The Spanish conquistadors first planted vines in South America more than 500 years ago to slake their own thirst for wine. The hot, dry regions of Argentina and Chile were particularly well suited to growing grapes, and the industry in those countries thrived as waves of immigrants from Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries brought wine know-how with them.
Native to southern France, where it is made into inky-black, intense and tannic wines, malbec is the grape that Argentina has made its own. There malbecs tend to be fruitier and more supple, and deserve their reputation as crowd pleasers, especially well suited to all things meaty, though they work well with robust vegetable-based dishes such as aubergine parmigiana.
Carignan, another French grape, was planted widely in Chile following a devastating earthquake in 1939 but was mainly used for low-quality wines made for blending, and eventually became neglected in favour of better-known grapes – cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are now Chile’s most planted varieties, with sauvignon blanc and pinot noir not far behind.
Ever-increasing quality and great value for money mean that so many of us reach for familiar bottles as a default option but there are other great wines coming from these parts that deserve our attention as well.
The Vigno project is a collaboration between several top makers in the Maule region of central Chile who are rediscovering forgotten old vines of carignan grown without irrigation, and making really exciting wines.
Other innovators are experimenting with natural and orange wines, and Brazil is leading the way with great sparkling wine, while Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay and even Ecuador are establishing wine industries that are now gaining international attention and respect.
We’re bound to hear more in the future of South American wines that go beyond the usual suspects – it’s time to discover just how much they have to offer.
Concha Y Toro Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc (£7.50, Tesco)
Sauvignon blanc is blended with a little riesling and gewürztraminer and made into something sweet in this luscious pudding wine. It’s fab with anything fruity, so pour a little over our instant mango fro-yo recipe.
Undurraga Vigno Maule Carignan 2013 (£16.50, thewinesociety.com)
Undurraga is one of Chile’s oldest wineries and this wine is a brilliant expression of how classy carignan can be.
PX Pedro Ximénez (£8, Marks & Spencer)
Pedro Ximénez is best known as the grape used to make the sticky, sweet sherry from Spain. This is the opposite – dry and crisp but with a whiff of richness.
Tapiz Malbec Rosé Extra Brut (£17, Oddbins)
Malbec is usually made into beefy reds but here the grape is treated very gently to achieve just a hint of juicy fruit and some lovely fresh bubbles. This summery pink fizz from Argentina is great to sip alone or with our fancy crab and shaved asparagus salad recipe.