Amanda Barnes is a leading expert in South American wines and regions, regularly contributing for Decanter as well as other international wine publications.
She is the author and editor of The South America Wine Guide: The Definitive Guide to wine in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia & Peru – a book which has won multiple awards including Best Debut Drinks Book at the Fortnum & Mason Awards, Best World Wine Book at the Gourmand Awards and the John Avery Award at the Andre Simon Awards.
A journalist by training, she delved into the world of wine writing after moving to South America in 2009.
‘It was a great time to move to South America as the wine scene was at the beginning of its great quality revolution,’ she said. ‘I feel really fortunate to have had a front row seat to witness the changes, with winemakers and agronomists always generously sharing their time and knowledge with me.’
A returning judge at Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA), she is now stepping into the role of Acting Regional Chair for Chile at the 2024 competition, bringing a wealth of experience, passion and understanding to oversee the expert panel of regional specialists.
Ahead of DWWA judging this May – and with entries open now until 15 March – we get to know more about Barnes, including her recommendations on regions to watch, what’s inspiring in the wine world right now and advice for producers.
What is your proudest achievement so far?
I am really proud of writing and publishing my book, The South America Wine Guide. It was a huge labour of love and the fruit of ten years of research exploring the wine regions of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay.
It is not only the fruit of my labour, but also notably of the experiences of winemakers, agronomists and families from all over the continent who shared their passion and knowledge with me over the years. It is a very personal book in many ways, with the contribution of many great friends – that’s why it is authored by ‘Amanda Barnes & amigos’.
Which wine producing region or grape varieties would you encourage people to explore?
There are so many! I haven’t run out of varieties and regions to explore even after 14 years here! I would say the old vines of South America though offer something truly special… the Cinsault of Itata, the Pais of Bio Bio and Maule, the Semillon of Mendoza and southern Chile, the Vischoqueña of Bolivia… the list goes on!
I also think we’ve seen great leaps in quality in the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines of Chile and Argentina, I would definitely encourage everyone to have a taste of the top wines coming from Limari, Malleco, Aconcagua Costa and Gualtallary.
What do you find most inspiring in the wine world right now?
I am inspired by many great social sustainability projects happening in the world of wine right now. Vineyards and making wine can have a really transformative impact on communities, and there are great projects like Bodega Colome in the Calchaqui Valleys which has completely brought an almost-abandoned village back to life or the Tayu 1865 project working with the Mapuche community in Malleco.
The greatest socially sustainable wine projects don’t only offer work opportunities here in South America, but can educate and empower communities.
Do you have advice for DWWA entrants who don’t win a medal?
Don’t be disheartened! This is the world’s most rigorous wine competition. Achieving a Bronze is a great achievement too, it means your wine has been recommended by the whole panel as a bonafide wine of quality. Anything above Bronze means it really is an excellent wine which excited the judges, so do be proud of your achievement beyond medals.
What do you look forward to most as Acting Regional Chair for Chile?
I am looking forward to having the opportunity to taste all of the wines from Chile this year – it is always a fantastic panorama of the recent vintages and contemporary styles. It is always a fantastic week, and I am looking forward to seeing all the other judges again this year.
What is an interesting fact people might not know about wines from Chile?
Chile had the first denomination of origin for a wine in the Americas I believe… with the asoleado wines of pajarete, given a DO in 1953. They are sweet wines made from Criolla grape varieties that have been dried in the sun before vinification. It is a deliciously sweet elixir!