Let’s start with a bold claim that may surprise some of you: one of the most exciting producers in the world today is Uruguay! …and to make matters more difficult, the nation has a relatively recent winemaking history and a population of just 3 million. Production is tiny, equivalent to Switzerland’s, and exports are about 5% of production. That is why they are not more widely recognised in the UK. Like its beef, quality, traceability and value-for-money in Uruguay is arguably the best in South America. Plus, you have the added bonus that the wines have a very European feel to them, aided by the cool maritime climate in the south. Those cool Antarctic sea breezes and the clay and limestone soils make it comparable to Saint Emilion – before global warming – so lighter, more structured styles result. One flagship grape has been adopted and is a perfect match for the climate and soils: Tannat (of Madiran fame). Virtually all vineyards are small, family-owned, supporting The Good Wine Shop’s ethos of ‘Good Wine Real People, Great Stories’.
Uruguay is not just a rising star, it is a stunning meteor shower lighting up the night sky. If you are looking for a celestial introduction Vinedo de los Vientos Tannat 2014 is stellar!
Leading the charge with a much younger generation, making wine with more freedom and diversity than ever before is Argentina. A modern, more evolved winemaking culture is developing there. So, stainless steel fermentation tanks and cultured yeast have been discarded and hipster cement eggs and open bins are the new toys. Combine this with earlier harvesting and the result is wines that are fresher than the Andean snowmelt from a Patagonian ice field.
Malbec has been the king of grapes here for 20 years and continues to reign majestically. Contemporary wines have less oak, more acid structure and a regal poise and are much more in tune with export markets.
Over the last 10 years, some 15,000 hectares of Malbec have been planted above 1,000m and some at altitudes as high as 3,000m – that’s higher than any kite flown in the most parts of the wine world. Additionally, cooler climate regions, such as in Patagonia, are being explored. Awe-inspiring, just like the region, is a Patagonian Malbec, Bodega del Rio Elorza Verum Seleccion 2013.
Chile is envied by the rest of the wine-making world for its inexpensive land and low costs, pest and disease-free vines, perfect summers and plentiful snowmelt for irrigation. International investment and an export-lead approach have helped its rapid growth. Now, new regions are being developed, matched with more suitable grape varieties, in Pacific Ocean influenced lands or the higher altitude of the Andes. The clear mountain air and skies of the remote Elqui Valley in the north, which rises to 2,000m, are world-renowned. The Elqui is a sanctuary for Syrah, a grape so well-suited to the terroir there, as demonstrated so masterfully by Vinedos Alcohaz ‘Grus’ 2014.
If your interest has been stoked, why not attend our South American masterclass at either Kew on Thursday 27 September (tickets available here) or Chiswick on Friday 21 September (tickets available here) and get to taste the wines above and more besides.