South America - February 2020
About the Region
When learning about wine, it’s easy to get caught up in the Old World classics. However, venturing into New World areas – the United States, Australia, South Africa, and beyond – is equally important. There are so many hidden gems to be found across both hemispheres, and with this month’s box, we’re exploring the southern half.
South America’s wine production is predominantly based in Chile and Argentina, both of which have had rather subpar reputations over the past century. These two countries were known for putting out consistently affordable bottles, though most lacked character, complexity, and value. However, over the last two decades, South America has seen an influx of top quality winemakers putting out terroir-reflective juice like never before.
So where do we start? I decided to keep this box’s selections focused on growing sites in Chile and Argentina. What many people don’t realize is that South America is home to some of the highest elevation vineyards in the world. The mountainous terrains of these areas create dramatic slopes and fertile valleys for growing grapes, which translate to thought-provoking and versatile final wines. Argentina has long been known as a mecca for Malbec, though Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Torrontés are also finding their footing within the country. In Chile, you can expect Carménère, Pais, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc to dominate the vineyards.
Argentina’s winemaking history is pretty interesting. It all began back in the mid-16th century during the Spanish colonization of North and South America. Vine cuttings were brought from Spain and planted in the plains of northern Argentina. The country was more focused on quantity over quality until about 20 years ago, and much of the country’s production stayed within the nation’s limits. However, growing interest abroad and the arrival of talented winemakers has helped make Argentina’s viticultural scene what it is today. Today, vines are mostly cultivated in the regions of Mendoza, San Juan, and La Rioja. What’s amazing about Argentina’s sites is their high altitudes and low levels of humidity.
These two factors work together to create healthy environments where insects, molds, and other issues are typically absent. This means that farming organically is relatively easy.
Chile’s winemaking history is also tied to the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. Bordeaux varieties (think Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc) were the first planted within the region, and they are still the dominant grapes today.
Many French natives immigrated to Chile during the 1900s to cultivate and vinify fruit, so there’s a strong Old World influence at many Chilan estates. The country is broken down into five major growing regions: Atacama, Coquimbo, Aconcagua, Central Valley, and Southern Chile. Within these five overarching regions, many smaller valleys (Maipo, Itata, and Casablanca, to name a few) exist, most of which have a Mediterranean climate. Chile has never been affected by phylloxera, so vineyards have never needed to be grafted. Talk about impressive!
Topography has a heavy influence on vineyards across Chile and Argentina. Both are known for their dry deserts and staggering mountain ranges. Bodies of water, including the Pacific Ocean, Río de la Plata, and numerous lakes, help moderate temperatures across these growing sites. Cool mountain breezes, particularly from the Andes in Chile, cause temperatures to drop at night, which helps in preserving natural acidity within fruit.
What I love most about the small producers featured in this box is that they are changing the face of wines from South America. This new crop of conscious and sustainable farmers is really shifting what’s happening south of the equator, and to me, that’s what makes this box so exciting. These producers are far from your everyday brands-- they’re tiny, terroir-focused, and above all, make excellent wines that are super fun to drink. I hope you enjoy learning about these South American gems as much as I have.
Dustin Wilson, Master Sommelier
Zorzal EGGO 'Blanc de Cal’ Sauvignon Blanc
Founded in 2007 by brothers Gerardo, Matias, and Juan Pablo Michelini, Zorzal Wines highlights the high-altitude vineyard sites of Argentina’s Uco Valley. Located in Mendoza, the winery is the highest elevated estate in the region, and it’s home to 70 hectares of vineyard sites, some of which sit at a jaw-dropping 4,500 feet above sea level. The trio farms organically, harvests all fruit by hand, and picks earlier than most other estates in the region to preserve acidity and freshness in the final wines. EGGO ‘Blanc de Cal’ is a varietal Sauvignon Blanc that ferments and ages completely in concrete eggs. The wine was first produced back in 2014, and only 250 cases are made annually.
PAIRING IDEAS: Crisp, thirst-quenching, and bright, this bottle is perfect for serving alongside happy hour snacks, including fresh clams, goat cheese, and/or crudité platters.
Montsecano ‘Refugio’ Pinot Noir
Montescano was founded by Julio Donoso and Alsatian native Andre Ostertag back in 2005. The duo’s geothermal, egg-shaped winery is located in Chile’s Casablanca Valley, 60 miles northwest of Santiago. Here, all farming is done biodynamically, and wines are produced exclusively in concrete eggs and stainless steel. ‘Refugio’ is hand-harvested, vinified with native yeasts and 40% stem inclusion, and aged in concrete. Notes of tart raspberries, violets, cherries, and sage dominate this smooth and mineral-driven wine.
PAIRING IDEAS: This earth-driven bottle of Pinot is sure to satisfy an array of palate preferences. Serve alongside game, roasted chicken, or mushroom-based recipes for an out-of-this-world pairing.
Rogue Vine 'Grand Itata’ Blanco
Led by Leo Erazo (Altos Las Hormigas, Mendoza) and his partner Justin Decker, Rogue Vine produces terroir-reflective wines from two subregions of Chile’s Itata Valley. Here, vineyards are mostly dry-farmed and bush-trained, with some plants even boasting an age of 100+ years. The duo implements simple and honest winemaking practices, including the use of native yeasts, old
barrels, and minimal sulfur upon bottling. This 45/30/25 blend of Moscatel, Riesling, and Sémillon is produced from organic fruit grown in Paleozoic granite soils. Grapes are hand-harvested, gently pressed, and aged in neutral oak. The wine shows pronounced aromatics of stone fruit, blossoms, and lychee, followed by a concentrated palate oozing with notes of star fruit, citrus, and wet stones.
PAIRING IDEAS: This unique and food-friendly blend is the perfect match for pad thai, ramen, and other takeout favorites.
Chacra ‘Roka’ Malbec
Bodega Chacra was founded by Piero Incisa della Rochetta, grandson of the famed founder of Tuscany’s Sassicaia, back in 2004. At the estate, Piero highlights the unique microclimates and diverse terroirs of the Río Negro province of Argentina. Organic farming and biodynamic principles are implemented, ensuring that the final wines are pure, expressive, and highly soil reflective. In the local dialect, the term 'chacra' is used to identify a specific piece of land destined for fruit-growing, which is viewed as a center of energy that unites all living beings within the universe. ‘Roka’ is Piero’s first venture into the world of Malbec, and it’s produced exclusively for Verve Wine. Notes of dark plums, blueberries, and violets dominate this dark, silky, and easy-drinking palate.
PAIRING IDEAS: This varietal Malbec’s dark-fruited profile is marked by bright acidity and well-integrated tannins, making it the perfect match for skirt steak, grilled veggies, and lentil-based stews.