Both Argentina and Chile have multiple wine producing regions that welcome visitors, from world-famous destinations like Mendoza to coastal wineries near the Pacific Ocean that make an easy detour on your way to the beach. Whether you're interested in tasting a crisp white in a desert canyon or sipping a full-bodied Chilean red under the stars, you have great options on both sides of the Andes—learn more about the six main regions with this guide.
Choosing a Region
Argentina and Chile both have several wine-producing regions. International travelers usually focus on just a few of them: namely, the ones that are set up to receive tourists. In Argentina, that's Mendoza, Cafayate, and Neuquén. On the Chilean side, the primary regions include the valleys of Maipo, Colchagua, and Casablanca.
If you look at a map of South America, you'll see that the wine regions are fairly spread out, especially those in Argentina. It's great fun to tour them all—but if you need to settle on one or two, use this guide to help you decide. Whether you're into crisp white wines or full-bodied reds, steak or fresh coastal seafood, hitting the beach or riding horses near the vineyards, there's a region for you in Argentina or Chile.
Mendoza is the capital of South American wine production. Not only does this sun-drenched region produce world-class wines from Malbec to Cabernet Franc, it's also famous for its gourmet dining scene and dramatically beautiful scenery. The city of Mendoza sits directly beside the Andes mountain range, and snow-capped peaks are easily visible from most of the region's wineries and tasting rooms. It's no surprise, then, that outdoor activities are also a major draw here, from hiking to horseback riding to mountain biking.
The region is larger than you'd expect. Some of the wineries in the Uco Valley are a 90-minute drive from the city. More accessible to many travelers are the wineries of Luján de Cuyo, located just south of the city; many are easily reachable on a bicycle, though you'll need a car (whether you drive yourself, book a private wine tour, or hop on a bus) to get to others.
Argentina's second most popular wine region is located in the country's northwest. Located in the Calchaqui Valley, near the border of Bolivia, it's a high-altitude place characterized by sun-baked desert scenery, otherworldly rock formations, and soaring mountains. Thanks to the chilly nights and soil type, the terroir is better for elegant white wines, including the start of the show: Torrontés, a floral, crisp white wine that's still relatively unknown in many parts of the world.
Horseback riding is very popular in the valley, as is hiking: some of the most popular circuits take you past cave paintings and vibrant hued cliffs. Most visitors also spend time in the nearby city of Salta, famous in Argentina for its blend of Spanish colonial architecture and Andean heritage. Cafayate itself has a small-town feel, and thanks to the low-key vibe, many visitors find the region's wine-tasting scene relatively easy to access. While the area is smaller than the wine-growing region around Mendoza, you'll still need a car to get where you're going.
Compared to Mendoza and Cafayate, the wine region around Neuquén sees few visitors. Located at the confluence of two rivers in Argentina's lakes region, the region has cooler temperatures and altitude ideal for producing fruity red wines like Pinot Noir and dry whites like Sauvignon Blanc.
The city of Neuquén usually isn't of great interest to international travelers. Get out of town and head to the region of San Patricio del Chañar, a short drive northwest, where several excellent wineries receive guests for wine tastings and tours. As with Argentina's other wine regions, you'll need a car or a driver, whether you're visiting wineries independently or joining a tour. If you do rent a car, take advantage of it to visit some of the area's impressive paleontological sites: a significant number of dinosaur bones have been unearthed in the surrounding region.
In addition to having the place to yourself, a plus of choosing Neuquén as a wine-tasting destination is that you're within easy reach of Bariloche and Argentina's drop-dead gorgeous lakes region.
Check the map: Chile is long and thin, bordered on one side by the Andes and on the other side by the Pacific Ocean. All three of the country's main wine-growing regions are located between the mountains and the ocean—and while they're not right next to each other, they're not nearly as spread out as the wine regions of Argentina.
So what makes Maipo Valley special? First, it's the birthplace of Chilean wine production, with wine-making roots in the 16th century. Second, it's really close to the capital city of Santiago: you can even access some of the wineries using the city's public transportation. Third, it almost never rains in the valley. And fourth, travelers that come for wine-tasting can stay for adventure activities like whitewater rafting on the Maipo River.
The region is sometimes called the "Bordeaux of South America," so it stands to reason that Maipo is famous for bold reds like Cabernet Sauvignon. But many excellent varieties of red and white wines (arguably the best in the country) are produced here.
A bit further out from the capital than Chile's other primary wine-producing regions (the drive is about 2.5 hours), Colchagua Valley is south of Maipo Valley. Though inland, it's not too far from the coast. Compared to historic Maipo, Colchagua is relatively modern, and the state-of-the-art wineries here reflect that: some compare it to a South American version of Napa Valley.
Indeed, some of Chile's most celebrated wines are produced here, including Syrah and the unique spicy red wine known as Carmenère. The area enjoys a cooler Mediterranean climate, not only great for growing certain grapes, but also pleasant for outdoor activities like hot air ballooning, horseback riding, biking, and star-gazing. Still, it's more of a specialized destination than Maipo or Casablanca Valley: wine is the main reason to come to this part of Chile, and tourism revolves around it. You'll need to rent a car or book a tour to visit wineries. You could do it as a day trip from Santiago. But if you're planning on taking your time (and drinking wine!) it's probably best to stay in or around the city of Curicó, where there are plenty of accommodations to choose from.
The Casablanca Valley wine region has one of the most convenient locations imaginable: it straddles the road that leads from the capital of Santiago to the coastal city of Valparaiso (approximately a two-hour drive). Many travelers make this trip as part of a larger itinerary, so even if you're not specifically planning your trip around wine, you can still stop off for a tasting or two along the way.
Thanks to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the cool breezes that blow off it, Casablanca is known for white wines, especially Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. And while the region isn't associated with any particular outdoor activity like hiking or horseback riding, Casablanca Valley can be reached on a day trip (or even a half-day trip) from either Valparaiso or Santiago, where, of course, there's plenty to see and do. In other words, you won't necessarily need to book a special tour to see these wineries: just reserve ahead and make a detour on your way to the beach or the big city.
Which is right for you?
Travelers who have only a passing interest in wine, or those who want to visit multiple regions in the same trip, will be better off choosing one of the Chilean regions closest to Santiago—the valleys of Maipo or Casablanca—where wine-tasting is easily worked into a broader itinerary.
On the Argentine side, wine regions are more spread out, so you'd likely choose just one to visit. If you want to focus your trip around wine, choose Cafayate and enjoy sightseeing and outdoor adventures in the northwest. And if you're really serious about wine, go to Mendoza: not only is it one of the world's wine-making capitals, it's also a thoroughly appealing place to visit at any time of year.