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South America

Chile   Argentina   Uruguay   Brazil

Viña Chocalán Chardonnay, Chile, 2011 ($14.95) - This is everything an inexpensive Chardonnay should be: clean, balanced, and harmonious with just enough oak treatment for complexity, but not so much that it overshadows the fruit. It is drinking beautifully now, and the 2013 will be following it shortly.

Maipe Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Mendoza, 2009 ($16.99) - Best known for Malbec, Argentina also produces some terrific Cabs. This one is very impressive with lovely aromatics, fine balance, complexity, some structure, and a hint of new French oak. Parker: 90 "Similar in style [to the non-reserve] but more structured and revealing slightly more oak. Full-bodied and dense with abundant notes of creme de cassis, chocolate, espresso roast, spice box, and tobacco leaf, it is a layered, succulent, hedonistic Cabernet to drink now - 2014."

Los Vascos Cabernet Reserve, 2009 ($19.65) - I’ve always been a fan of this Chilean wine and regularly put a few bottles away for myself. (I just opened a bottle of 1995!) Made by the wine-making team that fashions Chateau Lafite Rothschild, it tastes very much like a Bordeaux. Drinkable now, but will improve.

Dante Robino Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza-Argentina, 2010 ($10.99) - Most $10 Cabs are terribly disappointing. The California offerings have no real Cabernet character and taste diluted, often with more oak (chips) than fruit and some sweetness to cover the flaws. Most of us think of Argentina for its Malbecs, but more and more Cabernet is being exported, and these wines are equally great values. This one is surprisingly serious. It has good depth of ripe fruit and benefits from an hour of airing! It is full-bodied and filled with blackberries, blackcurrants, and plum flavors with just a hint of mint, pepper, and some integrated, ripe tannins. There is no mistaking it for anything but good Cabernet Sauvignon. This 100% Cabernet wine comes from 11-year old vines planted in the Lujan de Cuyo area of Mendoza at an elevation of 2950 feet.

Lexicon Cabernet, Mendoza-Argentina, 2013 ($12.99) - There are precious few Cabernets at this price that are worth drinking. This is one of the best we have found. It is made by the same folks who make the Maipe Reserva that we carry.

Alex Elman Torrontés, 2010 ($12.99) and Malbec, 2010 ($12.99) - We first met Alex through her stepfather, Basil Winston. Basil was a real character with a love for life, a long history in the wine industry, and a long association with Beekman's. Born in Atlantic City in 1934, he traveled to Europe after college. There he studied wine and was trained by Alexis Lichine (a huge presence in the wine industry as an importer, the owner of Chateau Prieuré-Lichine and part-owner of Ch. Lascombes in Margaux, and the first to compile a wine encyclopedia) before returning to the states to work in the import end of the wine business. We knew Basil in his many guises, first as a representative of Shaw-Ross, one of the few serious wine importers in the 1960s and 1970s, then as a representative for Bodegas Lan (Rioja), and finally as a trader of fine wines. Many of the older gems that we have came from him before his death in 2008.

Growing up with her mother (a Brazilian chef) and later with Basil, Alex was encouraged to experience the world, spending time in Brazil, France, and New York. Although she began to lose her eye sight in her early 20s, she went to work for Perrier-Jouët Champagne in Epernay. Returning to the U.S., she worked in Basil's trading business further developing her palate and wine knowledge. Undeterred by her blindness, she started her own import business and now travels with Hanley, her seeing eye dog. She refers to herself as "the blind wine chick."

Torrontés is the unique grape of Argentina with Muscat-like character. Long thought to be the Spanish (Galicia) grape of the same name, recent DNA evidence shows that there are several distinct Torrontés varietals that are separate crossings between Muscat of Alexandria and Mission (Criolla Chica). Luscious, refreshing, and lightly floral, this wine has notes of orange citrus, peach, and apricot with good acidity and a long finish. The bouquet promises sweet, but the wine delivers dry. Try it with salads, citrus-accented foods, light fish, and semi-soft cheeses. The Malbec is typical for its price range. It's well made with lots of fruit without going overboard.

