Spring is upon us and it’s harvest time!…..And you thought there was only one time each year to make wine from fresh grapes; in the Fall. But, surprise, there is another whole world south of the Equator. As it turns out, the four seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are shifted six months compared to the Northern Hemisphere. The peak heat of their summer is experienced in January, compared to July in the Northern Hemisphere. That means that grapes ripen and are harvested during our spring, (their autumn) in the February to May timeframe. The wines are shipped and become available to us in North America in the September or October timeframe of the same year, and for reds in one year, the following April. So, with Spring upon us, the eyes of the wine industry turn to the Southern hemisphere!
Wine growing in the Southern Hemisphere – To make it even more interesting, there are some outstanding Southern Hemisphere grape growing regions; Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Chile and Brazil to name a few. Wines from Chile and Argentina are making a significant impact. And with good reason; the quality and prices are very competitive. More importantly, the wines produced from them stand up very well against domestically grown fruit. And for those of us who live for the excitement of the winemaking experience, we can do that twice a year!
For purposes of this article, I want to concentrate on the wine regions of South America: Argentina, Chile and Brazil. Why Brazil you may ask?…Because, incidentally, that is where I’m from… and I just returned from a trip to Sao Paulo where the summer is coming to an end.
Currently, the production of fine wines in Brazil totals 10,000 hectares of wine grapes and is located mostly in the southern portion of the country in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Winemaking in Brazil has been going on since the late 1500’s with vines brought from Portugal during colonization. Sparkling wine is the biggest production with the help of larger foreign investment houses like Moët et Chandon from France.
A synonym of the great Spanish grape Tempranillo that is spelled either as Aragonez or Aragonês in southern Portugal. Aragonez produces full-bodied, inky and highly aromatic wines. The grape has fine and delicate aromas of pepper and berries and has high yields and is indispensable in the blend of a good Port.
Bold and lush, Touriga Nacional is for people who go for full-bodied red wines from warm climates. For example, dry wines made with Touriga Nacional have been likened to Napa Cabernet and or opulent Barossa Shiraz. The one trait that Touriga Nacional really sizes up is its bold tannin—a trait that softens with aging.
In Argentina, the majority of grapes grow in the west, along the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains, identified as the Mendoza Province. Grape plantings concentrate on Malbec with lesser acreage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. Vineyards in Mendoza are at altitudes ranging from about 3,000 to 5,000 feet making them among the highest in the world.
Torrontes produces fresh, aromatic wines with moderate acidity, smooth texture and mouthfeel as well as distinctive peach and apricot flavors. It prefers a cooler growing region and it is making a big splash in the US due to its floral characters and easiness to drink.
Malbec has become the signature grape and wine of Argentina. Originally from the Bordeaux region of France, where it has been grown in small amounts for centuries, it was used as a blending component. However, it had never achieved great status as a stand-alone wine in Bordeaux. First introduced to Argentina in the 1860s, it was in the terroir of the Andes that the vine flourished into its current status as a stand-alone variety wine. Mendoza has been the go-to region for Argentinian grape cultivation since its founding in the 1500s, but did not emerge as a world-class producer and exporter of high-quality wines until the completion of railroads connecting the vineyards to Buenos Aires and the rest of the world markets. More recently, the infusion of skilled winemaking immigrants from Europe has benefitted the Argentinian wine industry.
In Chile, grapes are grown along an 800-mile strip on the coast from the Atacama Desert Region in the north to the Bio-Bio Region in the south. The entire country is located between the western slopes of the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Grape growing regions are located on the high Andes foothills and valleys created by the major rivers. All of the regions are impacted by the cooling Pacific Humboldt Current and thus are blessed with a very beneficial wide diurnal temperature variation (day to night variation). The Valle Central area grows exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc among others.
For long misidentified as Merlot, Carménère has become the signature grape of Chile. It thrived in the Chilean terroir but tasted distinctly different from traditional Merlot. After considerable testing and DNA analysis, it was determined that their “Merlot” was really a long lost Bordeaux variety, thought to be extinct.
Indeed, South America has emerged as a wine region to watch for with many fantastic names and big investors. As I mentioned before, the value is a big factor and the quality is rivaling with many French or Italian producers. If you are interested in tasting some of the best wines from Argentina, join us on March 9th and 10th at the Greenbrier when we will welcome the brilliant Laura Catena, the “Face of Argentine Wine,” who is continuing the pioneering work of her father Nicolás at perhaps the most famous winery of Argentina.
Be well and drink good wine. Cheers!
– Robert Aquilino, Wine Sommelier at The Greenbrier. HashtagWV #99. March 2018