In this regard, the labeling is very much like a European appellation system.

The following are the regions of Chile:

Regions are in bold, sub-regions are underlined, zones are plain and areas are in italic.

Atacama Region
Copiano ValleyHuasco ValleyPisco
Coquimbo Region
Elquí ValleyLimarí ValleyPisco
Aconcagua Region
Anconcagua ValleyCasablanca ValleyFine Wine
Central Valley
Maipo ValleyRapel ValleyFine Wine
Santiago RancaguaSan Fernando 
Pirque RequinoaChimbaronga 
Puente Alto RengoNancagua 
Buin PeumoSanta Cruz 
Isla de Maipo  Palmilla 
Curicó Valley  Fine Wine
Teno ValleyLontué Valley   
Maule Valley Fine Wine
Claro ValleyLoncomillaTutuven Valley  
TalcaSan JavierCauquenes  
PencahueVilla Alegre   
San ClementeParral   
Southern Valley
Itata ValleyBio-Bio ValleyFine Wine


The following are the grape varietals planted in Chile

Cabernet Sauvignon16,000haSauvignon Blanc6,500ha
Pinot Noir400haRiesling300ha
Cabernet Franc180ha  



Argentina is considered the most important Latin American wine producing country, with the largest amount of land under vine (209,000 Hectares, or 504,000 Acres) and the largest per capita consumption rate for wine (40.99 Liters, or 10.8 Gallons).

Annual wine production had been as high as 27 Million Hectoliters or 713 Million Gallons in 1973, but has since fallen to 12.5 Million Hectoliters or 331 Million Gallons in 2000, ranking Argentina as the 5th most productive wine region in the world.

Argentina has a wide range of climates, mostly temperate due to the broad extent and varying elevations of the vineyards. Water is plentiful, land is cheap and there is a potential market of 35 Million residents who are of European heritage with an in-grained culture of wine drinking. So, why isn’t Argentina’s wine industry stronger? Simply put a lack of economic stability. With rampant inflation, the devaluation of the Peso and the recent change (1991) to an open market government, the wine industry has largely focused on producing large volumes of mediocre table wines.

This is slowly changing, which is evident from the increase in foreign investment and the increased availability of finer, Argentine wines.


The history of the Argentine wine industry begins with it’s colonization by the Spanish:

  • 1536 – Buenos Aires is founded by Pedro de Mendoza, but native Indians drive the Spaniards out.
  • 1553 – Santiago is founded by Spanish settlers arriving from Peru and Bolivia and the settlement begins to thrive.
  • 1561 – Mendoza is founded by Spanish settlers arriving from Chile.

In each case, missionaries accompanied the settlers, bringing God and the vine to Argentina. These initial plantings were likely the Criolla grape, which made only mediocre sacramental wines. Over time, plantings grew to include the more familiar European varieties.

The evolution of the Argentine wine industry was largely due to three factors:

  • Ever-growing immigrant population accustomed to drinking wine (Europeans).
  • Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Argentine President (1868-74), responsible to establishing wine schools throughout Argentina, including noted French and Italian wine experts.
  • The Pacifíco Railway (1885) that connected Mendoza with Buenos Aires, which opened the country to trade.

The wine industry continued to grow throughout the 20th Century, peaking in 1976, largely due to exportation of cheap wine to Chile. It was at this time that Argentina was recognized as a country with “great wine-making potential” in the press. This led to Argentine wine makers actively and aggressively pursuing the export markets of Britain and America. The strategy met with success and exports shifted from cheaper, table wines intended for Chile, to finer wines destined for Europe and America. Production ramped-up to meet demand and it appeared as if Argentina was transforming into a true fine wine producer.

However, all of this success was destroyed by the invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982. Overnight, the lucrative export markets outside of Latin America were gone and the wine being produced was too expensive for the cheap, Chilean market, which resulted in vast overproduction that led the industry to crash.

Upon cessation of hostilities Argentina set about rebuilding their wine industry. Over the following ten years the wine industry began to revive, fueled in large part to the regime change in Buenos Aires (1991). In the last ten years, the availability of hard currency, more foreign investment and the re-establishment of an export market for fine wines has allowed Argentina to build a strong, fine wine industry with even greater growth potential in the future.


The Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura (I.N.V) is responsible for organizing and administering the regions and wine laws of Argentina. The INV has established four basic regions in Argentina:

  • North-West
  • Centre-West
  • South
  • Other

The INV has also established an appellation system, like those of Europe, called the Denominación de Origen Controlada of DOC. The first appearance of the DOC on an Argentine wine label was 1992 (San Rafael). There are two regions officially recognized as DOC regions: San Raphael and Luján de Cuyo. Most old time producers do not believe in the DOC system, largely due to years of governmental distrust. More modern producers do not believe in the DOC system because they do not want to be “handcuffed” to antiquated rules like their European counterparts. The fact that the DOC is largely overlooked by the wine makers means that most labels are without any kind of DOC specified and the likelihood of more classifications is doubtful.

Despite the lack of a generally-accepted DOC system, there are many regions that are noted for fine wine production.

