Exploring South America’s Best Wine Regions
What comes to mind when you envision a perfect wine destination? Maybe the hills of Tuscany, the French countryside or even the lush valleys of Spain? While there’s no doubt that Europe produces many incredible wines, it’s far from being the only place to go for a wine getaway.
South America has been producing wine since the 16th century, when Franciscan Monks began growing grapes across the continent. While these early wines were produced for religious purposes only, winemaking would eventually become an important part of the region’s culture and traditions.
Today, nations like Argentina, Chile, and Brazil produce some of the world’s most unique, flavorful, and well-regarded wines.
That said, many of the best wine regions in these countries remain hidden gems, with far fewer visitors than Europe’s top wine areas. Best of all, it’s easy to combine a wine trip to South America with a whole host of exotic adventures and excursions you won’t find in Europe, like treks through the Pantanal or skiing in the Andes.
The top wine growing nation in South America, Argentina is ranked 5th overall in the world’s wine production. The high, dry climate of the Mendoza region - which contributes more than 80% of Argentina’s total wine production - is ideal for growing strong red varietals like Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.
In fact, Argentina has been growing Malbec grapes - their champion varietal - for more than 150 years, and today Argentina produces more than 70% of the world’s Malbec. For white wine drinkers, try the signature Torrontés or the Chardonnay.
One of Mendoza’s must-visit vineyards is Bodega Catena Zapata, where the striking pyramid-shaped winery rises up from the vine-covered hills. Pascual Toso - one of the oldest vineyards in Argentina - is another favorite, and one of the best places to sample Torrontés.
The city of Mendoza itself is lively and scenic, encircled by jagged mountain peaks and rolling vineyards stretching in every direction. The city serves as an excellent base for vineyard tours and tastings, as well as outdoor adventures in the Andes like hiking, skiing, and rafting.
Alternatively, spend a day relaxing at Mendoza’s thermal springs, indulging in mud baths and other spa treatments. The city also has an excellent culture of gastronomy, making it the perfect place to learn about food and wine pairings.
For the ultimate dose of luxury and comfort, book a stay at The Vines Resort & Spa. At a minimum, be sure to stop by Siete Fuegos - the restaurant of internationally acclaimed chef Francis Mallmann - where you can taste exceptional Argentine beef cooked over open flames.
The 9th wine producing nation in the world, Chile’s wine history is more than 300 years old. Thanks to its position between the Andes mountains and the Pacific ocean, Chile has a cool climate that lends itself to high quality wines.
40% of all wine imported into the United States comes from Chile, thanks in part to its excellent price-quality ratio. The shining star of Chilean wine is Carménère, a deep red varietal with a distinctive spicy, earthy flavor.
Chile is also known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as quality whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling.
Many of Chile’s best vineyards and wineries are located within a short distance from Santiago, making it easy to plan a day trip into the wine region from the capital city. Casablanca Valley, Maipo Valley, Maule Valley, and Colchagua Valley are among the best regions to taste Chilean wines. For an even more unique experience, hop aboard one of Chile’s charming wine trains.
Among Chile’s best vineyards and wineries are Concha y Toro, one of Chile’s oldest wineries and South America’s largest wine grower, and Casa Silva, known equally for its high-quality Carmenères and its lavish hotel and gourmet restaurant.
Best known for its Muscat Blancs and sparkling wines, Brazil tends to produce wines that are very similar to Italian Old World-styled wines, meaning they have a lighter body and lower alcohol content. This is likely due to the country’s wine history; while Brazil has been producing wine since it was first colonized, it didn’t become an important part of its culture or economy until the late 1800s, with the arrival of a new wave of Italian immigrants.
Serra Gaúcha in southern Brazil produces most of the country's fine wines, including Chardonnay and Merlot, and is often regarded as Brazil’s top wine region. Other wine-producing regions in Brazil include Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais, Campanha, and Santa Catarina.
All in all, there are roughly 150 active wineries across Brazil. Among the best are Campos de Cima, a “boutique” winery that focuses on high-quality small-scale production; Cave Geisse, known for producing some of the best sparkling wine throughout Brazil; and Vinícola Salton, an award-winning winery run by the third generation of the same family who founded it in 1910.
As with Argentina and Chile, many of these vineyards are easily accessible from Brazil’s most enchanting cities. Balance vineyard tours and wine tastings with a mix of Brazil’s famous cities, beaches and rainforests to create the perfect itinerary.