Experiences

Wine & Spirits

Latin America is known for its outstanding Argentinean Malbec and Chilean Carménère and for the excellent Cabernet Sauvignon produced by both countries, but the region's wine culture goes much deeper than these 'noble grapes'. The continent is also rich with regional spirits over and above the cachaça, tequila and pisco that have made their marks around the globe.

Mention 'New World' to an Argentinian or Chilean winemaker and you are likely to get a history lesson that like South Africa, winemaking has been around for 400 years, and that 'New' is a bit of a misnomer. Wine arrived here during the Spanish conquest and the production of wine and the study of viticulture were brought to South America by Jesuit missionaries in the 1500s, marking the commencement of wine production in the New World.

Located on either side of the Andes, Argentina and Chile's dry and arid climates are ideal conditions for cultivating grapes and producing fine wines. Most of the vineyards in Chile and Argentina are located at higher elevations with abundant sunshine, making this microclimate perfect for growing high quality grapes. The irrigation supplied by run-off from snow in the Andes means that the soil is naturally rich and healthy, with no artificial irrigation required. Uruguay enjoys a similar climate and all three countries are blessed to have this unique and special terroir.

Fine Argentinean Malbec and Chilean Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon top wine collectors' lists around the world, but the breadth of the region's wine culture is much deeper and intrepid winemakers continue to experiment with less common varietals exiled to the Americas over the past four centuries in the hopes of discovering the next great South American super grape or blend. Wine making and production is ramping up everywhere from Patagonia to the Pampas and winemakers are uncovering a wealth of diversity hidden within some of the New World’s oldest vines. And nothing pairs more perfectly with a sumptuous meal than a delicious glass of crisp wine in some of the most romantic settings imaginable.Latin America's Wine RegionsArgentina
Arguably the most famous wine region in Latin America, Mendoza sits in the shadow of the snow-capped Andes and is home to Argentina’s flagship grape, Malbec. This grape is the perfect companion to Argentina's steaks which many foodies swear are the best in the world. In the Northwest, Cafayate's high altitude vineyards grow the delicious white Torrontés grape, fully Argentinean as there is no Torrontés anywhere else in the world. It is sublime paired with Argentinean empanadas, but this versatile wine also matches well with other ethnic cuisines like sushi or curry.
  
Other notable wine growing areas include the provinces of San Juan, La Rioja and even Tucuman. And last but not least along a similar latitude as New Zealand, northern Patagonia's grape growing areas of Chubut, La Pampa, Neuquén, and Río Negro, one finds Argentina’s southernmost vineyards where some of the continent's best cool climate Pinot Noirs can be found. Stay in a luxury boutique winery and enjoy some of the continent’s most stunning scenery as you savour the region’s best food and wine.
 
Chile
On the other side of the Andes is Chile’s wine growing region, conveniently located just outside of Santiago. Chile's topography isolates the country just like an island. Flanked by the cool Pacific Ocean to the west and the snow-capped Andes to the east, by the Atacama Desert to the north, and Patagonia to the south, Chile is naturally protected on all sides. As a result, phylloxera, the vineyard pest that decimated most of the world’s vineyards in the 1800s, never reached Chilean vines making it the only major wine-producing country free of phylloxera. Chile is thus home to some of the world’s oldest vines, many of which are ungrafted, or planted on their own rootstocks. As a grapevine grows older, its grapes become more concentrated and nuanced, making these pre-phylloxera vines such an asset to Chilean winemakers.
 
 
Considered the “lost” sixth grape of Bordeaux, Chile's niche dark-skinned red grape Carménère reappeared when much of the country’s Merlot vines were genetically identified as Carménère in the 1990s. Old-vine Carignans are being touted as Chile’s “next Carménère", and an increasing number of bottles are making their way into global wine collections. But for collectors, Cabernet Sauvignon is king in Chile and it occupies top plots in warmer regions like the Maipo Valley, Rapel’s Colchagua Valley and Cachapoal Valley, and the Aconcagua Valley. Produced either as a varietal wine or the majority component of a blend, Chilean Cabernets tend to be rich and cherry-fruited, with earth, spice, and the potential to age for decades. While many associate Chile with rich reds, white grapes from the northerly Limarí Valley, Casablanca Valley, and San Antonio Valley, and the Pacific-perched Leyda Valley produce excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay wines.
 
Some of our favourite wineries can be reached on a day tour from Santiago. Stay in a winery and enjoy bike rides through the vineyards, horseback riding and of course, amazing wine. 
Uruguay
Uruguay's wine region begins a mere 20 minutes from its capital, Montevideo. Thanks to substantial immigration from Basque country in Southwest France in the 19th century, it is one of the world's centres of Tannat vine-growing. Tannat is the country’s pride and joy, as a single varietal or blended with a softer grape like Merlot. The maritime climate of the main vine-growing regions in the south around Montevideo is relatively cool and both reds and whites retain a characteristic and attractive freshness that is unusual in South America.
 
