The Next Big Thing

Take a trip to discover South American wines.

Unlike generations before them, today’s wine drinkers are not steeped in tradition. Modern-day enthusiasts enjoy discovering interesting wines to discuss with friends. So here’s a tip to spring on your pals: All eyes — and palates — are on the wines of Latin America with Chile and Argentina leading the way.

Although wine has been produced in Chile for decades, the push to produce quality wines is just starting to pay off. Until the 1980s, Chile was more interested in quantity than quality. Now heavily influenced by successful French winemakers, Chilean producers have adopted quality-minded French techniques.

Stainless steel fermentation vats and small oak barrel aging are now employed to craft quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as the historic Bordeaux variety Carménère, which is often thought of as the country’s most suitable grape variety. In Chile, Carménère produces elegant, velvet-textured reds.

For whites, the emerging Casablanca region makes crisp Chardonnay with aromas of grapefruit and bananas that are usually given a bit of time in oak. Mouthwatering Sauvignon Blanc is also a specialty of this cooler growing region.

Perhaps not as well developed but just as exciting is the land under vine on the other side of the Andes in Argentina. For years, Argentina’s domestic market supported the large amounts of so-so wines. But with an increase in competition from international labels, the country’s winemakers had to re-examine the quality of their wine.

Much like for the Chilean winemakers, it became a priority for Argentinean producers to focus on grape varieties well suited to the land. Argentinean growers have proven that lush Malbec reds and aromatic Torrontes whites are good matches for the country’s climate and soil type. Native to France, Malbec is used for full-bodied, brambly red wines that pair well with fall dishes. Additionally, good examples of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Spanish grape Tempranillo can also be found.

With quality wines from Chile and Argentina landing on retail shelves across the country, there has never been a better time to explore new labels. So call up a few adventure-loving friends, turn on some Latin music and uncork the sunny flavors of South America.

Marianne Frantz, CWE and founder of the Cleveland Wine School, was joined by the Cleveland NEOenophiles in selecting and sampling wines for this month’s Cellar Notes.

2003 Marques de Casa Concha Merlot, Rapel Valley, Chile ($18): Ruby with aromas of dark cherries, blackberry, vanilla, dried herbs, tar and smoky oak. Full bodied with a velvety mouthfeel, firm, ripe tannins and medium-plus alcohol.

2004 Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina ($10): Deep ruby with plenty of intense fruit. Dark cherries, cedar, pepper spice, tobacco, cassis and a touch of herbal mint. Lush, ripe tannins, mouth-warming alcohol and a long finish.

2005 MontGras Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($10): Medium body with crisp, mouthwatering acidity. Delicate aromas of citrus, tropical fruits and herbal notes make it a great match for seafood starters and root vegetables.

2003 Luis Felipe Edwards Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua, Chile ($9): Ruby red with classic aromas of cassis and dried black cherry balanced by medium acidity and medium-plus alcohol. The finish is ripe and lingering with firm tannins.

2004 Calina Reserva Carménère, Maule Valley, Chile ($10): Full bodied with concentrated aromas of blackberry, chocolate, spice and toasty oak. Soft, ripe tannins and medium acidity offer a long finish. Great with slow-roasted meats.

2005 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($11): Deep ruby color with earthy black fruit, spiced plum and a leatherlike character. Mouth-warming alcohol and crisp acidity balance the fruit making the wine a great value for the price.

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