In our experience, the wines in the restaurants are from larger producers and most are easily available in the U.S. The real fun is visiting Mendoza wineries especially for a multi-course wine paired with their own wines. We have done that 18 times now and had a great experience all but one time. That time was a last minute arrangement. The food was great but the wines not so much. If you decide to go to Mendoza, PM me and I will send you the contact information for the best guide in Mendoza.
A quick report back… after roughly a week each in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.
Argentina - I had a good list of mostly natural(ish) producers to seek out, but didn’t find any of them in my (limited) meals in Buenos Aires, El Chalten, El Calafate, and Iguazu. My list included Alberto Cecchin Graciana, Bodega Taller Utama, Fina La Rosendo Criollo, Vipa Nacuma by Fabian Salese, Manuel Garcia Riccardi, and the wines from the Michelini brothers - Gen del Alma, Zorzal, Micheliniwine. Anyway, no luck with any of those. I did find a decent and fun little wine bar in El Chalten (La Vineria), and a solid wine shop in El Calafate (La Tienda de Vinos). Enjoyed a pear cider from Peer Cider, a Patagonian producer, which topped most of the wines I had : ), and a couple of cool local Fernets in Buenos Aires (Beney, Dygglon, and 1882). Despite limited wine options, the El Chalten and El Calafate areas in Patagonia are FREAKIN SPECTACULAR. (scroll down for some photos). In Iguazu, “The Argentine Experience” makes for a very fun night out (kind of an interactive supper club where you help make your own empanadas and cocktails - touristy but fun).
Brazil - just Rio really, and only recommendation is that Canastra Bar is an awesome little place for a few drinks and bites. That and a caipirinha for $2 on Ipanema Beach : ) Loved Rio much more than I expected, beautiful city.
Chile - spent a week in Santiago with a quick jaunt through the Casablanca Valley to Valparaiso. In Santiago, again, I had a target list of mostly natural(ish) producers, and found several on lists by the bottle but (not surprisingly) hard to find by the glass. Clos Ouvert, Luyt, Bastias, Rogue, Montsecano, Bodegas Re, Attilio & Mochi, Villard, and Matetic were on my list to seek out. Bocanariz is the wine bar that gets all the attention, but I was not impressed with their by the glass menu (which doesn’t change often, so focuses on larger producers and doesn’t hit anything that’s going to be in limited supply). Fun meal, but meh wines by the glass. Baco is a lovely restaurant with a similar story on wines. Ditto on Acqui Esta Coco. My standout meal AND wine experience was Borago - super adventurous, featuring lots of foraged ingredients (think Noma), and a fantastic wine pairing of mostly rarities. Standout was an oxidative riesling that was apparently exclusive to the restaurant, from Sierras de Bellavista. I loved it so much I asked if I could buy a bottle to go - and they were happy to accommodate (list price was not cheap, though). Other good ones - a clay amphora aged natural wine called Grez from Vina Tipaume, an 09 chard from De Martino, the Tococo syrah from Alcohuaz, and a very nice blanc de blancs method ancestrale from Domaine Raab Ramsay. All quite nice. Stumbled upon a pretty strong wine shop called La Vinoteca and picked up a Montsecano pinot noir and a bottle called GLUP! (a cheap Cinsault from Bouchon Family).
In the Casablanca valley, we hit Emiliana (large organic winery - producer of the famed Ge) which was lovely but clearly geared to the tourist trade. Enjoyed both the Ge and the less expensive Coyam, and really enjoyed their cheap Gewurtz under Natura label. Then hit Bodegas Re, much more intimate, much more experimental, loved the use of clay amphora and clay giant egg tanks, plus really cool fruit liqueurs, vinegars, and other strange things. REALLY liked the strange Re Velado oxidative white pinot noir - think Jura/Arbois - and picked up a bottle to bring home. Would have loved to visit Matetic, Attilio & Mocchi, and Villard in particular, but didn’t have time (and/or they weren’t open that day).
In Valparaiso, any fan of wine + art should really check out a place called Wine Box, a hotel and garage winery run by Grant Phelps, who is an Aussie winemaker who previously worked at a few different Chilean wineries. Super cool place, made from stacked up shipping containers. They literally make wine underground in their garage, and are doing really cool things - including a “Port” made from syrah that is aging in barrels and already damn good after just a year or so of aging. Plus Valparaiso is a crazy hotbed for street art - loved just exploring. You can flip through photos of Casablanca/Valpo/Santiago at https://www.flickr.com/photos/kaplanbr/albums/72157705863075134 if you’re interested.
Just got back from three weeks in Argentina and was most impressed with the improving quality of their white wines. Specific wines that I thought were really good
were the 100% chardonnay from Matias Riccitelli (not even sure it makes it to the US) and the fosil chardonnay from Zuccardi (which does make it to the US). These wines are mineral driven, tense, fruit balanced food wines. A great blend of old and new world characteristics. I did not have a chance to try the Chacra chardonnay (have been drinking their pinot for more than 10 years now). I would expect this producer in Rio Negro would be making a similar high quality white as well.
The financial situation with the peso against the dollar makes this area right now a screaming bargain for food/wine/travel. If the situation worsens in 2019 I would expect many higher end restaurants to not make it as wages have not gotten close to keeping up with inflation and the declining peso. Folks in the nicer places are all from out of the country (Brazil, Uruguay, US, Europe) as you eat and drink like a king for less than $40 a person. Wineries who export and have revenue in US $ or Euros are going to be fine (assuming the world economy doesn’t crater).
Great time for food (carne) and wine lovers to visit an amazing country!