Condor Wines - Wine with Altitude

About Argentina and Chile



A Long History Of Vine Cultivation And Wine Production

The grape vine found its way into Argentina in the 1550’s; taken there by Hernan Cortes for production of communion wine. A long period of industrial style production followed but with large European immigration in the 19th century came quality vines and more understanding. Between 1873 and 1893 Argentina went from 5,000 acres to 25,000 acres of vineyards. By the early 20th century they had 500,000 acres!

After a drop in production in the mid 20th century Argentina is today one of the world’s leading countries in wine production. They are the 7th biggest consumer and 7th largest exporter but also the world’s 5th largest producer of wine (second only to the U.S.A. in the new world) (Source: ProspAr). Gaining both recognition and numerous awards Argentina is home to some high quality regions producing excellent examples of the world’s best known grapes and are especially famous for their rich, complex and alluring Malbec.


Distinct Wine Growing Regions With Perfect Conditions

Argentina is 3000km long and as such presents a range of regions with different terroirs and climates. At the heart of Argentine grape growing is altitude; Salta is home to vineyards at over 2000 metres above sea level, the highest in the world. Mendoza can reach up to 1200 metres above sea level. These altitudes bring cooler climates and large diurnal temperature differences slowing the growth of the grape and bringing finer acidity, tannic structure and more complex flavours. Argentina has long hours of sunshine and the vines are fed with pure melt water from the Andes mountains.

There are seven provinces within the three wine producing regions of North, Cuyo and Patagonia, each producing unique and diverse wine varieties. Mendoza accounts for nearly 75% of production (Source: ProspAr) however several other regions are now coming to the fore. In the far north Salta is home to some of the world’s highest vineyards and produces exceptional Torrontés, Malbec and Tannat. In the south of the country lies the huge province of Patagonia. Here altitude is less important but it is cooler and with more wind. Within Patagonia the region of Rio Negro is capable of producing much more classic styles of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc

A Home To Grape Varieties Both Well Known And More Unusual

Malbec is by far the most important and famous variety in Argentina. At 31% of plantings it is the grape with which they have made their name. Within the different regions being explored Malbec is showing just how diverse it can be: from minerally and red fruit driven in Salta to delicate, violet scented and perfumed in the Valle de Uco in Mendoza there is still much more to see. As well as large plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot the country is also developing Cabernet Franc and their rather unique Bonarda. Bonarda is capable of producing both simple, fruity entry-level reds and serious, long lasting wines.

Argentina has another trick up her sleeve in the shape of Torrontés. A naturally occurring hybrid of Criolla and Muscat of Alexandria this variety is akin to a Gewurztraminer or Viognier; floral, ripe fruit and richly textured in the mouth it is the perfect antidote for those looking for a change from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.

Sauvignon Blanc is becoming more understood, especially in the cooler regions and offers something different to the more common New Zealand or Loire styles and many winemakers are now producing world class Chardonnay.


An Industrial History With A Quality Future

Much like Argentina, the grape vine was brought to Chile in the 1500’s by the Spanish conquistadores. It was quickly realised that Chile offered a combination of sunlight, pure soils and both coastal and altitude areas.

Production was traditionally focused on volume and the country quickly became known for a source of bulk, cheap (yet good quality) wines. Building a rich economy based on mining and agriculture 10 families looked to France for inspiration and started a vine nursery for the finest Vitis Vinifera cuttings. As soon as phylloxera entered Europe many winemakers brought their understanding and expertise to the country.

It was not until the 1980’s however that the focus shifted and several winemakers broke away from the industrial level of production and decided to invest in understanding the terroirs properly and producing more boutique style wines. Today Chile is the 9th largest producer of wine in the world (source: OIV 2015)


A Grape Grower’s Paradise

Chile is 3000km long but only 160 km at its widest point. Border to the north by the Atacama Desert, to the east by the Andes Mountains, to the south by the Antarctic and the west by the Pacific the country is free from phylloxera. Due to the described boundaries the louse has never been able to enter the country. The soils and agricultural land in Chile is incomparably pure. Melt water from the Andes and long sunshine hours with slightly higher levels of UV light help to produce grapes with good phenolic ripeness, fine tannins and elegant acidity.

The heat during the day is tempered by cool breezes brought up the coast by the Humboldt current and this gives grapes ideal conditions for slow and steady ripening.

Whilst more famous for its valleys Chile actually has three distinct areas that run longitudinally. The first is the area closest to the sea giving a maritime climate, the second is further inland and more Mediterranean in style with the third being in the east at the foot of the Andes Mountains bringing cooler regions through altitude.

Casablanca is arguably the most well-known region producing excellent Sauvignons and Chardonnays but there are many more diverse and equally interesting regions. The Lolol Valley in Colchagua is close to the coast and produces finely saline Sauvignon Blancs and superb Syrah. The Curico Valley is 200km south of Santiago and sheltered from an ocean influence by a series of hills. A diverse region with over 30 varieties growing it shows just how complex Chile can be.

Varietal Purity And Exceptional Blending

Chile’s ‘ace in the hole’ is Carmenere; the lost grape of Bordeaux for years it was produced as Merlot. Carmenere can be seen to display the masculine and firm structure of Cabernet Sauvignon but the plush and voluptuous fruit character of Merlot. A variety with staggering potential this is the country’s flagship variety. Chile also has large plantings of Pinot Noir and this is fast becoming a key varietal at all price points. It works especially well in the cooler south.

Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the key white varieties and Chile produces a style of Sauvignon Blanc that sits midway between the more austere and mineral Loire style and the big, herbaceous passion fruit driven wine of New Zealand. The Chardonnays have a mineral and leaner fruit style that better reflects that of Burgundy than many other new world producers. In the southern regions of Bio Bio and Itata Chile is now producing some exceptional Rieslings that again pay homage to the old world but retain their own sense of identity.

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