Country Focus: South America
Wine has been made in South America since the 1500s, but for many, wines from that part of the world are a relatively ‘new thing’. Knowledge and appreciation of America’s southern continent has blossomed in recent years, aided in no small part by clever marketing and supermarket availability. However, the biggest reason for the success of South American wines is that a great many of them are extremely good! Take Stock talked to John Mansfield of the Society of Vintners about the key South American wine making areas and what to look for with the 2016 vintage.
Although Brazil and Uruguay have a growing winemaking industry, Uruguay’s Tannat wine being a good example, for the UK market most interest is in Argentina and Chile.
Argentina is South America’s second largest wine growing country and at seventh in the world – bigger than Australia – is a major force in the wine market.
Impact on 2016 vintage
The Argentinean peso is very closely linked to the US dollar, and so prices for the UK are heavily affected by movements in the sterling against dollar exchange rate. This has been further exacerbated by a dramatic fall in the value of the peso – early last year it stood at a high of 22.05 yet by November the rate was 18.4 – so we’ll be seeing increasing prices over coming months here in the UK, driven by exchange rates.
The other major consideration is that the 2016 vintage was extremely wet – a 64% increase over the expected rain levels, so oenologists have had their work cut out in producing quality wines and yield is obviously down. This will inevitably have a further impact on prices for the 2016 vintage.
Thinking more positively, wines to look out for include Malbec – with wines from areas like Mendoza particularly of note; but also look out for some of the Argentinean whites that work well – Torrontes (often paired with Chardonnay); Chardonnay itself and Viognier.
Finca Clasica Malbec/Shiraz, Viognier and Pablo Cortez Malbec.
Chile is South America’s largest wine growing country and fifth in the world – with wine production mainly in coastal valleys that benefit from cool air travelling into the Andes.
Impact on 2016 vintage
Like Argentina, 2016 saw adverse weather, as well as major currency movements – Brexit saw a loss of some 19% in the USD exchange rate – and this has to be reflected in the price of wines. The vintage in most of the main wine production areas was dramatically affected by very strong rains. The rains were particularly strong in the Casablanca, Rapel Maipo and Colchagua Valley, leading to a reduction in both volume and quality; and prices for entry and commercial level wines are rising. This has led some suppliers to expand the range of wineries that they use – in some cases buying wine from vineyards out of their normal region in order to maintain or increase quality.
As a general point, Chile does produce good wines from a range of different grapes – Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are of course very popular; but blends such as Semillon/Sauvignon are gaining good traction from those seeking something slightly different. For reds, Merlot is by far the most widely distributed, but grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon are also frequently listed.
The Carmenere grape was one of the six original grapes grown in Bordeaux, yet nowadays it is rarely seen in France. However, Chile is now the largest area of production in the world, and Carmenere is sold both on its own as well as a blending grape. It has a deep red colour, and smoky aromas of red fruits, berries and spices. On the palate, there are hints of cherries, chocolate and tobacco flavours. Chile is also producing some lovely Pinot Noir wines, even though the region is not normally considered to be a major Pinot Noir area.
Tinamou Private Bin Pinot Noir and Carmenere and Peregrino Sauvignon Blanc or for something with real body and depth, Irene Morales Grand Reserve Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – ronze medal winner in the International Wine Challenge.