October 2018 • DECANTER
The sparkling wine scene in South America is currently booming. Alejandro Iglesias finds out what’s driving it and recommends bottles from the leading names in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.
Around the world, the consumption of sparkling wines is rising like bubbles in a glass, driven by the luxury goods market, new drinking habits and emerging economies. According to research by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), sales increased by 30% between 2003 and 2013, while production was up 40% – that’s six times more than the growth for still wines. What’s more, Champagne is no longer the default sparkling choice for many wine lovers. Since Cava and Prosecco have democratised the category, producers in other wine-growing regions – including South America – have decided to get in on the act. With an annual production of 90 million bottles – just under a third of the annual output from Champagne – Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay offer sparkling wines that can seduce the most conservative of wine drinkers, as well as those looking for more offbeat styles. These wines have found an enthusiastic reception at home – up to 80% of wines produced never leave their native shores – which perhaps helps to explain why they have a lower profile in other countries than they deserve. ‘Latin America is a market with a high consumption of sparkling wines and Champagne,’ says Ramiro Otaño, regional managing director of Moët Hennessy Latin America & Caribbean. He highlights the excellent quality of the wines, the diversity of styles that are being made and a long sparkling winemaking tradition in the region as strong selling points when it comes to spreading the message more widely. Production of sparkling wine in South America dates back to the early 20th century, when wineries responded to a growing local demand for Champagne. At that time an industrial boom had created a newly wealthy middle class of Latin Americans, who were keen to travel to Europe, where they acquired a taste for luxuries such as Champagne. Over time, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay each developed their own sparkling styles according to local tastes and preferences, with Champagne as a reference. ‘South American sparkling wines now have an important opportunity in the world, not as competitors of traditional brands, but as an alternative for those seeking new expressions,’ adds Otaño.
For some time, Uruguay has been promoting its single-varietal red wines made with the Tannat grape. However, wine experts are paying increasing attention to the country’s whites – particularly those from vineyards near the Río de la Plata in the south and facing the Atlantic Ocean in the north. In these two areas winemakers are able to produce white wines characterised by a rich and vibrant palate. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Albariño are the grape varieties showing most potential in these regions. Among the most recognised sparkling wine producers in Uruguay is Francisco Carrau. His Sust Brut Nature is a cuvée of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made from grapes grown in Cerro Chapeu, in northern Uruguay, on the border with Brazil. The wine is a tribute to his grandfather, who produced the first sparkling wine in Uruguay in 1931. Another name to look out for is Viña Edén, an enterprise in the rocky hillsides near Punta del Este, which produces two sparkling wines that express the mineral profile of the granite soils of their vineyard. Meanwhile, in the region of Progreso, the nerve centre of the Uruguayan wine industry, the Pisano brothers are making one of the most exotic wines of the region, a Brut Nature Tannat. With such experimentation ongoing, the likelihood of more high-quality sparkling wines starting to emerge from Uruguay seems high.