Renacer Punto Final Malbec  Reserva, 2011 ($19.63) - Originally from France, Malbec produces richly flavored, fruit-filled wines on the high desert plain of Mendoza, Argentina. Renacer's Reserva is simply spectacular. Fragrant and bearing excellent fruit intensity, this balanced wine avoids the over-ripeness (and excessive alcohol) of many of the high-end Malbecs. Wine Spectator: 90 $22 "This dark, polished red mixes crushed blackberry, cassis, plum skin, underbrush, and olive hints on a full-bodied frame. The long finish ends with an aftertaste of mocha. Drink now - 2016. 3000 cases made."

CAOBA Malbec Reserve, 2010 ($15.89) and Cabernet Reserve, 2010 ($15.89) - The popular but light CAOBA Malbec is now joined by much more substantial, bold, and fruit-filled reserves at a very attractive price.

Los Lirios de Los Andes Malbec, 2006 ($17.98) - The great values coming out of Argentina have made Malbec more and more popular. Although most wine lovers think of these wines as simply good and cheap, there are also examples that explore the higher reaches of quality and price. This one is made by the highly respected Bodega E Cavas Weinert. Winemaker Hubert Weber aged it in French barrique, and it has depth and intensity that belie its modest price.

Layer Cake Malbec, 2009 ($15.99) - American Jayson Woodbridge (Hundred Acre) teamed up with fellow winemaker Philippe Melka to make the wonderful Australian Layer Cake Shiraz that we won’t have until the next vintage is released, probably in the fall. Expanding on the success of the Shiraz, the team is sourcing fruit from around the world to make three additional wines under the Layer Cake label. None of these wines will be available year round, for the production is limited. Like the Italian Primitivo, the Argentine Malbec is terrific. It distinctly shows Australian and Californian influences, but it has the rich gutsiness of the best Malbecs. This delicious wine is stylistically similar to the Shiraz. The flavor profile is, of course, different.

Bodegas Caro Amancaya, Mendoza - Argentina, 2010 ($19.99) - THIS IS ONE OF OUR BEST VALUES! Bodegas Caro is a joint venture between the famous Domaine Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) of Bordeaux and the almost-as-famous Nicolas Catena of Argentina. (The name is based on the names CAtena and ROthschild.) This blend has varied greatly from year to year, but the 2010 consists of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 65% Malbec. It was aged for twelve months in 20% new barrique. This wine has been consistently and astonishingly good in a big, oaked, lush wine that is just delicious. Reviews have been all over the place in the last few years, but Tanzer's review of the 2008 (a 50/50 blend of Cab & Malbec) best captures this wine: 91 "Bright red-ruby. Subtle, fresh, and wonderfully aromatic nose offers complex scents of recurrent, blueberry, strawberry, tobacco, mocha, graphite, leather, and cedar. Penetrating and claret-like, with superb delineation to the red current and tobacco flavors. Perfectly integrated acidity and an intriguing herbal nuance give this wine a light touch. Finishes with tactile, dusty tannins and lovely lift and persistence. Offers compelling complexity and class for the price."

Santa Faustina Malbec, Lujan de Cuyo (Mendoza), 2006 ($23.99) - The best Argentine Malbecs are dramatically good. Cuttings of Malbec vines (also called Auxerrois or Côt Noir) from Bordeaux thrived in Argentina, and Malbec became the country's most popular red wine. Argentina's best Malbecs come from the Mendoza district, a high desert plain (most vineyards are planted between 2000' and 3600'). This impressive wine comes from the Lujan de Cuyo subdistrict, the first controlled appellation in Mendoza. The Alto Lunlunto vineyard (2800') is the source of this wine. A 21-day maceration was followed by aging in one-third French oak barrels. This big and complex wine was bottled unfiltered. Bottle aging has given it refinement.

