Latin America is rather a geographically un-specific term covering South- and Central- America and Mexico. In other words: the whole American landmass without the US and Canada (which coincidentally are nominated as a potential theme next year).

Fortunately, from the point of view of wine, this pretty well comes down to South America and Mexico, or to be more precise: Mexico and 6 or 7 countries in S. America.

This area produces 11½% of the World’s Wine. If it were one country it would sit 4th in World Ranking, between Spain (13½%) and USA (8%). In volume terms, as one might expect, Argentina and Chile dominate. Argentina produces 6¼% of the World’s Wine, putting it 5th in the World, Chile produce just under 3½%, making it 9th, behind S. Africa but in front of Portugal. Together they make up 84% of Latin American wine.

As for the rest, the next biggest producer is Brazil making 1% of the World’s Wine (it ranks 17th, just above NZ). Uruguay and Peru each make about one third as much as Brazil (0.3%); Mexico about one third of that (0.1%), and Bolivia about one third as much as Mexico (0.03%). Just to carry on the theme: UK makes a third as much as Bolivia!  The next most (in)significant South American Country is Venezuela, which produces 1/12th as much as Bolivia, ¼ of UK, or about the same as Belgium…

In order to honour the idea of this theme, which points to “lesser known wines” – I have decided not to include the wines we most usually associate with Argentina or Chile.

With Argentina this is quite easy – over half of the wine is plonk! About 30% is Rosé made from high-yield grapes like Criolla; another 15% is white, oxidised “jug wine”; and a further 7% is sweet wine made from a grape called Pedro Giménez. So that leaves only 48% of international standard quality wine, over ¾ of it red.

Of this 96% is made in either Mendoza (70%) or the two areas immediately to the North: San Juan (22%) and La Rioja (4%). The rest is split – pretty evenly – between the far Northern areas of Salta & Catamarca (where the hotter latitudes are ameliorated by growing at altitude: sometimes around 3,000m!) and the cooler Southern areas of Rio Negro and Neuquén in Patagonia.

There is a similar concentration of styles when it comes to grape varieties. Quality wine from Argentinia is dominated by Malbec which, with other specialities Bonarda and the white Torrontes, make up nearly half the bottlings. We are going to taste wines from Patagonia made from under-represented grapes: Pinot Noir (1% of Argentinian wine) and Cabernet Franc (¼%).

Chile is harder to characterise geographically because the hot/cool differentiation is not just a North/South one – it is complicated by the cold Humboldt current and altitude. However the wine styles of Chile are dominated by: Cabernet; Merlot (and Carmenère); Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – which make up about half the wine. So just to contrast with the Argentinian example, we will taste a Pinot Noir – which is under 1½% of Chilean wine. We will try an example from Leyda, which is west of Santiago and particularly affected by cool ocean influences.

In common with this “off-the-beaten-track” approach we will try wines from Brazil, Uruguay and Mexico.

Brazil’s wine areas are concentrated – unsurprisingly – in the South of the country along the border with Uruguay, particularly in the area of Campanha, and our example comes from there. But there are ribbons of vineyards up to 300 miles north of here in Serra do Sudeste, Serra Gaúcha, and  Planalto Catarinese at about 1,000m altitude. Portuguese styles do well here even if the last area, in the equatorial Vale do São Francisco, 1,500 miles further North may be a stretch!

Uruguay too has vineyards as far South as possible, around Montevideo and East along the coast to Punta del Este.  Our example hails from Maldonado near here. The signature grape of Uruguay is Tannat, famous from Madiran in Gascony, but – like Malbec in Argentina – given a more approachable style.

Finally to North America and Mexico. There are pockets of wine production across North and Central Mexico – compensating for hot latitudes with cool high altitudes.

However 90% of production is from Baja California. The area of note there is Valle de Guadalupe, only 60 miles South of Tijuana on the border with California. Grapes are grown here around 1,000m above sea-level and again the Humboldt current has an impact.  For years the grapes were destined for Brandy, but now big reds from Cabernet and Italian grapes are promising. Italian immigrants who started one of the biggest winemakers LA Cetto, imported vines from back home in Piedmonte. We’ll try their Nebbiolo.

Notes on the wines we’ll taste should be posted in 3 or 4 days.

Until then…