Why South America is the best place for wine tasting
It is wine harvesting season and our continent is in full celebration! This highly anticipated season by the winemaking tourism in South America is the perfect excuse for exploring how the wines of our region face up against the rest of the world and to analyze the challenges of enotourism throughout the continent. For this reason, we have discussed with four wine experts whom have told us how the winemaking tourism industry in the Southern Cone has grown, and why tourists from all over the world should live this South-American style experience.
But before reading through their opinions and beginning to savor your next travel destination, we want to tell you two intriguing facts:
1. The main center of winemaking in South America in the 16th and 17th centuries was not found in Argentina, in Chile or even Uruguay, but rather in Peru; who was displaced in the subsequent centuries due to earthquakes, war and the arrival of cotton as a raw material and greater commercial interest. Since the 18th century until present day, the Southern Cone took the lead- including Brazil since 1830- who placed itself as the third strongest winemaking region behind Chile and Argentina.
2. Enotourism, or wine tourism, is not travelling to simply inebriate oneself, it consists of visiting a winemaking region, getting to know the process of elaborating the wines, visiting vineyards and wineries, learning about the history of each particular grape variety, participating in tastings and accompanying all of this with the proper cuisine. As you will see, it has to do with a complete and fascinating experience that you should include in your travel itinerary.
In the following section we present to you the opinions of the experts: Amanda Barnes, a British editor and journalist who specializes in South American wine and travel destinations; Claudia Yanzón, owner and director of the Vitivinícola Bus Hop-On & Hop-Off Wine Tour in Mendoza, Argentina; Carol Abousleiman, journalist, sommelier and instructor who currently works on the project Wine and Chats in Buenos Aires; and export manager and director of tourism Francisco Pizzorno who is a fourth generation member of the family that founded the Pizzorno Winery in Uruguay and who will talk to us specifically about the Uruguayan experience. Discover the South American wines and become an expert!
1. What distinguishes the South American wines from the rest of the world?
- Amanda Barnes: South America offers a world of wine - from the cool, coastal Sauvignon Blanc of Leyda in Chile and the perfumed, high altitude Torrontes of Salta to the rich, plummy Malbec of Mendoza and the spicy, meaty Tannat of Uruguay. There are so many different styles of wine and climates to explore, it is almost impossible to generalize about South American wine.
- Claudia Yanzón: Wines from South America, included in the category of wines from the New World, are fruit flavored and fresh where the typicality of each variety permits you to best perceive the differences of each grape. The main distinction with the wines from the Old World is that they spend a longer time aging in the barrels than our wines here in South America.
- Carol Abousleiman: I would never blend the criteria of “South American” wines; because even in the same country we already have different styles and proposals. For example, in Argentina, the desert climate along the Andes mountain range, the extreme elevations in Salta, the Patagonia, or even now the maritime influence in the Province of Buenos Aires near the city of Mar del Plata, all produce very different wine profiles, defined by their aromas, flavors, alcohols, their strong acidity and their tannins. What would stand out in the Southern Cone is the quality that has been achieved in the past few decades and the search for a native identity, which can only be given by the place itself. In this sense, we are on the path that Europe has been tracing since hundreds of years ago.
- Francisco Pizzorno: From my own personal experience with Uruguayan winemaking, I point out its family-based character and this is the way we promote ourselves to the world. Tannat is the grape variety that Uruguay has adopted as the national grape and we have the greatest quantity of tannat planted in the world. Another characteristic to point out in regards to winemaking in Uruguay is the fact that a country with just around three million inhabitants, it has 190 wineries, distributed mainly in Colonia, Montevideo, Canelones, and Maldonado.
2. What is winemaking tourism in South America like today?
- Amanda Barnes: wine tourism is definitely growing in South America and I think the reason isn’t only the great wines but the fantastic travel experience. Visiting a vineyard and winery here is about visiting a family, seeing a different way of life and probably ending up on horseback and enjoying wine over an asado with your new found friends! The wine tourism experience here goes far beyond the bottle.
- Claudia Yanzón: Without a doubt, it is on the rise. Wine tourism, being the unifying thread of experiences that go hand in hand with gastronomy, it offers greater opportunities of development in the different winemaking regions. In the restaurants of Mendoza, for example, there are menus that include the possibility of tasting a wine while you drop-in to have lunch; and the same wineries also have their small restaurants that allow you to try different glasses of wine accompanied with hors d’oeuvre. Another detail that makes one think of enotourism on the rise is the fact that the wineries (there are only 175 in Mendoza that are open year round) have created spaces for hospitality, with a host - which is more than just a tour guide- that tells you all there is to know about the wines and their recommendations for wine-pairing.
- Carol Abousleiman: I think it is an industry with a lot of potential, whose distinguishing features are supported by the fantastic landscapes and the natural sites we possess plus the great work done by the wineries in that regard, some high stakeholders and with very high standards. Without a doubt, the industry is growing and there is a lot left to do. Today the consumer feels curious to get to know where the wines are made, to go around the different sites, to visit vineyards and wineries, chat with the makers, the wine experts, the agricultural engineers, and by doing this live an unforgettable experience that can only be offered by the wine.
- Francisco Pizzorno: The tourism in the wineries of Uruguay came through to save the industry and turned into a unit of sustainable and encouraging business. Today there are more wineries open to enotourism and their relationship with gastronomy has allowed the creation of more attractive offers. One fun fact about the winemaking activity in Uruguay is that 90% of the tourists in the wineries are Brazilians and this fact is extremely important for our country since it pushes us to work together with our neighboring country and with Argentina, too.
3. What are the biggest challenges for enotourism in South America?
- Amanda Barnes: distances are a challenge in South America, the countries are wide and diverse. It takes longer than you think to get to the different wine routes and so you have to give yourself time if you want to really enjoy your experience.
- Claudia Yanzón: to continue growing in quality, increasing the volumes of production, being comfortable with working in other languages (mainly Portuguese and English) and continue moving forward with the extension of working hours in relation to the requirements of the demand.
- Carol Abousleiman: I would say to consolidate a public policy with respect to the long term. And, in Argentina’s case, a greater coming together of the private sector to work towards a common objective. This is something that is often very difficult for us, and I believe it is a cultural issue that drives us towards individualism. But, I am optimistic in that we will begin finding the way to achieve it and to grow. As long as the private and public sectors understand it and work together, enotourism will be able to turn into a really solid vector to stimulate tourism throughout the continent.
- Francisco Pizzorno: The great challenge is to develop an enotourism that is constantly more professional, led by qualified people who manage the visits, with investments into the infrastructure that allows to consolidate routes since the main thing is the history– the wineries and the culture are there. Enotourism is, and should continue to be, the bridge between the technicality typical in the world of wine and the consumer, to offer the latter tools that allow them to make good decisions when it comes to selecting a label.
Wine is, then, part of the essence of South America and an aspect of our culture that each tourist should enjoy and experience. LIke the North-American journalist and writer Ernest Hemingway said, “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world... “, and in South America we agree with him and invite each traveler to taste the delicious and unique grape varieties from our continent. Discover South America through its wine!
By: Keilma Rojas, Web Content Editor at Daytours4u