Wine lovers wanting to visit a leading wine region that's not in California or France should look south. Chilean and Argentine wines are world-class, and not far behind are thriving wine regions in Uruguay, Brazil and even Peru. More than just visiting wineries and wine bars in these countries, visitors get a taste of these countries' distinctive, welcoming cultures.
Argentina's Mendoza region
The sprawling Mendoza wine region, at the foot of the Andes near the Chilean border, boasts 600 square miles of vineyards that yield three-quarters of Argentina's wines, especially Malbecs. Argentina is the continent's biggest wine producer too, making Mendoza a must-see region for wine lovers. First, fly to Buenos Aires, where lively wine bars and wine-tasting rooms filled with Argentine wines make it a worthy wine destination itself. Next, hop on a quick two hour flight (or take a longer drive through farm country) to Mendoza, a metro area of one million people where hop-on/hop-off minibus tours to wineries such as Bodega Catena Zapata, founded in 1902; Bodega Vistalba, where the entire operation uses gravity; and Bodega Salentein, with its 5,000-barrel cellar and Argentine art collection.
Most wineries in the hottest new destination for South American wine tourism are located in the Canelones region near Montevideo, Uruguay. A climate similar to Bordeaux, France, produces robust reds, some made from uncommon, Italian-origin grapes such as Nebbiolo and Nero d'Avola. Montevideo is easily accessible from the larger capital city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, about a 50-minute plane ride or four hours by rental car and car ferry. Buenos Aires is also quite a bit closer to Uruguay's wine regions than Argentina's own wineries. Slightly farther out from Montevideo is Bodega Garzón, a winery that's been flooded with attention for the dozens of recent gold medals earned by its Tannats (Uruguay's national grape) and winery experiences including gourmet lunches and tractor tours in the vineyards.
Chile's Central Valley
The long band of Chilean wine valleys that stretch north and south from Santiago produce many of the world's best wines. As a result, wine tourism is enormously popular in Chile, especially in the Central Valley's Maipo and Maule sub-regions because of their proximity to Santiago. Bus tours whisk visitors from the capital city to wineries in those regions and others. Part of the appeal of central Chile, for both grapes and wine tourists, is the comfortable year-round climate — about the same as in Southern California, but with the seasons reversed. Chile is best known for its red wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignons, but due to the diverse terroir — north to south and coast to Andes — every type of wine is well made.
Peru's Central Coast
Most people think of the Andes and Machu Picchu when Peru is mentioned, but there's also a fascinating, historic wine region around the coastal city of Pisco, a little over three hours from Lima by car. Even more wineries are found on Peru's southern coast, with wine tour guides also traveling there from Lima. Peru was the continent's first wine producer in the 1540s, when South America's oldest vineyards were planted—which you can tour. That's less than a century after Machu Picchu was built—and once you've had your fill of Peruvian Grenaches and Sauvignon Blancs, you can head inland to Machu Picchu for a different kind of fun and adventure.
Brazil's Serra Gaucha region
Tucked into the hills of southern Brazil is the Serra Gaúcha, the country's main wine region, where the vineyards were first planted by thousands of Italian and German immigrants when they arrived in the 1800s. Many of these immigrants' descendants now run family wineries visited in bus tours. Two other ways to taste the spirited Brazilian-Italian flavor of this area are to ride the Maria-Funaça steam train, with Italian songs performed on board, and to visit the Italian Epic Theme Park. Both are in Bento Goncalves, the “Wine Capital of Brazil." To get to this region, fly to São Paulo, where many wine bars serve Serra Gaúcha wines, then fly to Porto Alegre, a quick plane hop via one of our partner airlines, Azul Brazilian Airlines.
What to know before you go
Wine tourists headed to South America should keep a few things in mind. First, many wineries in these predominantly Catholic countries are closed on Sundays. Second, all are south of the equator—so don't expect hot weather in July (but do expect it in January). Third, wine tours by bus or minivan are the way to go unless you crave the adventure of navigating South American roads. Fourth, properly packaged wines can go home with you as checked luggage, but the rules and fees to ship wines home vary widely by country, winery and your home state. Ask winery tour guides and staff for this information.
Getting there United Airlines offers nonstop flights from U.S. cities to South American cities that are within easy reach of these destinations. Visit united.com or use the United app to make plans to sip and savor South American wines where they're produced.