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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.

Viña Chocalán Gran Reserva, Chile, 2011 ($36.99) - It’s unfortunate that most people think of Chilean wines as just good and cheap, for this is a magnificent wine. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Carmeniere, and Petit Verdot, it has a fine nose that shows  high quality, new French oak, rich fruit, and fine complexity.

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.

Durigutti Malbec, Mendoza, 2013 ($15.89) - Hector and Pablo Durigutti are professional winemakers representing the third generation at this Lujan de Cuyo winery. This entry-level Malbec was fermented using indigenous yeast, aged for eight months in American oak, and bottled unfiltered. It is an opulent wine with a wonderful bouquet and intense flavors of raspberry, plum sauce, and black licorice. Really solid! Tanzer: 90+ "Bright, saturated red-ruby.  High-toned, almost liqueur-like aromas of black cherry, blackberry, violet, licorice, and mint; more expressive today than the 2013 Cabernet. Densely packed and nicely delineated, showing a very fine-grained texture to the complex flavors of dark berries and medicinal herbs.  Excellent tactile depth here.  Finishes with serious but suave tannins and noteworthy grip and length. This very young, rather palate-staining Malbec may be even better with a couple years of cellaring."

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.

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.

Luca Malbec, Mendoza-Argentina, 2012 ($32.99) - Laura Catena named this exceptional wine for her son. The ungrafted (native root stock) vines, averaging over 45 years of age, grow at an altitude of 3150 feet. The wine was aged 12 months in French oak, 60% new and 40% second use, and bottled unfined and unfiltered Wine Spectator: 93 "Very suave and polished, with ripe, pure flavors of blackberry, hoisin sauce, and black pepper. Finely textured, packed with tar and roasted plum, shows plenty of licorice snap and dark chocolate accents on the powerful finish." Wine Advocate: 92 "The 2012 Malbec comes from old vineyards in La Consulta and a dash from Gualtallary in the Uco Valley. It has a mineral-like, austere feeling, with notes of peach, sour cherries, and sweet spices, a medium-bodied palate with gripping tannins, and is refined and fresh with some creamy and smoky notes from the barrel which should disappear with a little time in bottle. This is great Malbec."

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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