Salta Province
ProductionAcreage/ElevationWhite WineRed Wine 
1%1,500ha/2,000m80% – Torrontes20% – Cabernet 
Cantamarca Province 
1%400ha/2.000m 100% – Pinot Noir 
La Rioja Province 
5%5,300ha/935m80% – Torrontes20% – Cabernet 
Centre-West (Cuyo) 
San Juan Province 
31%21,000ha/630m85% – Muscat15% – Bonarda 
Mendoza (Overall) 
61%72,000ha/1,300m50% – PX50% – Bonarda 
North Mendoza 
Las HerasLavalle 
El BorbollónLos Coralitos 
El PlumerilloCosta de Araujo 
 Nueva California 
Upper Mendoza River 
Godoy CruzGuaymallénLuján de CuyoMaipú 
  DrummondCruz de Piedra 
  Las CompuertasLunlunta 
  PerdrielLas Barrancas 
East Mendoza 
San MartinJunínRivadaviaSanta RosaLa Paz 
 MedranoPalmiraLas CatitasAlto Salvador 
 Las Chimbas    
Uco Valley 
TupungatoTunuyánSan Carlos 
La ArboledaVilla SecaEl Cepillo 
Aguas AmargasVista FloresChilecito 
 Las Rosas  
 Los Sauces  
South Mendoza 
San RafaelGeneral Alvear 
Las ParedesCarmensa 
Cuadro Benegas  
El Cerrito  
La Llave  
Rama Caida  
Cañada Seca  
Las Malvinas  
Jaime Prats  
Villa Atuel  
Patagonia – Rio Negro Province 
1%5,400ha/300m10% – Sauvignon90% – Malbec 


The following are the grape varietals planted in Argentina

Cabernet Sauvignon4,942haUgni Blanc3,930ha
Sangiovese2,867haChenin Blanc?
Barbera1,125haTocai Friuliano1,032ha
Pinot Noir668haSauvignon Blanc699ha
Cabernet Franc128ha  

The wines in the flight were as follows:

2020 Garcon Albariño Reserva

Usually quite a stunning little wine, tonight the balance was off and the wine seemed sharp and edgy. Disappointing.

2022 Cono Sur Organic Sauvignon Blanc, Chile

Fruit forward with tropical notes on the nose – pineapple, papaya, coconut and guava. Well-balanced with good mid-palate weight. Moderate length with a soft, floral aftertaste.

2019 Errazuriz Max Reserva Chardonnay, Aconcagua

Burgundian in style. Citrusy nose with no perceptible malolactic or oak notes. Well-balanced, clean and steely on the palate. More citrus with a clean and refreshing aftertaste.

2019 Catena Alta Historic Rows Chardonnay

All butter and toasty oak on the nose. Hints of apple, apricot and citrus. Somewhat flabby on the palate with heavily oaked flavors. Denuded fruit. Relatively short finish. This wine will not age well. Disappointing.

2021 Cono Sur Organic Pinot Noir, Chile

Burgundian in style. Lively floral nose with Strawberry and raspberry notes. Well-balanced. Earthy, gamey with red berry and violet notes on the palate. Pleasant aftertaste. Dry but smooth. Nice effort.

2020 Tarapaca Gran Reserva Carmenere, Maipo Valley

Juicy, plummy nose with black cherry and blackberry notes. Well-balanced with velvety, well-integrated tannins. Smooth and easy drinking. Dark fruit core with a mellow aftertaste. Very nice.

2020 Escudo Rojo Reserva Carmenere, Chile

Jammy nose. Black cherry and blackberry notes. Well-balanced with firm, somewhat aggressive tannins. Fruit forward, deep dark core of fruit. Structured and age worthy.

2019 Achaval Ferrer Quimera, Mendoza

Dark, brooding nose. Sappy and a bit green. Menthol notes. Well-balanced with firm tannins. Black cherry fruit with brambly notes. A bit disappointing.

2021 Escudo Rojo Reserva Syrah, Chile

Tight, dark fruit nose. Restrained. Well-balanced with firm tannins. Black cherry, blackberry and violets. Black pepper. Structured. Smooth finish. Delightful. Very “old world” in character, like a fine Cornas or Saint Joseph.

2018 Los Vascos Cromas Grande Réserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley

Fruity, sweet nose. Black cherry, blackberry with hints of book leather. Well-balanced with well-integrated tannins. Elegance. Dark fruit core. Smooth finish with a layered aftertaste. Very nice – as expected for Los Vascos.

2019 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon,, Colchagua Valley

Black cherry and blackberry on the nose. Menthol and eucalyptus notes. Well-balanced with firm, dry tannins. Edgy with dried cherry fruit. Moderate length. Disappointing.

2017 Altos las Hormigas Malbec Gualtallary-Mendoza

Hugely disappointing. Dried cherry and brambly notes on the nose. Well-balanced with firm, dry tannins. Green and stemmy on the palate. Dried fruit notes, but not sweet. Moderate length with a tight finish. Expected much more.

2013 Chacai Mountain Grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley

Massive fruit on the nose. Black cherry, blackberry with menthol and eucalyptus notes. Classic claret-style. Well-balanced with firm, well-integrated tannins. Structured and elegant. Dark fruit core with tobacco leaf and cigar box notes. Lovely. Long, smooth finish. Age worthy. Really nice.

2018 Catena Alta Historic Rows Cabernet Sauvignon

Another disappointing effort from Catena Alta, a winery that usually delivers much more. Dried cherry, stemmy nose. Strong mint and anise. Balanced but with firm, dry tannins. Dried fruit on the palate. Astringent. Moderate length, tight and restrained. Not worth the expense.

2017 Artesana Reserva Tannat, Canelones

Dark, brooding nose with black cherry. blackberry and anise notes. Well-balanced with highly aggressive tannins. Deep, dark fruit core. Black cherry and black licorice. Tobacco leaf. Long, tight finish. Age worthy. A fine effort.