Winetasters of Muskoka tasting
South American red wines. Speakers notes – Tuesday October 7, 2008.
Winemaking in South America is primarily concentrated in Argentina & Chile and we will therefore discuss only these two countries.
At over a million sq. miles Argentina is the 2nd largest country in S. America after Brazil and they are the 5th largest wine producer in the world and only within the last few years have they started to export their wines as the local market consumed it all. Political instability, economic depression, soaring inflation plus a number of power hungry military rulers drove the country down and only until the 1990’s was the country politically and economically stable.
They copied the success and blueprint of Chile and slowly and steadily with the help of offshore investors from France and the U.S.A., began the modernizing of their wine industry. By the mid 90’s they exported 400,000 gallons of wine to the U.S. and by 1988 that figure rose to 4 million gallons while Chile’s exports to the U.S. in 1988 were 13 million gallons. In 1999 the Iscay wine ( a blend of Malbec and Merlot was successfully released at $50.00 per bottle.
Winemaking was started in the late 16th century by the conquering soldiers and missionaires who brought most of the vines from Spain with some coming later from Chile. The early vines were planted by the Atlantic seacoast but they realized that locating inland to the dry foothills of theAndes was the ideal location.The climate there was perfect for the growing of grapes and water from the Andes was utilized for irrigation. Today there are almost 2,000 wineries in Argentina ranging from small private boutique wineries up to Penaflor which is amongst the largest wineries in the world and today Argentina produces some of the finest wines available.
Their wine laws are fairly loose & not strict, but, if a grape varietal in listed on the wine label then 80% of the wine must be from that grape. There are seven distinct wine regions and their main white varietals are, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Criolla, Cereza and Muscatel. Their main reds are, Barbera, Tempranilla, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot. Mendoza is their most significant wine region and is located just below the Andes and due west from Buenos Aries. About ¾ of all Argentinian wine is produced here and the total number of vines exceeds that of both Australia and New Zealand put together. The Malbec grape is their most significant varietal and today Argentina produces better Malbec than in Bordeaux, it’s ancestral home.
Chile is an emerging wine country that is approximately 5,000 kms. long by 150 kms wide at the narrowest point. The five wine regions are located about one-half way up the country in an almost ideal environment nestled between the Pacific ocean and the Andes mountains. The Andes provides an unlimited amount of pure clean water for irrigation and the weather conditions are similar to the Mediterranean with warm dry sunny days which are perfect for grapes and other fruit.
Because of the physical isolation of the country there are few diseases and pests, which eliminates the need for most chemicals and spraying. Grapes are so easy to grow and couple this with the fact that the cost of land and labour is reasonable, the resulting wines represent an excellent quality/value relationship.
The first European vines were brought by the conquering soldiers and missionaires from Spain in around the early 1500’s, and then in the mid sixteenth century more and better varietals were planted. By the mid nineteenth century the wealthy landowners and mining barons built estates modelled after the fabulous Bordeaux chateaux and they hired French winemakers who primarily planted mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and other French varietals.
Winemaking was mostly uneventful during the twentieth century because of political unstability, high taxes, and an unsophisticated local market. In the 1980’s that all changed due to the political stability and a huge influx of foreign investment. Major players from France, California, Spain recognized an opportunity and names including Robert Mondavi, Ch. Margaux, Ch. Lafite-Rothschild plus many others realizing Chile’s potential, poured millions of dollars into the development of modern wineries capable of producind superb wines and Chile’s wine industry took off.
Chile’s main target for export was the U.S.A. and they were dead on because a real need existed for quality wines at reasonable prices. The Chileans also focused their wines on what was currently popular in the U.S. which included Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The U.S. became their largest market and in 1995 a joint venture between Robert Mondavi from California together with a leading Chilean producer marketed a very upscale and expensive wine ( $80.00 in Ontario) blending Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenere called Sena. This delicious wine rivals many of the best wines in the world and it is often sold out before it hits the store shelves. Tonight I have brought from my cellar some 1996 Sena for you to sample and if it has aged well we should be in for a treat
Like Canada & the U.S., the Chilean wine laws are simple & straightforward: 75% of the grapes in a wine most be from the region on the label, 75% of the varietal listed on the label must be what is in the bottle, and if a vintage is specified then 75% of the wine must come from that vintage.
Their main red grape varietals are; Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and merlot and the whites are; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sauvignon Vert. In 2005 they were the 11th largest exporter of wines worldwide.
Treat yourself and experiment with some of the great Argentinian and Chilean wines. Ask a consultant in the LCBO for assistance & you may be pleasantly surprised.
Tonight, we are pleased to introduce some wonderful South American wines from Caliterra, Alamos and Catena, all imported by Calibrium wines. www.calibrium.com.]