Liquid Assets

The wines of Chile and Argentina: up close and personal

We had an opportunity to go taste a number of wines in Chile and Argentina recently. We jumped at the chance for two reasons. First, there has been a recent avalanche of excellent wines form both countries. Second, we had been there before and loved the places and people. We started off flying into Santiago, Chile.

Most of the wineries in Chile are within a few hours drive of Santiago. We stayed at the lovely San Cristobal Towers in Santiago, which is located in a good spot for quick trips out of the city. Over the next four days, we visited six of the best wineries in Chile tasting every single wine they make, searching for their best wines.

First up was Veramonte, whose Sauvignon Blanc ($8) is a delicious grapefruity wine at a terrific price and widely available in Austin. Later that day, we visited Santa Rita where we had their delicious Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon ($17), a luscious wine filled with chocolate aromas and raspberry flavors. Los Vascos is a gorgeous winery owned by Chteau Lafite Rothschild and the wines they make are uniformly excellent, even at their very fair price. For $14, you can enjoy their delicious Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that combines French elegance with California opulence. Montes is another winery making superb wines in the $18-20 range under their Montes Alpha label. Their Chardonnay and Cabernet are both textbook examples of what a knowledgeable winemaker can do with excellent fruit.

Errázuriz makes wines under five labels: Caliterra, Arboleda, Errázuriz, Chadwick, and Seña. In the less than $20 range, my favorites are the Arboleda Syrah ($15), an extremely rich wine full of peppery fruits, and the Arboleda Carmenére ($15), an opulent wine that would appeal to Zinfandel lovers. For the well-heeled, Seña ($65) is a magnificent bottle of red meritage style wine.

Cousiño Macul's wines are all splendid. I can confidently recommend their entire line. The biggest surprise was their Sauvignon Gris ($9), a white wine that is sumptuous enough to have without food, yet with enough acid to enhance many dishes. Try it at your next party with pass-around appetizers. Their Doña Isadora Riesling ($9) is for fans of the Alsatian version of the grape and stands up against the competition at twice the price. Moving a little up the price range, their Anitguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon ($14) uses grapes derived from cuttings the Cousiño family brought from France in 1863, before phylloxera devastated the European vineyards. The top of the line is Finis Terrae ($20) a Cabernet Merlot blend that would shame more than a few expensive Bordeaux wines in a blind tasting.

Mendoza, Argentina, is the home of an amazing array of wineries. We were especially excited about tasting so many Malbecs, Argentina's most famous grape. We started with the exceptional Catena wines. Their least expensive line is called Alamos and it contains two special bargains: The Alamos Chardonnay ($10) with a soft feel and nutty aromas and the Alamos Malbec ($10) with its smoky character and intensely fruity flavors. Their best wine is Catena's sui generis example of the Malbec grape – Catena Alta Malbec ($40).

La Rural is another example of a winery with nothing but winners. They make two brands available in the United States, Felipe Rutini and Trumpeter. At $8, the Trumpeter line is hard to beat, especially their Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec-Syrah blend, all possessing an unbelievable complexity for the price. The Rutini Reserve Malbec ($14) is also a winner. Terrazas is a winery owned by Chandon developing wines mostly for export. Their best values are the Chardonnay and Malbec in the Reserva line at $15. Their most impressive wine is a French-style red made in conjunction with Cheval Blanc called Cheval des Andes ($75).

Familia Zuccardi is the home of one of my favorite white wines of the trip, Santa Julia Torrontes ($8). This wine has a floral nose as beautiful as Gewürztraminer or Muscat, along with a friendly amount of acid to make it a great quaffing wine. The next step up in their line is Zuccardi Q. All of these wines are priced at $17 and the Malbec and Tempranillo are especially delicious. Our last winery was Bodegas Salentein, makers of Finca El Portillo and Salentein wines. The Portillos are inexpensive at $8 and their Merlot is definitely worth a taste. You move up in price to $17 for the Salentein wines, but the increase in quality is worth the money, especially for their Malbec and their Merlot.

I believe that now is the time to experience these excellent wines. South American wine prices are lower than they should be based on the quality of wine in the bottle. Go out and try some of these wines and I think you'll be amazed.

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Argentinean wines, Chilean wines

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