Book Review: Wines of South America: The Essential Guide by Evan Goldstein

BR South America Foto copyThis book on South American wine (UC Press, 2014, $40) is a tour de force by Evan Goldstein.  It provides a comprehensive review of the grapes, growing regions, and important producers of the continent, from Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo to Chile’s Malleco Valley. Yes, Venezuela produces wine, as do Colombia, Peru, and, more importantly, Bolivia. While everyone has read glossy magazine articles on the wines of Argentina and Chile, almost no one has written about Bolivia or even Brazil, which has about the same vitis vinifera acreage as does Oregon.  Goldstein writes about them all.

It’s one thing to be comprehensive but another to give useful information to the consumer and others interested in wine. Here Goldstein has provided just about as much information as most consumers want or need to know about both the growing regions and the producers of South America.  Indeed, since most U.S. consumers are unlikely to find wine from Peru and Colombia or even Bolivia and Brazil on the the shelves of their local wine stores, one could argue that including these countries is simply academic. However, as one who has spent four decades traveling the continent and tasting local wines in many of the less well known wine-producing countries–Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Venezuela–covered by Goldstein, I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about them and their producers.

As one would expect, the big wine countries, Argentina and Chile, especially, receive the most pages of print. For these countries, the value-added of the book is its comprehensiveness and the context it sets.  It’s a good complement to our International Wine Review reports on Argentina and Chile.  This is a well-written book that conveys a lot of information in limited space. All the important regions and wineries are presented along with specifics on the winemakers, consulting winemakers, viticulturists, and best wines produced. Having traveled the wine regions and done extensive tastings myself of wines from these two countries, I found myself in broad agreement with Goldstein’s assessments of the producers and their wines.  It’s clear that he’s done all the required groundwork, and wine tasting, in producing this volume.

Any listing of the important wine pioneers is a judgment call, of course, but Goldstein’s list is very short, both for Argentina and Chile. Torrontés, Argentina’s signature grape is barely mentioned in the discussion of the area (Salta) where it grows best, and its best winemaker, José Luis Mounier, is only mentioned in the brief description of his outstanding winery, Finca Las Nubes. And the listing of the best wines at the end of the book isn’t really useful without accompanying tasting notes. It’s clear that Goldstein has tasted an awful lot of wines and that he has an educated, sophisticated palate, so it would be nice to know what he likes about these particular “best” wines.

These are mere quibbles, however. This is an outstanding, comprehensive guide to the wines of South America. No other book that I know comes close to providing the breadth and quality of analysis as this Essential Guide to the Wines of South America. ¡Felicitaciones, Señor Goldstein!

Donald Winkler, Editor

December 2014

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