On Cloud Wine: Chile and Argentina Wine Regions
On Cloud Wine: Chile and Argentina Wine Regions
While many visit Chile and Argentina to explore Patagonia’s famous glaciers, dance the tango in Buenos Aires and enjoy Santiago with its colonial architecture, both countries offer multiple wine producing regions that beckon travelers to their picturesque valleys. No matter which side of the snow-capped Andes you’re on, if you’re an oenophile, you’ll have many great options to choose from. The only difficult decision to make is which one to visit.
Top wine regions
While Chile and Argentina both have multiple wine-producing regions, most international visitors focus on those that are set up for easy tourist visits. In Argentina, two of the best are Mendoza and the Calchaqui Valley/Cafayte regions. The primary spots in Chile are the Maipo Valley and Colchagua.
If you look at a South American map, you’ll notice that the wine regions are spread out, especially in Argentina. Those with unlimited time could easy make an entire trip of it, touring them all, but as few have that luxury this guide will help you make the most of one or two, whether you’re looking for full-bodied reds or refreshing, crisp whites.
Tucked in the foothills of the Andes just east of Chile, Mendoza is the main wine region in Argentina and the capital of wine production in South America. It boasts well over a thousand wineries and almost 400,000 picturesque vineyard acres, accounting for more than 70 percent of the country’s total wine production. While it may be a high desert oasis that receives less than 10 inches of rainfall each year, the grapevines rely on the snowmelt from the Andes for their pure water. The fruit thrives in the high-altitude conditions with the sun shining 300+ days a year, while cool nights allow it to rest, retaining the acids that are an essential part of the wine. Not only does the region produce its most characteristic variety, Malbec, but everything from Pinot noir and Merlot to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet franc.
This sun-drenched region is also renowned for its gourmet dining scene and dramatically stunning scenery. The city of Mendoza itself is right next to the Andes Mountain Range, with the jagged peaks visible from most of the tasting rooms and wineries. There are plenty of recreational activities, including hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and kayaking to enjoy while taking in a majestic view. Many visitors begin in the capital city of Buenos Aires with a sightseeing tour, and perhaps a tango lesson, before taking for Mendoza to enjoy the wine.
Argentina: Calchaqui Valleys
The second most popular wine region in Argentina lies in the northwest. It sits near the border of Bolivia in the Calchaqui Valleys, near the border of Bolivia, surrounded by mineral-rich mountains and hillsides in psychedelic hues of purple, pink, yellow, and green. While those are tourist destinations in their own right, they also make a spectacular backdrop for vineyard visits. The high-altitude area is baked by the sun but experiences chilly nights and a terroir ideal for elegant white wines, including Torrontés, a crisp white wine with floral notes.
Cafayate has a low-key vibe that gives it a small-town feel, making it a popular base for exploring the wine region. It’s also home to the oldest recorded living vineyard in Argentina, a Torrontés vineyard planted in 1862. While this region represents just 2 percent of the country’s vineyards, they claim a disproportionate share of its wine awards, thanks to their refreshing acidity and character. Most visitors also spend time in the city of Salta nearby, known for its mix of Andean heritage and Spanish colonial architecture. Hiking and horseback riding to cave paintings are popular too.
Chile: Maipo Valley
The long, thin country of Chile is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Andes on the other. Its main wine-growing regions are tucked in between and aren’t as spread out as Argentina’s. The Maipo Valley is the birthplace of Chilean wine production, dating back to the 16th-century, although it wasn’t for another 200 years that the wine industry really took off here. The daytime heat and cooler nighttime temperatures combined with the altitude produce wines that are extra special, particularly red wines and most notably of all, Cabernet Sauvignon. Syrah, Merlot, and Carmenére, a unique and spicy red, make up most of the others. While reds are the focus, locals also make some whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Another plus for this wine region is that it’s very easy to reach from the capital city of Santiago, even by public transport, and you’ll never have to worry about rain. If you want to enjoy outdoor adventures, you can join a thrilling whitewater rafting ride on the Maipo River too.
Chile: Colchagua Valley
Colchagua lies south of Maipo Valley, a modern wine region with so many state-of-the-art wineries that many have compared it to California’s Napa Valley. You’ll find some of the most highly acclaimed Chilean wines here, including Carmenère and Syrah. The area experiences more of a Mediterranean climate, similar to California’s famous wine country, ideal for grape-growing. It boasts warm breezes, an ideal amount of sunshine, and mineral-rich soils. While it’s relatively young in the Chilean wine world, it makes up for its age with an astounding number of vineyards, currently at around 1,700.
This is also one of the most visitor-friendly wine routes, with top wineries including Viña Montes and Casa Lapostolle. By visiting in March, you can celebrate vino at the three-day Grape Harvest Festival held around the colonial town of Santa Cruz. Colchagua Valley’s mild climate also makes it ideal for a wide range of outdoor activities, with everything from biking and horseback riding to hot-air ballooning and incredible stargazing. For those seeking a luxury stay with five-star dining, there are many upscale wine resorts too, along with vineyard carriage rides.
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This article was first published in issue four of the Unforgettable Travel Magazine.