Winemaking has been prevalent in South America since the 1600s when Spanish monks planted grapes for sacramental wine. But even with centuries of history, South America has only been a major player in the world wine market for the last 20 or so years. The past saw an industry that mainly served domestic markets where quality as not a focus and where little advancement in technology was made.
During the 1970s, however, foreign investment (mostly from France) brought new technology to the countries. Recognizing the potential of Chile and Argentina’s regions, big Bordeaux producers established themselves in South America and soon planted Cabernet, Merlot & Malbec—all grapes that make up Bordeaux wine.
Malbec from Argentina has experienced such unprecedented success in the North American market that the two words are synonymous. Fortunately all this attention to Argentina has brought a less known and aromatic grape, Torrontes, to the forefront.
Most consumers look to Chile for Inexpensive wines. Chilean Cabernet Sauvignons, in particular, have dominated the value market. Recently many more serious terroir driven examples have been produced.
Uruguay, a relatively small and new player, has been producing some impactful and noteworthy wines. Tannat, a less known and very muscular and tannic grape that originated from southwest France, is the main player. The cultivation of grapes for commercial use only began in the late 1800s. The country, knowing its heavy weight competitors to the west, made a concerted effort to increase the quality of the wine before stepping in to the global market. Though scarce, Uruguayan wines are well respected in the wine industry.
Tannat is considered to be the healthiest grape in the world because it is extremely high in antioxidants.
Chile and Argentina are 5th and 7th respectively in overall wine production; Uruguay sits at approximately 27th place.