U.S. foodies love wines from South America. We think of them as rich, fruity, friendly to our palates and pocketbooks.
Throw a party with a South American theme and you can serve crisp, fruity chardonnays and sauvignon blancs, rich and hearty cabernet sauvignons and merlots.
You also can serve exotic, lesser-known wines from South America. From Argentina, you can serve malbec, a grape that used to be used to add muscular tannins and acids to France’s famous Bordeaux reds, but in South America turns soft and fruity, tasting like chocolate-cherry candy. From Chile, you can serve white torrontes, unique to that country, with exotic flavors of lychees, peaches and citrus. From Uruguay you can serve tannat, a sturdy red with the tannin to stand up to chewy, grass-fed gaucho-raised steaks.
American wine fans also think of South American wines as something that arrived stateside 20 or 30 years ago, just as we were learning about California wines. But the subcontinent’s wine history is far more complex.
For starters, it’s centuries older than the U.S. grape industry. As early as 1532, Portuguese conquistadors brought their native grapes, and their Spanish counterparts brought the black mission grape to Chile and Argentina by 1560.
Grapes did well in those countries. Too well – and the industries were shut down by Spanish and Portuguese colonial rulers.
Restrictions were eased in the late 1800s, as Europe’s grapes were devastated by the root louse phylloxera, which South America avoided because it was so isolated from Europe.
South America today, still phylloxera-free, has some of the world’s oldest vines because of this.
• 2012 Bodega Garzon Tannat, Garzon Region, Uruguay: powerful and aromatic, with flavors of red raspberries and bittersweet chocolate; $20. (Highly Recommended)
• 2013 Bodega Garzon Albarino, Garzon Region, Uruguay: steely and lean, with floral aromas and citrus flavors; $17. (Recommended)
• 2013 Bodega Garzon Sauvignon Blanc, Garzon Region, Uruguay: crisp and lively, with aromas and flavors of white grapefruit; $17. (Recommended)
• 2009 Santa Rita “Medalia Real” Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile: (95 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5 percent cabernet franc): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black cherries, vanilla and spice; $20. (Recommended)
• 2012 Santa Rita “Medalia Real” Chardonnay, Leyda Valley, Chile: hint of oak, aromas and flavors of citrus and vanilla, lush fruit; $18. (Highly recommended)
• 2012 Concha y Toro “Casillero del Diablo” Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Central Valley, Chile: toasty oak, aromas and flavors of black plums and spice, hearty and full-bodied; $11. (Recommended)
• 2013 Alamos Torrontes, Salta, Argentina: floral aromas, flavors of lychees and white peaches, crisp and light; $13. (Recommended)
• 2013 Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina: aromas and flavors of black cherries, dark chocolate and herbs; $13. (Recommended)
• 2010 Trapiche “Finca de Escobar” Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina: soft and lush and intensely fruity, with aromas and flavors of black cherries, mocha and mint; $50. (Highly recommended)
If you’re a meat lover, you must dine at a Brazilian restaurant. They do meat gaucho-style, skewering massive chunks of beef, lamb, pork, chicken and sausage on huge swords. And they come around and replenish your plate as you try without success to empty it.
With all this meat you might expect some hearty red Brazilian wines. But they’re hard to find. Many Brazilian restaurants instead carry big reds from Chile and Argentina.
That’s about to change. With the FIFA World Cup soccer games coming up, Brazil is making a major push to export more of its wines, especially to the States. I tried some Brazilian wines in Miami a few years ago. The sparkling wines were rich and dry and the reds were big and powerful and full-bodied.
They'll be a nice addition to our wine repertoire.