Both Chile and Argentina are also producing unique wines of real character, many of them at prices that are fractions of their Old World European or even U.S. counterparts thanks their to the much lower labor and land costs. You just need to know where to find them.
Achaval-Ferrer is famed for producing extremely complex—and extremely expensive—Malbec, but their Quimera blend (made from malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot from varying locations and in varying percentages) is a steal even at forty bucks. Quimera is a demanding wine, with huge structure, dark fruits, and savory, herbal notes. It’s also a unique wine, blending the best of Argentina’s Malbec qualities with those of red grapes usually associated with Bordeaux and California—and in the best years it can age for decades, gaining similar complexity, nuance and elegance as its much pricier counterparts north of the equator.
Golden with a greenish tinge, this Chardonnay has enough flavors of crème brûlée, vanilla, golden apples and apricot preserves—along with enough gorgeous, mouth filling complexity—to get Napa winemakers in a nervous sweat. It’s a steakhouse worthy Chardonnay, built for potatoes and lobster, for about half the price as you will find in Napa, and with what seems like twice the food friendly acidity.
Ezequiel Eskenazi, the down-to-earth founder of XumeK, is carving out a wine lifestyle destination a solid two hours drive northwest from Mendoza in San Juan, complete with a life size reproduction of a whale constructed by famed artist Adrian Villar Rojas as a tribute to the site (now upwards of 800 meters above sea level, but which used to be a submerged seabed in ancient times). The wines are fitting tribute to the stark beauty of the site, and their Syrah is a bargain—Crayola does not make a color this purple, and the big blue fruits deliver just about what you would expect from taking a look at the stunning hue of this wine in the glass, with the added bonus of some nice stony, mineral notes. Where the Syrah really shines, though, is in the mouthfeel, where it puts on a clinic for the price-point and will very likely ensure a quickly drained bottle at your next BBQ.
Alamos Chardonnay, made by the high-volume division of the Catena family’s Argentinean wine empire, is pretty good at being what it’s supposed to be. It’s a tasty Chardonnay, with a varietally correct profile of citrus, toasted bread, and vanilla. It’s not too big, drinks easily—and costs under $10 in most places in the US. Overall, the Alamos is actually a lot more pleasant than many other equivalent brands at equivalent prices. What’s missing is a sense of place, a more precise definition of character, beyond the varietal one. That extra layer of personality is something you’d be disappointed not to find in your glass, if you’re going to spend $50 on one of the higher end wines from the Catena Zapata range. But for a pleasant summer quaffer, technical achievement can do the trick. Recommended.
The nose shows plum, concord grape, charred green pepper, and acetone. When first opened the overwhelming flavor was of sweet concord grapes. After a couple of hours the fruit settled down a bit, letting black plum, black pepper, and smoke show through. Overall, this was disjointed and the finish short. Improvement over a few hours hinted it might get better over time, but with so many good Malbecs in the price range, there are better choices. Not recommended.
Interesting, and reasonably priced. A few extra dollars are worth it for a next-tier-up wine. Fruits are deep black, mostly blackberry, made darker with a generous helping of unsweetened chocolate and black pepper. It also has a surprising zing of cayenne pepper, showing through on the mid-palate. There is some wood effect but it is not overpowering. Acids are high, equally matching the generous tannins. It is a little one-dimensional, lacking much evolution from attack to finish, but has depth worth the price. Pair with a Flinstone-sized rack of beef ribs. Recommended.