Wines from South America are not recent developments. Sacramental wine was being made in Peru by Spanish missionaries as early as the 1500s. Fortunately, plantings of better varietals began in the 1800s, leading to the development of today's outstanding wines.
Because of its long Pacific coast and array of soil compositions, Chile produce a range of wines that vary significantly from region to region and from their European ancestors. It is the largest producer in South America.
The Maipo Valley is home to Chile's favorite domestic red, Caremenère, a hearty wine with its roots in old European varietals. Its Cabernets are well-known through the exports of of Concha y Toro, Santa Rita, Errazuriz and Almaviva products.
The Casablanca coastal area is the home of Chile's best whites, its Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. The Casablanca's almost perpetual fog and salty breezes also make it a good place to grow Syrahs and Pinot Noirs, both cool-season red grapes.
The Colchagua Valley is similar to the Napa Valley of California, producing warm-weather reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère, but a smaller acreage is devoted to Malbec, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Syrah as well.
Maule Valley, the southernmost major region, also has the most acres under cultivation, has a warmer and drier climate than the other regions which impacts the quality of its Cabernets and Merlots. However, its unirrigated plantings of Carignan, Pais, Malbec and others produce unique wines similar to those made centuries earlier in the Old World.
Best known for its huge output of quality Malbecs, Argentina also produces very respectable Cabernets that rival those of the Napa Valley. With a wide range of soils and climate, Argentina is home to three major wine areas.
The high altitudes of the Northern region make it the home of the well-regarded white Torrontes. Scanty rainfall and and warm temperatures contribute to the qualities of the wines produced here.
The Cuyo region is the largest wine-producing area, the major source of Argentina's esteemed Malbec production. While rainfall is scarce, irrigation is possible because of Andean melt-off in this high region. The Mendoza area is especially well-known for its output of Malbec, Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Patagonia's harsh winters and cool summers cause a slow lengthy ripening period for the wine grapes grown there. Fortunately, these conditions give winemakers more control in balancing sweetness and acidity, resulting in some intriguing wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and some Malbecs and Merlots are produced here.
Its proximity to the equator makes growing wine grapes in Brazil somewhat problematic. While most of its grape harvest is devoted to fresh fruit consumption, Brazil does have six regions suitable for wine grapes. Moscato and other sparkling wines made using the methode champenoise represent some of the surprises found among Brazilian wines.
Wine has been produced in Brazil during its early colonial period, but the rise of the industry began in the 1870s when Italian immigrants brought with them their expertise, tools and varietals with them. Grown on Brazilian soil, Tempranillos, Gamays and Bordeaux take on unique characteristics not found in their European-grown cousins. While Brazil's modern winemaking industry is only about 15 years old, it has made great strides.
Uruguay's limited range of wines has little to do with the number of acres under cultivation. It is the fourth-largest wine producer in South America. The most abundant wine produced is a tannic red known as Tannat. Introduced by a Basque immigrant in the early 20th century, Tannat is the preferred domestic wine among Uruguayans. Smaller amounts of Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet, Sauvignons Blanc and Muscat are produced.