If you’re planning a visit to South America and want to work wine tours into the mix, you’ve got two choices: Argentina and Chile. It’s easy to make a case for either one, but the great thing is you could easily do both.
While there is a little bit of wine coming out of other countries on the continent, the options pale in comparison when it comes to both quantity and quality. Wines from Argentina and Chile frequently win major awards and get high points scores from reviewers, yet many are also often the best values at your local shop—even after traveling all the way to Europe. The combination of great growing conditions, reasonable land costs (unless you’re trying to start a new vineyard tomorrow), and reasonable labor costs has meant good wine at good prices.
We’ve published several wine tour stories from Argentina and from Chile, so check those sections of Luxury Latin America to get a feel for what it’s like. Depending on the tour, you may travel by car, bike, four-wheel-drive, or helicopter.
If you want to see a detailed rundown on the differences between the two countries, check out this wine tours comparison article from Tango Tours. Here are some of the key points to consider:
Geography and Lodging
Argentina’s wine industry is mainly centered around Mendoza, with Cafayate in the north producing more good white wine. A distant third is Patagonia to the south, where regular sunshine is less of a given. You can visit a huge plethora of wineries in any of these regions, hitting several in one day without going very far. Then you can return to a fine hotel like Grace Cafayate, Vines Resort & Spa, or Cavas Wine Lodge at night. See the best Argentina luxury hotels here.
Chile is a very long and skinny country, with the Andes on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. You’ve never far from either, but there are a lot more microclimates in Chile and multiple small valleys have their own specialties. If you’re looking for variety and surprises, you’ll find more of those in Chile. You probably won’t hit so many wineries at one time, however, as they’re spaced further apart. Many have their own lodges on site, though be advised there aren’t as many luxury options in wine country as you have in Argentina. There are a few standouts that make up for it though, like Viña Vik and Lopostolle Residence. See the best Chile luxury hotels here.
Wines of Chile and Argentina
You’ll taste a lot of terrific wine in either country, though each has its advantages. Argentina’s Malbec is one of the world’s great grapes and the wine is capable of great complexity and good pairings.Their signature white, Torrontês, is a floral, pleasingly acidic wine that doesn’t taste anything like anything else. You can also get a good chardonnay here. There’s rarely a bad year in wines from Mendoza and Cafayate because the sunny weather and mountain water irrigation are so predictable.
Chile’s signature grape, Carmenere, can be a bit flat in comparison, so it’s often blended with other reds to provide more balance. These blends can be delightful, however, since many valleys have good conditions for Cabarnet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. The country also produces good Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. As mentioned earlier, the great number of different grape-growing valleys in Chile means a wider variety of flavor profiles than you’ll probably find in Argentina. Both countries do a pleasant dry rosé from multiple wineries, as well as sparkling wines.
Wine Tours and Food
You will find a wide spectrum of wine tours in both countries, from hourly tours at big commercial wineries to intimate cellar dinners with multi-course pairings. Much of the exclusivity and special visits will come via a tour company that has plenty of experience and contacts. If you’re a wine lover, go with someone like Tango Tours that has been at it for many years.
What about what you’ll be eating? Since you’re hugging the coast in much of Chile, you’ll find more seafood there and more reasons to drink white wine. Here’s what that comparison post from the wine tours company says about dining in Argentina:
As for cuisine, no other dish properly matches the national identity of Argentina than that of asado, or Argentine barbecue. Argentinians love their beef, and it shows in the absolutely best ways. Asado, as well as steak and beef ribs are staples of Argentina, typically eaten with the wonderful chimichurri, a sauce made of herbs, garlic, and vinegar.
Argentina also does Italian food well, which of course is always well-accompanied by wine. In Chile you’ll find more organic fare, including many well-done organic wines.
Don’t forget that you can do both! It’s easy to travel overland between Mendoza and Santiago or between the two countries in several places in Patagonia. Any good tour company can take care of all the logistics for you.