There are two countries in South America that produce exceptional wine of value. Chile and Argentina are known by wine lovers from around the world for producing great wine that’s affordable. While these two countries run parallel to one another, they produce very different styles of wine. I have a great wine from each country that I enjoy and will share with you. But first a little background.
In the world of wine, the word “terroir” is used when describing wine, vineyards or well‐known wine regions. Simply stated, terroir defines a sense of place. When winemakers talk about their wines and refer to terroir, they are suggesting that the wine expresses the personality of the earth. The geography, geology and climate influence grapes on a vine. Subtle yet unique nuances are imparted as a result of terroir and may exist only in one small block of land.
In California, Napa Valley’s most famous vineyard, To Kalon, is a perfect example of wine country terroir. Ancient Greek for “the highest beauty,” this vineyard provides the Robert Mondavi Winery with most of the grapes for its world‐class Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and is the exclusive source of Sauvignon Blanc. As personal relationships with wine evolve, the term, terroir, becomes both romantic and powerful.
In Chile, the Colchagua Valley is on the west coast of South America and enjoys a Mediterranean climate that is somewhat unique when it comes to wine country terroir. Chile is a melting pot of European influence that runs north to south on the west coast of South America and is 2,600 miles in length, but it is only 100 miles wide at its widest point. German, Spanish, English and French people have taken up residence and enjoy this wonderful Mediterranean climate.
The Colchagua Valley wine region has four clearly defined seasons, which is rare and exists at only four other locations around the world: the Mediterranean coast, the California coast, the Cape of Good Hope and the southeast coast of Australia. The climate in Chile falls somewhere in between that of California and Bordeaux. Rich aroma and flavor in the wines of this valley are the result of Pacific maritime influence and breezes from the Andes Mountain slopes that move through the vineyards.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Carmenère are the most widely planted red grape varietals in the Colchagua Valley. In 1996, Chile exported 100,000 cases of wine to the United States, and today that number has increased to 7 million cases. The quality and value of wines from Chile speaks for itself, which is duly noted by the increased exports.
Chilean wines adhere to the European Union label requirements. The wine must contain 85 percent of the grape variety, vintage and domaine of origin (D.O.) that is indicated on the label.
Argentina is the largest wine‐producing country of South America and the fifth largest producing country in the world. With 300 days of sunshine and an average of only eight inches of rain each year, the Argentineans have established an elaborate irrigation system fed by runoff from the snow‐capped Andes Mountains.
In the mid‐fifteen century, the Jesuit missionaries began making wine in the Mendoza region of Argentina. The Uco Valley of Mendoza produces mainly Malbec, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. Argentina is widely recognized throughout the world for outstanding Malbec wines that offer a real bargain for the wine consumer. With 600 vineyards, the Mendoza region comprises more than 70 percent of the total 500,000 vineyard acres planted in Argentina.
The grapes in the Mendoza region are planted at high altitude near the base of the Andes Mountains. With hot days, cool nights and breezes from the mountains, this region produces beautiful fruit that is concentrated and naturally acidic. The result is excellent wine that is balanced and well‐structured.
When you read the label on the bottle of Argentinean wine, the grape that is listed is 100 percent of that varietal. The Malbec wines from this region offer tremendous single varietal focus, and in the hands of a great winemaker, will leave a memorable finish on your palate and in your mind.
In tasting both the 2009 MontGras Quatro blend from Chile and the 2009 Salentein Killka Malbec from Argentina, you will discern a very distinct style of winemaking. The difference in these two wines is very representative of Chilean and Argentinean wines. Chilean wines have a tendency toward big, rich, full‐bodied wines whereas Argentinean wines typically are concentrated, focused and a bit less refined. Both of these wines are outstanding examples of South American wines of exceptional value.
From Viña MontGras, this Chilean wine is a blend of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Malbec, 15 percent Carmenère and 15 percent Syrah. This wine is a deep ruby color in the glass and offers aromas of fresh‐roasted coffee, dark fruit of black currants and cherries and leather with a hint of vanilla. When you smell this, you know you want to taste it, and you won’t be disappointed.
On the palate, this wine is full‐bodied, rich, soft, supple and round with a nice balance of fruit and acid, which allows it to pair well with food. This wine is not so big and over‐extracted that it will overpower you or your food pairing. The Quatro serves up a long, luscious and lingering finish and costs less than $15 at Liquid Planet. Pair this wine with grilled top sirloin or prime rib.
From Mendoza, this Argentinean wine is flamboyant, fruit forward, spicy and perfectly tannic. In your glass the wine has a deep purple hue with darker streaks of purple when held up to the light. Dark plum and blackberry with a bit of sweet vanilla meet the nose. This wine has great fruit, balance and structure on the palate. Don’t forget about the wonderful silky tannins this wine offers. The Killka has not been overly manipulated in the winemaking process, and this is one of its best qualities. Pair this wine with rib eye or filet mignon and a red wine reduction or green peppercorn sauce. This Argentinean wine is also available at Liquid Planet for under $15.
Both Liquid Planet wines receive the WineGuyMike™ Seal of Approval®