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.
TERRARUM RESERVA, Casablanca, Chile
LURTON PINOT GRIS, Valle de Uco, Mendoza,
del Diablo Carmenere, Rapel Valley, Chile, 2OO5
Toso Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2OO4
Posta Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina, 2OO3
Lapostolle "Cuvee Alexandre" Chardonnay, Casablanca
Valley, Chile, 2OO4
"Primus", Casablanca Valley, Chile,
Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2OO5
Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca, Chile,
Carmenere "Peumo Vineyard", Rapel Valley, Chile,
Ferrer "Quimera", Mendoza, Argentina,