 
Uruguay's Tannat grape, traditionally a big wine with full tannins and searing acidity in France, is more laid-back and polished and can be consumed younger when blended with a variety of grapes such as Pinot Noir, Merlot or Syrah to help tame its high tannins. Another lesser known Uruguayan special is the Albariño grape, a transplant from the Galicia region of northwest Spain - a white wine with a botanical aroma akin to Viognier or Gewürztraminer and a peachy-fresh finish. Albariño is one of very few niche white wine grapes to have made a splash in South America, with Argentina's Torrontés being the other notable exception. It pairs well with seafood or salad.  Uruguay's whites made from international varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier are becoming more sophisticated. 
 
Sharing the wine-making traditions of its larger neighbour, Uruguay boasts more than 80 vineyards that can be visited on a fun day of winetasting from the city.
Bolivia
Bolivian wine shouldn't be a surprise. The country continues the northward arc of the Andes mountains and the vineyard lands of Argentina's Mendoza, La Rioja and Salta regions. When the conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, they planted vines in Bolivia — Mission for red wine and Muscat of Alexandria for white. The Muscat of Alexandria (a variant of muscat, the grape familiar to most as moscato), became the basis for distilled-grape Singani, Bolivia’s national spirit. Its wine industry is based in the southern city of Tarija, near the southern border with Argentina. Tannat is also Bolivia's major red grape. But unlike the Tannats of Uruguay, which tend to be more rustic, Bolivia's are vibrant and polished with impressive complexity.
 
 
Bolivia's wine industry is tiny compared to Chile and Argentina. However, it can claim to be the highest wine producing country in the world as 99 percent of all Bolivian vineyards are situated between 1,600 and 3,000 metres. 
Mexico
Ready to burst onto the global winemaking stage is Mexico. Despite the region’s long grape history, the advance of modern Mexican wine only started in the 1970s and gained real traction at the turn of the century. The region is a melting pot of French, Spanish, and Italian grapes, from Nebbiolo to Chenin Blanc. Wine blends are quite popular here, although they don’t always follow European traditions. You might find Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Grenache and Barbera and other unconventional combinations. The region of Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico's Baja California, just south of the US border has been producing local wines for over 30 years and has been getting a lot of attention lately from some of Mexico’s top chefs as well as Southern Californians looking for a value alternative to Napa Valley's wines.
 
 
The popularity of Mexican cuisine globally along with rising quality has created growing demand for their wines. The hot climate creates high alcohol and deeply colored wines and grape varieties such as Shiraz, Tempranillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon grow well.
Latin Spirits
For lovers of fine liquor, Latin America is home to a smorgasbord of choices. These heavenly spirits seem to be imbued with the passion and spirit of the continent that produces them.
Cachaça, Brazil
A a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice, cachaça is best known for its role in Brazil’s national drink, the caipirinha, a spicy, sweet and fruity liquor which is proudly Brazilian. There is no better place to enjoy this cocktail than on the glamorous beaches of Rio de Janeiro.
 

Rum, CubaIn Cuba, rum is more than just an alcoholic drink, but a part of the national identity. This distilled alcohol comes in many different forms depending on the type, brand and ageing process. Make sure you try one of the famous Cuban rum cocktails created by Havana’s bartenders – the Cuba Libre, the Mojito or the Daiquiri. Take a rum tasting tour paired with a famous Cuban cigar.

Mezcal, MexicoOnce derided as the poor man’s tequila, mezcal has finally come into its own. Mezcal can be made from more than 30 agave plants while tequila can only come from blue agave. The agave for tequila is steamed in ovens that are above ground while mezcal producers use in-ground fire pits filled with wood and charcoal.This smokey agave spirit is now a favourite at Mexico’s top bars, and there is no better place to try it than in Oaxaca, where most mezcal is produced.

Pisco, Peru & ChileWhile both Chile and Peru lay claim to this clear brandy-like spirit, it is best known as the national drink of both countries, the Pisco Sour. Earthy, tart and sweet at the same time, you’ll understand why both countries fight over ownership rights to this delicious cocktail.

Yerba Mate, ArgentinaThis last one is non-alcoholic but a very important part of Argentinian culture, as a ritual and spiritual drink for good health. Mate leaves have natural caffeine that helps keep one awake while quenching thirst and suppressing one's appetite. The mate cup and its metal straw or 'bombilla' are shared until the mate has no more flavour. The communal 'mate ritual' is also observed in Uruguay, parts of Chile and Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil, making it a true blue South American beverage.

Whichever country you choose to visit in Latin America, one thing is certain - you will not go thirsty!

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