We are often asked whether it’s better to go to Argentina or Chile for wine exploration, and there is no straightforward answer.
These two South American wine regions are both well worth a visit, but the little differences between them may sway travellers towards one slightly more than the other.
To help you choose whether to visit Argentina’s Mendoza or Chile’s Central Wine Valleys, this is our comprehensive guide to the wine regions of Argentina and Chile.
Which is the bigger wine region?
Chile’s wine region covers almost the entire length of the country, stretching from the far north Copiápo valley near the Atacama desert to the Osorno in the deep south of the Austral. Chile’s Central Valley is home to the most successful wineries, such as those found in the Maipo and Colchagua valleys, as well as the ones which sit directly across the Andes from Mendoza.
In Argentina, vineyards can be found in the northern Cafayate region, as well as the San Juan, La Rioja, Catamarca and Rio Negro provinces. Mendoza still produces 60% of Argentina’s wine, so true oenophiles should head to Mendoza to discover some of the best wines Argentina has to offer. Chile’s scope and size of vineyards is therefore much larger than Argentina’s, but both countries are known for different specialities.
White vs red varieties
It is no coincidence that Mendoza lies across the Andes from Chile’s most successful wine region. The vines here that grow in the Andean foothills, across the Chilean Central Valley and Mendoza’s Maipu, Uco and Lujan de Cuyo valleys, tend to grow well due to the range of temperatures between night and day. Being fed by the carefully irrigated waters running off the mountain’s snow caps also means these vines produce less acidic grapes. In Mendoza, high altitudes help ward off grape diseases and allow for even greater success in cultivating organic wines.
The geographical relief, Pacific winds and humidity mean that Chile has traditionally lent itself towards growing white grape varieties. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are staples here. The red Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère varieties, though, are also not unheard of in Chile. Argentina is better known for its red varieties of Malbec, Tempranillo and Syrah. It’s famous for its whites too, as Torrontes, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc are also grown here. The Italian immigrant population has also led Mendoza to recently become more active in cultivating world-class Italian varieties such as Sangiovese and Raboso.
Culture and heritage of the wine regions
With little to separate Argentina and Chile’s wine regions, the distinction between them often comes down to their heritage. Argentina’s wineries were founded when Spanish, French and Italian immigrants came over from Europe. In Chile, it is said that the growing aristocracy during the mid-19th century returned from France with a newfound appreciation of vinicultural craft that they wished to recreate at home.
The domestic consumption of Argentinian wine is double that of Chile’s. As a result, Chile’s wine has been geared more towards the international market, making it more well known across the globe. While this may lead punters to choose Chilean wines over Argentinian varieties, nowadays Argentina is catching up to its neighbour. The celebrated wineries of Catena, Zuccardi and Peñaflor are world renowned, not to mention the tremendous global success of the Malbec grape variety that is now inherently regarded as Argentinian.
Jacada experiences in the wine regions
Mendoza is the heart of Argentina’s wine industry and one of the country’s most picturesque regions. Vineyards blanket the landscape and ordered rows of vines are backdropped by the majestic Andes mountains. As well as enjoying the good life in Mendoza, there is a plethora of activities to enjoy. From rafting in the foothills of the Andes to exploring the land on bike or horseback, Mendoza has much to offer beyond wine.
For true oenophiles, though, there are few better experiences than a full day tour of the Mendoza wineries. The Central Valley and the Primera Zone (closest to the city of Mendoza) includes the counties of Luján de Cuyo, Maipú, Guaymallén and Godoy Cruz. A private tour of Mendoza’s most renowned wineries can be entirely specialised to travellers’ wine preferences, so you can get an unforgettable tailor-made glimpse into what Argentina’s wine country has to offer.
On the tour, you’ll be able to visit three different wineries. To compare and contrast the different options, it’s best to choose a mixture of smaller, boutique establishments and larger operations. Visitors can round off a busy day of wine exploration with a gourmet tasting lunch at a top Bodega restaurant, expertly matched with local wines.
In Chile, staying at the stunning Vik Millahue gives you ample opportunity to explore the country’s rich wine region. In the Casablanca valley, a half day Indomita and Casas del Bosque winery tour allows travellers to discover a relatively young wine area. Innovative winemakers only started planting vines in the mid-1980s, but it’s now firmly on the map as one of the best wine regions in the world.
Thanks to the warm temperatures during the day and the cool coastal temperatures at night (read more about Chile’s weather here), this valley produces a magnificent array of both red and white wines. At the beautifully set Indomita vineyard, famed for its Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, travellers can begin with an informative tour and tasting before moving onto the boutique Casa del Bosque vineyard for another tour and tasting session.