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.
Winemaker Marcelo Retamal is developing a well deserved reputation as one of Chile’s visionaries, and this field blend red (made mostly from Malbec vines planted in the mid 1950s) shows why. This wine is the full package: tobacco smoke, meat, chocolate, dark plum, juicy and silky—which basically means that the tannins are rounder and approachable now. Focused, expressive, and sure to be empty at your dinner table in before-you-know-it timeframes.
A Napa biggie, a cousin of the pricier Quintessa. Nose of blackberry, eucalyptus, and earth. Rich feel on palate seemingly coming from myriad directions: dark currants, cocoa/chocolate, even some hints of pumpkin pie spice blend. The fruit, however, is a tad out of whack to the tannins and the wine is a bit “hot” (14.5% alc.) making it seem a bit unbalanced. A sinewy, semi-long finish that is slightly sweet. Nevertheless, a quite good wine, and a bargain when compared to many of its pricey Napa neighbors. Try with grilled hanger steak. Highly 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.
From across the U.S. you can almost hear the collective exhale of relief by wine retailers. Having adjusted inventories to accommodate the tighter purse strings of wine drinkers, retailers found that while the byword for 2010 was “value,” customers began, once again, to feel more comfortable making the extra trip to visit their local wine shop.