If you’re a regular Halifax Magazine reader, you know I love South American wines. There isn’t any other region that has this many delicious and great-value wines. Both Argentina and Chile have an abundance of great vineyards and perfect terroir, growing many of the varietals you know, and some you should know better.
There are eight other South American countries making wine too. We all know about Argentina, the fifth largest wine producer in the world, but did you know that Brazil makes great sparkling wines in its higher elevations, away from the tropical heat?
Any fan of Cabernet Sauvignon knows some of the best come from Chile, but did you know that Peru, has a thriving wine industry, even if most of the grapes go into its famous pisco (a high-alcohol grape brandy). Several years ago, I tried a Tannat wine from Uruguay. It blew me away: it’s a very dry wine from a country I didn’t expect to have exceptional wines.
Increasingly, South American vintners are experimenting with new and interesting grapes, and growing traditional grapes in more extreme regions.
While the export of new varietals has been slower to take off, the fast maturing wine industry has been embracing high elevation grape growing, along with planting in new and undiscovered territory. The result has been an explosion of quality at higher price points. If you spend $50 on a wine from Chile or Argentina, you will likely find the profile closer to a $100 European wine.
Colomé Winery in Salta, northern Argentina is growing grapes at over 3,000 metres elevation, testing the extreme limits of agriculture with stunning results. Catena is another Argentine pioneer planting at extreme elevations, with single vineyards planted only after soil analysis tells vintners which grape will grow best. The result is fabulous Chardonnay, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon, all winning international acclaim.
So look south if you want to try a new and exciting, but affordable wine. Tired of the same old Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio? Try a Torrontes. Argentina is the only country in the world growing this grape in large quantities. If you like fresh and fruity wines with structure, look for an example from Salta, where Torrontes stays away from being sweet, despite the beautiful, floral nose.
If you like Malbec but want to try another signature Argentine grape, seek a Bonardo, which was until 10 years ago, the most planted grape in the country. Historically used for blending, it has become a stand-alone favourite, with younger and more affordable versions that have a fresh fruitiness that Malbec can’t achieve.
The most interesting wines in Chile now are coming from new and remote regions producing world-class wines. While many of these are grapes we already know and love, they are again offering unparalleled value. Syrah from the Atacama and Elqui River regions are fantastic. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay from the Pacific coastal regions are delicious in a more restrained style than from the hotter areas of the Central Valley.
Most wine drinkers have heard of Chile’s Carmenere variety and many have tried it, but it hasn’t taken the world by storm. It suffers from spotty quality, as the grape needs to ripen fully to lessen the greenness. And when ripened is makes an extremely tasty wine. Try Montes Purple Angel, available at Bishop’s Cellar and NSLC.
The next up-and-coming Chilean grape originates in Southern France. Carignan was first planted in the 1940s as part of a government relief program for farmers after a catastrophic earthquake in 1939. Now these old vines are producing wines of extreme quality and value.
The next time you are in the South American section of your favourite store, try something different. Many of the wines mentioned above are available in stores around Halifax. Enjoy with friends and your favourite food. Cheers!
THE UNDER-$25 WINE REVIEW
Toasted Head Chardonnay 2014
California, NSLC, $19.99
If you believe the packaging and the name, this wine isn’t for people who dislike an oaky and rich Chardonnay. Much of the wine world has moved away from this style, but there’s still lots of room for a balanced and rich white wine. Delicious tropical aromas: ripe mango and pineapple. Starts surprisingly refreshing, until that hit of sweet and buttery vanilla oak. Impressive quality for the price. Pair with Nova Scotian lobster. 89/100
Alfred Second Pass Shiraz, Nugan Estate
Australia, NSLC, $16.99
Spicy and rich berry flavours in a wine are perfect on a cold evening. Shiraz from Australia has had a bad rep lately, with some being over-extracted and too high in alcohol. Nugan is made in an Italian Ripasso style, which gives it a mouth-coating character. Gulpable flavours of plums, raisins, and dark chocolate. Subtle tannins and an earthy finish. A nice wine at a great price. Pair with slowcooker beef stew. 90/100
80–84: A great sipper, good value. 85–89: Won’t last long, great value. 90–94: Brag to your friends and buy a case—fantastic. 95–100: A classic, run to the store, extremely rare.