In South America, bubbles burst gracefully. Winemakers create a range of styles through Charmat and traditional methods using Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other varieties.
Throughout the continent, but particularly in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, the grapes come from high altitude or coastal vineyards. Some are influenced by the cool climate of the Andes, while others are shaped by the cool breezes of the Pacific or Atlantic oceans.
In 1959, the first Moët et Chandon winery outside France was established in Argentina. Since then, other Champagne houses and global winemakers have looked to South America, working alongside local experts to craft world-class sparkling at affordable prices across diverse soils.
While it’s not always easy for South American operations to compete with the long history of Old World wine regions, some of these producers have been producing sparkling wines for several years. According to the producers, the biggest challenge is integrating their well-designed bubbles into global glasses.
“We have identified exceptional terroirs, particularly in the highest part of the Tupungato region, to produce extraordinary sparkling wines,” explains Patrick D’Aulan, founder of the Alta Vista winery in Mendoza, Argentina. Born in France, the D’Aulan family previously owned the Piper-Heidsieck champagne house.
Known for its single-vineyard Malbecs, Alta Vista also produces sparkling wines using traditional and Charmat methods. D’Aulan thinks that the climatic conditions of the Uco Valley are ideal for bubbles.
“With poor, stony soils on the slope of the Andes, these unique terroirs benefit from warm, sunny days but cool nights due to the high altitude,” he says.
The retail price of one of its bottles, Alta Vista Brut Nature, is around $13, which shows the competitive prices of South American sparkling wines.
Other Argentinian producers that export sparkling wines to the United States include Alpamanta, which makes a pét-nat from Criolla grapes, and Bodega Tapiz, which produces extra brut sparkling wine from Torrontés.
In Mendoza and Patagonia, producers like Salentein and Bodegas del Fin del Mundo have introduced sparkling wines to diversify their portfolios. Bodega Cruzat, Reginato and Alma 4 are among those that only produce sparkling wine.
Sparkling wine is not new to Chile. The country’s first dedicated sparkling wine winery, Valdivieso, was founded in 1879. However, as Chilean producers expand winemaking to new regions, they find an array of terroirs suitable for sparkling wines. After production started in the central valley, it spread to the Casablanca coast and is now popular in southern regions like the Malleco Valley.
“Producers are looking for places with lower temperatures that will allow them to obtain a base wine with higher acidity,” explains Jose Manuel Peralta, head winemaker at Viña Aquitania. The winery planted Malleco’s first Chardonnay vines in 1993. One of the owners is Ghislain de Montgolfier, who ran the Bollinger family champagne house.
When asked if sparkling wines from Chile could be an alternative to those from Europe, Peralta says he is sure the wines are of excellent quality, “but there is more work that needs to be done. commercially to present these wines as an alternative” to European bubbles.
Alberto Antonini, a Tuscan-born wine consultant, says, “Geology doesn’t know the terroir of the New World or the Old World. The geology is the same everywhere.
Antonini is the consulting winemaker of Bodega Garzon in Maldonado, Uruguay, just 11 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. The vines are influenced by the humid maritime climate and grow on granite soils which offer excellent drainage.
“Granite is a type of rock that gives intensity and nerve to wines,” explains Antonini. He notes that this is where he grows grapes for the winery’s traditional method sparkling wines.
When it comes to making wines with good natural acidity, “making wines with that level of humidity and sunshine is an advantage,” he says, comparing the region’s climate to that of Champagne, where clouds filter direct sunlight.
As in Argentina and Chile, the Uruguayan wine industry focuses on red wines – Tannat is generally considered Uruguay’s flagship grape. Few of Uruguay’s sparkling wines are exported to the United States, but many sparkling wines are made in the small country at family-owned wineries such as Varela Zarranz and Familia Deicas in Canelones.
In many South American countries, producers are making sparkling wines to diversify their portfolios of still red and white wines. Yet in Brazil, sparkling wine is often the star.
“When, in the 90s, more imported wines were introduced to the Brazilian market, Brazilian sparkling wines were the only local wines capable of competing with them,” explains Mario Geisse, founder of Familia Geisse. Born in Chile, Geisse has spent most of his life producing sparkling wine in Brazil, even before Chandon hired him in 1976.
Familia Geisse is one of many wineries located in Pinto Bandeira in Brazil’s Serra Gaucha, a cool-climate sub-region with abundant rainfall. The vineyards are located on volcanic soils at 2,200 feet above sea level, and cloudy skies during the ripening period allow the grapes to ripen slowly while retaining their acidity.
Convinced of the great characteristics of Pinto Bandeira’s terroir, Geisse worked with other producers to create a Denomination of Origin (DO) for their traditional method sparkling wine. Currently awaiting government approval, DO Altos by Pinto Bandeira will be the first of its kind in South America. It regulates aspects of viticulture and the winemaking process, such as which grapes can be used – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and only up to 10% Italic Riesling – and a minimum aging time of 12 months.
Brazil has a great diversity of styles, and Italic Riesling and Moscato are two of the most popular grapes used to produce dry, sweet sparkling wine, along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Other producers exporting their wines to the United States include Casa Vadulga and Miolo.
Currently, South American sparkling production is small compared to the amount of still wine produced in this region. However, producers offer a diverse range of styles such as Brut Nature, Brut, Extra Brut and demi-sec wines. It is the result of work carried out for many years, sometimes for more than a century, to meet the demand of thirsty local consumers. Over the past 50 years, winemakers have refined their bubbles and now offer an excellent alternative to other traditional sparkling wines such as Prosecco, Cava and Champagne.