The colour of red wines varies tremendously, yet it is not their flavour that separates them but the presence of tannins, which intensify the “mouthfeel”. The most popular red wine grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Grenache, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.
Syrah is the grape responsible for the fine wines of the Northern Rhône, but most wine drinkers know it as Shiraz, its Australian alias. This thick-skinned grape may produce potentially tannic and long-lived wines and has also been producing some good wines in Chile.
Chile’s climate has been likened to a cross between those of California and France. The most common grapes used for winemaking are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère. Chile provided the vine Vitis Vinifera with its first true New World home. Winemaking has been revolutionised since the Spanish conquistadors brought over their vine cuttings in the 16th century. Over time, winemakers were encouraged to join the winegrowers on the fields to improve the quality of the fruit that would ultimately optimise the class of the wines. At one point, varietal selection stagnated in favour of focussing primarily on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which had been brought over in the mid-18th century from France. In the early 1980s, a renaissance began with the introduction of stainless steel fermentation tanks and the use of oak barrels for ageing, during which time Chile’s signature grape Carménère manifested itself. As new vine varieties were introduced and vineyard management techniques were modernised, with the introduction of drip irrigation and vertical trellising, there was a marked improvement in quality and a reduction in crop loads, and Chile’s wine exports increased quickly as quality wine production increased.
Pioneering growers are now confidently planting vineyards at higher altitudes and pushing the extremes of the long-recognised wine regions. The number of wineries grew from 12 in 1995 to more than 70 in 2005, enabling the industry to evolve to meet the needs of today’s worldwide consumers. Their wines are sold in more than 90 countries on five continents and the country is the fifth largest exporter of wines to the United States.
Argentina’s winemaking began in the main with Italian immigrants at the turn of the 19th century, but it was not until much later – in the 1980s and after the government “wine pull” schemes – that winemakers decided to focus on quality rather than quantity. By the early 1990s, most of the wine produced was consumed domestically or exported to neighbouring countries, but this trend has since changed dramatically. Despite the mass production of table wines, other more adventurous wine makers introduced premium lines for the export market and many new start-up wineries took advantage of the fertile land. Argentina is the largest wine producer in South America and the 5th largest in the world. Due to the high elevation and aridity of the country’s wine regions, Argentine vineyards are not troubled by insects, fungi, moulds and other diseases that affect grapes in other countries, allowing more pesticide-free cultivation and therefore a wider selection of organic wines.
Argentina’s top three grape varieties producing wines are Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with a steadily increasing output of Tempranillo. Argentina is said to produce the best Malbec. Originally used as a blending grape by some Bordeaux producers, the richly-fruited Malbec has come into its own in Argentina since it was introduced in the mid 19th century. Its popularity soared as it quickly adapted to the terrain in all the wine producing areas and it has been widely experimented on to produce the most varied styles of wines.
World renowned for the wines it produces on the well-drained soils of Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, was the natural choice for New World winemakers hoping to imitate the best clarets. A tough grape that travels well, it has been cultivated with great success in the New World, especially in Argentina, where it is the second most produced red wine variety.
Merlot is used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines; its softness and stoutness, in addition to earlier ripening, has attracted many winemakers to using it, not least in Argentina. With such an influence from immigrants it is unsurprising that Tempranillo – the traditional grape of Spain’s Rioja region and Barbera, Bonarda and Sangiovese from Italy – also are widely grown in Argentina.
Uruguay shares many climatic similarities with Argentina across the River Plate. The principle red grape here is the Tannat which was imported by immigrants from the South West of France. This firmly-structured red is fast gaining notoriety for this country.
Brazil boasts a surprisingly long winemaking tradition. Production is centred on cool climate zones on higher slopes in the south east where both red and white wines are produced.