Just as Australia has gradually won over Americans’ hearts and taste buds, wine lovers have been catching on to the new fruits of South America.
Chilean wines have been getting international attention for about a decade, according to fine wine specialist Sandy Wasserman of Quail Distributing, and Argentinian wines have only been recognized within the past five years.
Of course, South America has been making wine since Spanish colonial times, but they weren’t on the map as being world class. Thanks to foreign investment and domestic efforts, this has turned around.
Baron Eric de Rothschild, whose winery produces the esteemed Château Lafite Rothschild in France, and companies like Robert Mondavi and Kendall-Jackson out of California, have infused money and education on winemaking techniques into South America. And Nicholas Catena, who’s considered the "Robert Mondavi of Argentina," Wasserman said, hired top talent from California, France and Italy to help him build his brand.
This has led to variety of styles, from fruit-forward, bold, New World wines to earthy, elegant wines like those from Europe. And the quality is surging.
Take Casa Lapostolle, for instance. On the Wine Spectator’s list of the 100 top wines of 2003, its Clos Apalta Rapel Valley was No. 3. It had a rating of 94 (out of 100) and comes from the Colchagua Valley, a smaller region with Chile’s Rapel Valley.
However, that wine has a retail price of about $55. Casa Lapostolle also make a decent merlot and cab for about $10.
Another wine from the same region, Two Brothers Big Tattoo Red, got an 85 in the Spectator and is under $12. Los Vascos also makes a wonderful cabernet from Colchagua for about $10.
Concha y Toro, an under-$10 stalwart on the shelves at Trader Joe’s and Cost Plus World Market, makes chewy, delicious Chilean merlot and cab, and Bodegas Escorihuela from Argentina has a powerpacked Mendoza Don Miguel Gascón malbec (rated 90 in the Spectator) for about $11.
All this value for bargain-bin prices means an increase in popularity. Jim Myczek, co-owner of Grapeables Fine Wines in Fountain Hills, said sales of South American wines have doubled or tripled since his store opened in December 2000.
"Some of these are really hidden values," he said. "As soon as they get bigger write-ups, they’re going to start moving up in price."
Wine tasting of the week Wines of South America: Big Tattoo Red blend (Chile), Alamos malbec (Argentina), Santa Ema cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and merlot reserves (Chile) and Susana Balbo Crios cabernet sauvignon (Argentina) at Grapeables Fine Wines, 12645 N. Saguaro Blvd., Fountain Hills, (480) 816-5959. $12.