Since the 1500's, South America - or more specifically Chile and Argentina - has produced quality, good-value wines. These budget bottles, available in a store near you, are some of the best deals you'll find on the rack. But, how can you tell the good from the bad?
Here's a look at the top five regions in South America. Each are known for different grapes, but if you study this list and heed our advice, you should be able to pick out a nice wine.
Chile has a unique climate for growing quality grapes. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, these grape-growing regions see a range of temperatures from the arid heat of the mountains to the cool breezes of the South. Although it is considerably smaller than its neighbor to the east, Chile has some of the best wine producing regions on the continent as well as a long, rich wine history in the global market.
Across the Andes, Argentina is striving to compete with Chile for recognition as a producer of quality, affordable wines. By sheer size, Argentina is one of the world's largest wine-producing countries, producing over 70% of the world's Malbec. It is currently the fifth-largest wine producing country in the world. Argentina also follows the Andes and has a similar climate to Chile, with arid regions as well as warm, humid sections.
While Chilean wines are better known on the foreign market, Argentina has, in recent years, increased the quality of its wines and is making a global impact. Regions all over Chile and Argentina have risen to become global contenders in the premium wine market. But, they also have large selections of moderately-priced, quality bottles for those on a budget. Along with the pricey stuff, every region on this list produces wine for less than $20.00 - sometimes even less than $10.00.
Here's a look at some of the best wine-producing regions in Chile and Argentina, along with some of their most affordable wines.
One of the more northern regions in Chile, this Pacific Coast valley uses its cool climate to produce some of the best white wine in the country. Officially part of the Aconcagua Valley, this region is famous for its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that produce medium-bodied, well-balanced wine. The Souvignon Blancs in this region go particularly well with salad greens and other sharp ingredients like capers, tomatoes, and vinaigrettes. Sautéed white fish, oysters, smoked salmon, pasta and foods with fresh herbs all work well with the Chardonnays.
Viña Casablanca Nimbus Sauvignon Blanc (a fruity, acidic wine) - $19.99
Quintay Clava Sauvignon Blanc (a crisp, white wine)- $11.99
Vina Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc Quelat (a simple, clean wine, great for chicken or fish)- $16.00
Perhaps the best known and longest-producing wine region in Chile, the Maipó region, just south of Santiago, is home to some of the biggest names in Chilean wine. The area, normally quite dry, gets its irrigation from the neighboring Andes. Industry staples such as Cabernet Sauvignon are frequent in this region, which still manages to maintain quality while increasing quantity. The Chardonnay pairs well with light fish, shellfish, nuts and cream-based sauces. On the other hand, the Carménère goes with grilled or braised red meat, chicken, beef or a hearty stew.
Cousino Macul Antiguas Reservas Chardonnay (a food-friendly wine for almost any meal) - $15.00
Vina Chocalan Carmenere (full-bodied and spicy) - $10.99
Divided into two subregions, Colchagua and Cachapoal, Rapel Valley accounts for more than 25% of Chile's vineyards. Colchagua is famous for its robust red wines, but the entire region is known for experimenting with a number of grapes, including Pinot Noir, Viognier, Gewürztraminer and Merlot. If you are looking for a good, goes-with-anything wine, Rapel also produces a large stock of basic red tabel wines. The Pinot Noir is excellent with fish, fowl, white meats, grains and lamb.
Vina Cono Sur Pinot Noir (a fresh, fruity red wine)- starting as low as $6.99
Vina MontGras Reserva Souvignon Blanc (easy for everyone to enjoy)- $11.00
Under Rapel, Maule Valley is fairly cool yearlong, which is ideal for wine production. Because they can produce so much, many basic wines are produced here- the prices of which can come in handy when throwing a dinner party. There are many moderately priced wines that come out of the sub region of Curicó (including selections from Vina Montes). As Riesling can range from very dry to sweet, it is important to know what you are getting before pairing with food; fish, shellfish, and foods with sharpness such as greens with vinaigrette can be greatly enhanced by drier styles, while pork, root vegetables, and foods containing spicy heat work well with sweeter varieties.
Vina Montes Pinot Noir (a tangy, fresh red wine)- $15.00
Meli Riesling Maule Valley (a citricy white wine)- $12.00
Moving on to Argentina, the country's largest (and most noteworthy) wine region is Mendoza. Mendoza's most famous wine is by far its dark red Malbec, but it also produces Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and lesser-known varietals such as Tempranillo, Bonarda, Barbera and Torrontés. The rich darkness of Malbec tastes great with hearty dishes such as grilled red meat or beef stew.
Alamos Ridge Malbec (sweet, dark red)- $9.00
Mendoza Aqua de Piedra Malbec (can taste plums, black berries)- $11.00
Doña Paula Estate's Malbec (an intense red with dark fruit flavors)- 17.00
Headed to South America?
If you are looking for your next vacation, or want to learn more about wine, consider a trip to South America's wine country. There are several companies that offer wine tasting tours and vacations so you can experience the wine straight from the vine. Santiago Adventures, Wolrd Wide Wine Tours, Latin Wine Tours all offer regional or country tours ranging from a day to two weeks. If you've already booked a trip,Viator Tours offers a half day trip to vineyards in Mendoza.
Any other suggestions? Feel free to share your favorite South American wines in the comments below!