Massachusetts Beverage Business


Article By: Sandy Block, MW

Resistance to the more premium, limited production wines of each country has begun to crack as the market moves upscale. The only problem is that both Chile and Argentina have established their reputations primarily as deep value players in a world where consumers now show increasing willingness to pay up for quality and image. What's hot, or what's soon to be though, are the more distinctive wines from each of these countries.

Why? For the same reason that the value-priced wines have proven so successful. Odds are that when you taste a Chilean or Argentine wine that costs $15 you're surprised that it's only $15. Same thing with many that are $1O or, for that matter, $25. They offer more than you'd expect for the price. The ratings they have consistently garnered in the mainstream press bear this out. Whereas I've long advocated that anyone searching for a serviceable low cost varietal Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon need look nowhere other than South America, it's now clear that in the middle and even moderately higher price ranges the same advice may apply. Although South America is not the first place we associate with producing unique wines of terroir and place, my recent tastings have shown that there are several made there now worthy of consideration.

The reasons have to do with several natural advantages that these Southern Hemisphere vineyards enjoy: brilliant sunshine, low amounts of rainfall during the growing season, low costs of production. The main premium wine producing regions of each country enjoy larger than average swings in diurnal temperatures, advancing ripening but also retaining structure. Quality distinctions among vintages are not as significant as elsewhere so it is possible to develop positive associations with a winery or a brand without having to adjust to radically different tasting wines each year. As new cooler climate zones within Chile and Argentina are planted this may change, but for now it appears that wine enthusiasts enjoy the best of all possible worlds in terms of quality and consistency.

I highly recommend all these wines. Each in their own price and stylistic niche shows another side of the tide of enthusiasm swelling around the top wines of this still under-appreciated continent. They are listed in order of price.

To me the highly esteemed coastal Casablanca Valley origins constitute a sign of quality, in the same way that it was once possible to associate Marlborough, New Zealand on a wine label as guaranteeing a particular style. This single vineyard unoaked Sauvignon is straightforward and lemony with a gentle texture. Clearly more understated than some examples of the varietal, without tropical elements, its firm acidity is refreshing, its flavors pure. You actually couldn't ask for more for the money.

BODEGA LURTON PINOT GRIS, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina, 2OO6
This is a stunner. Think Alsace more so than Italy. Pure and unoaked, with round, ripe apple flavors and hints of allspice, this wine is a juicy, softly textured crowd pleaser. I served it recently at a dinner in the company of several more exalted wines without mentioning price and the guests thought it was much more expensive. Produced by the international winemaking duo of Jacques and Francois Lurton, it shows a stylishness and restraint that is rarely achieved with this grape anywhere.

Casillero del Diablo Carmenere, Rapel Valley, Chile, 2OO5
Made from what has become Chile's signature grape by the Concha y Toro winery - Chile's largest - this distinctive wine is plummy and smooth, with a tobacco-leaf, spice component on the finish. Don't be fooled by the price; it's harmonious and gentle on the palate but has enough of an edge to the ripe, dark fruit to spark flavor interest among the most demanding palates.

Pascual Toso Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2OO4
One of Argentina's more venerable boutique wineries, established in 189O by an immigrant from Piemonte in Italy, this is one of the many properties to benefit from the expert advice of a consulting enologist, in this case renowned Californian Paul Hobbs. Produced in the Maipu District, it shows why this Bordeaux grape attains such appealing flavors in the brilliantly sunny high elevation vineyards of the Andes. It is lush and smooth, with blackberry and anise notes, and a trace of toast from the French oak maturation, but without any coarse tannins.

La Posta Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina, 2OO3
An obscure grape from Northern Italy's Piemonte region that shows some of the viticultural diversity you'll encounter in Argentina. Tart and raspberry like, with a refreshingly bitter twist of spice on the finish, this medium-bodied, dark colored red wine is made from an old vine planting that evokes maximum intensity from the fruit. Ripe and penetrating in flavor with a long slightly peppery finish.

Casa Lapostolle "Cuvee Alexandre" Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile, 2OO4
Produced by the renowned Marnier-Lapostolle family, owners of Grand Marnier Liqueur, this wine is richly oaked with a buttery, lush texture that complemented a poached salmon to perfection. Made under the supervision of consulting enologist Michel Rolland, it's honeyed but dry with a well-modulated core of lean fruit. For Chardonnay lovers who are looking for a bit more overt ripeness than Burgundy but just a bit.

Veramonte "Primus", Casablanca Valley, Chile, 2OO4
A powerhouse blend of Carmenere, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, this Casablanca Valley shows some of the earthy, black currant, minty notes you might expect from a Northern California wine. Big and hearty it provides a lavishly rich, spicy mouthful of fruit and tannin at this stage of its development. A wine either for the cellar or for a charred steak.

Catena Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2OO5
Many consider Nicolas Catena the greatest practitioner of Malbec in Mendoza. There is a depth, yet polish to this wine that shows his skillful hand. Floral and delicate, with clove, black cherry and licorice tones, this is one Malbec that gives a deceiving initial impression of softness. The tannins, however, are substantial. Ripe and layered, I would suggest trying this blind against most Bordeaux-based wines from elsewhere that are 5O% more expensive and see which you prefer.

Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca, Chile, 2OO5
This unoaked Sauvignon is thicker and more concentrated, with a soft velvety feel balancing the tart fruit. Produced by Concha y Toro, it is part of an elite series of wines based on individual vineyard blocks within single estate vineyards. Enologist Ignacio Recabarren has long been celebrated as one of the continent's most exacting, and in this wine the purity of the fruit from its low yielding parcel is evident. A hint of minerality on the finish accents the ripe, concentrated fruit. In a previous vintage Robert Parker referred to it as "one of the very finest Sauvignons I've tasted from the Americas."

Terrunyo Carmenere "Peumo Vineyard", Rapel Valley, Chile, 2OO4
The companion piece to the Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is made from a block of twenty-five year old vines. It has a velvety smoothness and finesse that one does not usually associate with the grape variety. The flavors are ripe and dark: black cherry, mocha and a touch of smoked bacon. No rough edges. I wouldn't hesitate to serve this to a completely skeptical wine snob who will only drink wines from France or California. Blind, of course.

Achaval Ferrer "Quimera", Mendoza, Argentina, 2OO
Quimera translates to an impossible ideal of perfection, a mystery, and this wine's concentration level and complexity set it apart as a world class effort. A boutique producer whose spare-no-expense quest for quality has led him to keep yields to just over a ton per acre, Santiago Achaval crafts this Malbec based Bordeaux blend with aging in mind. It has an "old world" minerality and earthiness that offsets the herb, spice and blackberry flavors. Oozing with flavor, length and intensity, it's great now but can age for seven to ten years.

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