BOTH SIDES OF ANDES MOUNTAINS PRODUCE FINE WINES

It has always impressed me that South America’s two best-known wine production regions – Argentina and Chile – are separated by just about 112 miles (and about one hour) by air. It’s worth noting, though, that straight line is over the majestic Andes Mountains, which is why the trip is 226 miles and 5+ hours by car.

 

While Argentina’s wine production is quite varied, Malbec has become its signature grape, especially those from the high altitude (roughly 3000 to 5000 feet) vineyards of Mendoza, Argentina’s most important wine region. Founded in 1902 in Mendoza, Bodeas Catena Zapata arguably is the most important winery in Argentina. They produce high quality and good value at every price level. The 2013 Catena Malbec ($24) is a beautiful wine at a fair price, with loads of fresh dark berries, spice, and mineral notes. This is precisely what makes Malbec so popular.

 

From the northern region of Salta, Bodega Colomédates even farther back to 1831. Owned since 2001by the Hess Family, who has several wineries in California, Coloméproduces wines in a pure, precisestyle from vineyards at 6,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level. These are the highest vineyards in the world (Colorado’srange in elevation from 4,000 to 7,000 feet). The 2014 Malbec ($25) is another dandy with fresh, floral aromatics, lively red berries, minerality, and elegant tannins.

 

Amalaya, the sister winery of Colomé in Salta is focused on fruit forward wines with crisp acidity. The 2016 Amalaya Malbec ($16) is a good representative for its surprisingly intense character.

 

Bridging the mountainous divide, the Montes family of Chile produces fine wines using biodynamic production methods. Their 2015 Kaiken Malbec Ultra “Las Rocas” ($20) offers deep forest berries, a well structured but lush texture, and spice notes.

 

I also was impressed with the 2013 Antigal “Uno” ($18), from a property that dates to 1897, it is well-structured and refined with concentrated fruit, spice and a creamy mouthfeel.

 

California’s Gallo family also has interests in two Mendoza wineries. From the 133-year-old Gascón winery, the 2015 Reserva Malbec ($25) is savory with dark berries, tobacco, and woodsy notes. The 100-year-old Alamos winery produces accessible, softer wines that still deliver lots of flavor. The 2016 Malbec ($13) is a fine everyday wine, while the 2015 SelecciónMalbec ($20) as expected is more complex and intense.

 

Ruca Malen by comparison is a young winery as its first harvest was 1999. But they are making fine wines like the 2014 Malbec Reserva ($19), a plump, spicy wine with toasty notes and chocolate accents. Another reliable name for good values is Bodega Argento. The 2015 Malbec ($14) and 2014 Reserva Malbec ($18) are solid choices at their price points.

 

Argentina also produces distinctive white wines, most notably from the torrontés grape. My favorite in my tasting was the 2016 Colomé ($15) with its great freshness, lively grapefruit, touch of bitterness, and white pepper notes. If you prefer your wines with a hint of sweetness, you will enjoy the 2016 Alamos ($13).

 

I also really enjoyed two torrontés blends: the 2016 Trivento “White Orchid” Reserve ($11) with 15% Pinot Grigio shows crisp, juicy citrusand tangy herbal notes. The 2016 Amalaya Blanco ($12) with 15% riesling, shows juicy, racy lime fruit, floral notes and refreshing acidity.

 

Finally, I was surprised at how good the 2016 Kaiken “Terroir Series” Sauvignon Blanc ($15) was. But I probably should have been given the experience the Montes family has with the grape at their signature winery in Chile.

 

And, speaking of that, on the other side of the Andes in Chile, you can find some of the best Sauvignon Blanc values on the planet. I was really impressed with the 2017 Montes “Spring Harvest” Sauvignon Blanc ($15). That’s right, 2017, as the grapes were harvested in March. The epitome of freshness, delightfully juicy citrus and spicy herb notes dance on the palate.

 

Nearly as good is the 2015 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc ($18), from a winery part of the Veramonte portfolio of producers. Ritual wines use grapes grown organically and vinified using native yeasts and low impact practices in the cellar. This wine showed some richness on the palate to accompany concentrated grapefruit, tangy acidity, and a hint of white pepper.

 

But Chile, like Argentina, has built its reputation on its red wines. For instance, there are countless solid, everyday Cabernet Sauvignons, like the 2016 Casillero del Diablo ($11) from Concha y Toro, Chile’s largest wine company.

 

Also from Concha y Toro’s stable of wineries, Viña Maipo reaches high with the 2013 “Protegido” Cabernet Sauvignon ($50), a fine, concentrated, oaky, toasty wine with firm dark fruits, classic herbal notes, and hints of chocolate.

 

And, as I wrote in a column earlier this year, Carmenère is making a bid for the status as Chile’s signature wine. The 2015 Montes Alpha ($22) is a fine example with red and black fruits, chocolate, minerals, and toasty oak.

 

Finally, Chile also has shown it can produce tasty Pinot Noir, like the 2015 Ritual ($20). While it is quite light, it shows really tasty tart red fruit and lightly herbal notes but also some freshness and a supple finish.

 

 

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.