With the onset of the Rio de Janiero Summer Olympics much attention turns to South America. If you’re like us, you might want to enjoy their local wines while you enjoy the festivities and competition.
Uruguay and Peru produce good wines but little is exported. Brazil is situated near the equator. Its climate is not conducive for optimum wine production. It does have vineyards at higher mountain elevations, but wine is highly taxed in Brazil and essentially none is exported.
Chile and Argentina produce fine wines, and they are both international players in the world wine market. You can find their wines at reasonable prices in local wine shops and supermarkets.
We enjoy South American wines, as well as their food, and have visited there on several occasions. In fact, we’ve just returned from Argentina and Chile. We’re happy to say their products just keep getting better and better.
Things grow well in Chile. With the Andes Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, you get a number of areas with unique micro-climates. Grapes have been grown in Chile since the 16th century. About 1850, European wine experts brought cuttings from France and production began in earnest.
The prime vineyard locations for soil and weather conditions are in areas within about 200 miles of Santiago. The grapes here are planted on their original rootstock. Phylloxera, a vine destroying pest that decimated European vineyards in the 1860s has never migrated to Chile. The European vineyards were saved by replanting grapevines on Phylloxera resistant rootstock from California.
Most familiar European grape varieties grow well in Chile. Carmenere, however, is somewhat special. Carmenere is one of the six Bordeaux grapes. Until recently it was thought to be extinct, wiped out by the Phylloxera epidemic in France. Chilean growers noted some of their Merlot ripened early. French wine experts were brought in, examined it and labeled it as “Chilean Merlot.” It wasn’t until DNA testing proved it to be, in fact, Carmenere. It’s a wonderful grape, with deep color and flavors somewhat similar to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Chile has adopted the grape as its own and bottles it as a single varietal.
While there, we attended a Carmenere Fest in Santiago. In Chilean. restaurants you’ll find a good selection of Carmenere on any wine list. You’ll find gourmet restaurants throughout Chile especially in Santiago. They feature a wide variety of cuisines and some of the best seafood in the world.
▪ Emiliana Coyam Super Premium Reserve 2012, Colchagua Valley, Chile – about $27. The wine is a blend of Syrah, Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Verdot. The grapes are biodynamically (organically) grown. It’s fruit driven and beautifully balanced with aromas and flavors of dark berries, spice, earth, cassis, chocolate, toffee and minerals. When we visited this winery, we were impressed with their attention to detail.
▪ Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile – about $18. The wine has a golden yellow hue and a long lingering nose with tropical fruit and herbaceous aromas and flavors. You’ll experience layers of pineapple, banana, apricot and green peppers. Aged 12 months in French oak gives it notes of toast, vanilla and butterscotch. A great wine to enjoy with Chilean Sea Bass or by itself.
▪ Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere, Rapel Valley, Chile – about $19. This wine from Concha y Toro is a friendly wine like being in a damp forest after the rain. It has layered aromas and flavors of earthy black fruit, black truffle, spice, huckleberry, peppery blackberry, licorice, tobacco and herbs. The soft tannins give it a nice mouthfeel. It pairs well with meat and poultry dishes.
Next week: Take a short flight over the Andes from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina.
Jim and Marie Oskins live in the Lake Wylie area. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.