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At Wine Enthusiast’s Sip of South America, an Energized Crowd Signals a Bright Future

On Monday, May 6, a broad contingent of wine industry professionals and consumers gathered at Wine Enthusiast’s second annual Sip of South America, a curated tasting experience featuring nearly 40 different wineries from across Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. The event, held at City Winery in New York City, highlighted nearly 150 wines—all rated 90 points and up—that represent the impressive and varied terroirs of South America. It also painted a rosy picture for the future of wine from the continent, which is producing an unprecedented selection of interesting, complex bottlings that have industry insiders excited.

The event’s trade portion, which packed in roughly 125 attendees, kicked off with a panel discussion on the current state of South American wine in the U.S. market. Led by Wine Enthusiast Tasting Director Anna-Christina Cabrales and Writer-at-Large and South American Wine Reviewer Jesica Vargas, the discussion included insights from a trio of experts who know the South American wine market intimately: 67 Wine Wine Buyer Oscar Garcia Moncada; Stacey Sosa, owner of Argentinian restaurant Estancia 460 in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood; and Gary’s Wine & Marketplace Wine Director Gillian Sciaretta.

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“The panel was a lot of fun,” said Cabrales after the event. “I think that a lot of people were expecting the same old questions—perhaps they didn’t think that anything could excite them about South America. But we surprised them with three panelists who love and embrace everything that is coming out of the region that is innovative.”

The group discussed the bottlings that energize them the most, including white Malbecs, a departure from the red iterations we’ve come to expect from South America. The premiumization of offerings across the continent, chilled reds and high-end whites were also hot topics. There was talk, too, about sparkling wines that are both elegant and age-worthy—an especially interesting turn, given that last year sparkling exports from Chile increased by 90% in volume and 25% in value, Vargas noted.

“They show that there is such a thing as terroir,” Cabrales said. “These wines are not monotonous in any way… we should be paying attention.”

It seems like consumers are already taking note, at least when options are presented in the right way. “Of recent, what really stood out to me would be Chardonnay coming from the Limarí Valley in northern Chile well north of Santiago,” said Sciaretta during the panel. She noted a strong demand for Chablis and Chablis-style Chardonnays amongst her clientele, especially “ones that have a lot of freshness, a lot of minerality.” The Miguel Torres Cordillera Chardonnay proved to be “one of those wines” at an ideal price point. “For us, it’s under $20,” she said. “When we did a strong promotion of it—we alerted all of our Chablis lovers and unoaked Chardonnay lovers, like, ‘You’ve got to try this, it’s fantastic’—and it was a great success.”

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After the conversation wrapped up, trade attendees migrated over to a walkround tasting of the event’s featured wines. They also popped into the Sip Lounge, where Writer-at-Large and spirits reviewer Kara Newman led a cocktail demo featuring the grape brandy pisco. Sponsored by Pisco Chile, the segment served to demonstrate the versatility of the spirit, which Newman illustrated through three drinks: a classic pisco sour; a citrusy cocktail dubbed the Fruit & Fizz; and perhaps most interestingly, the Es-Pisco martini, an unexpected riff on the espresso martini.

“Who knew that you could do a beautiful pisco espresso martini?” Cabrales marveled. “It is absolutely delicious.”

Then came the main ticketed event, which drew more than 200 thirsty attendees eager to drink their way through South America. The vibe was energetic in the sprawling City Winery event space, which offered views of the Hudson River and Little Island, the public park that seems to float on concrete pillars. DJ Flavya Gaeta spun a curated mix of lively traditional music from the countries being celebrated, from cumbia to salsa. As the sun set, it cast a golden hue over the crowd. Wine flowed, naturally.

Cabrales was heartened by the youthful faces in the crowd in both the event’s trade and consumer portions.

“I think there’s a really nice mix [of ages] here,” she said. “But it’s also nice to see the next generation of drinkers here. They want to explore, they want to see what’s coming up. And this selection of wines does just that.”

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One attendee, the host of the Let’s Talk Di Tings podcast, who asked to be identified as Ash, was struck by the inclusivity of the gathering. “I am the person who gets the same wine every night at dinner,” she said, confessing that she was concerned producers might brush her off in favor of the more seasoned drinkers in attendance. Instead, she found them friendly and personable, eager to share details about grape varietals, climate, terroir and price points. “I feel completely at ease talking to everyone,” Ash said. “I’ve been to 10 different vendors, and they explained everything. It makes me want to become a wine enthusiast.”

“Despite the market being very difficult across the board, I think there’s just something about the energy in this event that makes people excited,” Cabrales summed up, wine glass in hand. “Your palate can get fatigued pretty quickly at an event like this, which would normally feature a majority of structured reds. But you see people going from one table to the next, nonstop, wanting to explore. I think that’s a sign of the quality [we’re seeing] in South America.”