Zorzal Malbec "Gran Terroir," 2011 ($27.99) - We wrote up Zorzal's Mendoza whites last month. The Malbec Terroir is got a wonderful review from Neal Martin in The Wine Advocate (93 "The 2011 Terroir Unico Malbec comes from a 15-year old espalier vineyard located at 1,350 meters, is fermented with natural yeasts and is aged in concrete tanks rather than wood. It has a wonderful bouquet with blackberry, tomato vine, and granitic notes. The palate is fresh and vibrant embroidered with brisk, fine tannins. It is suffused with lively pure black cherry and bilberry fruit and has a taut, citric, dry finish. You would never guess this is from Argentina. It is just downright, unapologetically delicious. Drink 2012-17."), BUT something bad happened in the bottle (refementation?), and we had to send the wine back. Interestingly, the Gran Terroir, essentially their reserve bottling, only got an 89-point rating. That's not so surprising when you read about its style, and I'm sure the score will go up as the wine ages. Martin: "The Gran Terroir Malbec comes from vines located at 1,350 meters and is raised in concrete tanks. It has a deep purple color. The nose is intense with black cherries, black currant pastilles, and crushed violets, and it is extremely well-defined. The palate is fresh and vibrant, a little angular at the moment, with grainy dark berry fruit towards the licorice-tinged finish. It needs just a little more flesh and substance, but it is an intellectual take on Malbec. I would leave this in bottle a couple of years to see what happens. Drink 2014-2019."

Allegrini + Renacer Enamore, 2009 ($27.99) - Enamore (the name is a play on "Amarone") is a joint venture between Allegrini, one of the top Italian Amarone producers, and Renacer whose Punto Final Reserva is one of our best selling Malbecs. Amarone is made in Veneto by harvesting the ripest grapes within the Valpolicella district and allowing them to dry indoors. Most modern Amarone grapes are made in special rooms that are humidity and temperature controlled. The humidity must be low to encourage evaporation and prevent rot. Some 30% of the liquid evaporates before the shriveled grapes are made into wine. Enamore is made using this same "appassimento" technique, but instead of special rooms, the grapes dry in the naturally low humidity of Mendoza's high dessert plain. Renacer's best Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Cab Sauvignon, Syrah, and Bonarda undergo a long fermentation and are then aged for 12 months in new French oak barrels. Enamore is concentrated yet balanced with familiar raisiny aromas and flavors and a soft texture that makes it ideal with full-flavored foods and cheeses.

Vina Cobos Malbec Marchiori Vineyard, Mendoza-Argentina, 2004 ($149) - Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): 98! "The super-expressive 2004 Cobos Malbec Marchiori Vyd. is opaque purple/black in color. Its perfume of toasty oak, mineral, lavender, blueberry, and black cherry is very sexy and leads to a complex, spicy, rich, chewy wine which also manages to combine elegance and power. Its length and superb balance suggest more cellaring with a drinking window from 2016 to 2040. Vina Cobos is Paul Hobbs' winery in Mendoza. He is better known for his namesake winery in Napa Valley, which has received many accolades (including 100-point scores from Parker) for its Cabs, Pinot Noirs, and Chards. Hobbs is also a pioneer in fine wine production in Argentina, having started there in 1988 with Nicolas Catena. The capstone of his work is Vina Cobos which began in 1998. The 2004 Marchiori Vineyard Malbec makes one realize just what spectacular raw materials combined with impeccable winemaking can accomplish. Although they are not inexpensive, they are amazing wines."

Alcyone, Atlantida
31.99/500ml) - A remarkable dessert wine! It is made from Tannat, a rustic varietal from southwestern France (Madiran) that has found a home in Uruguay. Although Tannat usually makes intense wines featuring red fruits and tannin, solera-style aging has tamed this sweet version into a smooth, refined beauty. Uruguayan table wines are acceptable at best, but this is delicious. Think caramel and vanilla! Think yummm!

No offense meant to the Brazilians, but I haven't found any Brazilian wines worth drinking. I have found some that are worth avoiding.


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