Pablo Picasso once said, “Love is the greatest refreshment in life.” We agree, but a little wine here and there never hurt anyone—especially when enjoyed with the love of your life. Just look at the work of Dr. Max Lake, who studied the relationship between aromatic wines and love. He believed certain wines, like aphrodisiacs, could trigger arousal and perhaps even amor.
Whether an old wives’ tale or not, the bottom line is that wine and romance pair just as well as wine and food. This year, instead of routinely trekking through the wine trails of say, Tuscany or Napa Valley, where we’re already yawning, why not share the love with passionate vintners off the beaten path in South America? While it might not have the same pizzazz (yet), South America’s burgeoning wine country (particularly Argentina and Chile) is staking a claim in the international wine world, one vine at a time.
If Buenos Aires is billed as the Paris of the South, then Mendoza is akin to the Bordeaux region of France. Nestled along the foothills of the Andes Mountains in western Argentina, Mendoza is known as the mother lode of Argentina’s wine production and is responsible for 80 percent of all wine coming out of the country. The scenery isn’t too shabby either. With silvery-white snowcapped mountains draped along the horizon and swaths of never-ending vineyards, it’s easy to see why Mendoza is attracting wine lovers and well, lovers in general.
The malbec grape reigns supreme here, and for good reason. Originally brought from France, the red grape was used mostly in blends, but with Mendoza’s high elevation and dry conditions, it had the opportunity to thrive and is now revered as Argentina’s signature grape.
Before journeying through Mendoza’s wine country, it’s best to get your bearings in the city of Mendoza first. Chockfull with trendy restaurants, romantic street corners and seductive bodegas, it’s the perfect prologue to all that Mendoza wine country has to offer. A plethora of high-quality wineries dot the region, but if you’re only able to visit one, make sure it’s that of Nicolás Catena. Known in our book as the godfather of the Argentinean malbec, he is credited with putting the country’s most notable varietal on the global wine map. Catena produces some of the highest-rated malbecs, so it’s only fitting then that his winery, Bodega Catena Zapata, is just as well-known. Resembling a Maya pyramid, the winery samples a slew of Catena’s varietals, including cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and of course, malbec.
Just across from Mendoza lies Chile. Now, oenophiles have long had a love affair with Chilean wine, but the latest buzz is about its breathtaking wine country. Burrowed between the foothills of the Andes and the rugged Pacific coast, Chile’s wine belt stretches hundreds of miles, but the oldest and most notable region is Maipo Valley. This region is just a stone’s throw away from the capital city of Santiago and produces some of the most internationally recognized cabernet sauvignons, thanks in large part to the area’s mild Mediterranean climate and diurnal temperature.
An exploration of the Maipo Valley would not be complete without exploring Viña Concha y Toro. As one of the biggest names associated with Chilean winemaking (ever heard of Casillero del Diablo?), this bodega specializes in a variety of wines, including the highly rated cabernets and carménères.
Celebrated as the “Next Napa,” some of the finest Chilean reds originate farther south in the Colchagua Valley. Though there is a cornucopia of renowned vineyards definitely worth visiting (Viña Montes and Casa Lapostolle, to name a couple), Viña Santa Cruz is by far the most theatrical. As an observatory, museum and winery all whipped into one, it’s an entertaining break from the swanky bodegas surrounding the region. The real romance, though, takes place with a ride to the top of the vineyard via Swiss cable car—yes, cable car—revealing stunning vistas of the valley below. When sampling the wine, be sure to check out the vineyard’s flagship wine “Chamán” (half carménère, half cabernet sauvignon). Oh, and the syrah is pretty good, too.
Photos courtesy: Vina Santa Cruz