The Friday Fermentable: South American Reds, by Erleichda

Another Wine Experience - South American Reds
By Erleichda

The wine dinner group known as Jim's Disciples met at another of the area's BYOB restaurants. The theme selected for the evening's repast was "South American Reds", which translated into red wines from Chile and Argentina. In selecting my own bottles to contribute to the mix, I sought to avoid malbecs, as I figured there'd be plenty of those in attendance, and wound up buying a syrah and a pinot noir, just so as to try something I hadn't had before from the region.

The first wine tasted was from Lapostolle Vineyards in the Alexander Valley of Chile. (Note: other Lapostolle wines are from other plots, so one must pay attention to the small print on the label). The 2004 Merlot ($16) had a nice nose, with the expected fruity (plums, cherries), full bodied, mouth-filling essence one might expect. There was just the right balance of tannins to go with the fruit and even a touch of spice and vanilla in the mix. I liked this wine and thought it a good value, with even some age worthiness to it (i.e., it might even get better with some cellaring).

Even better however, was the next wine passed around the table. The syrah which I had brought was a 2004 "Luca" (with 15% malbec) from the Mendoza region of Argentina ($26). There were distinctive cherry notes in this medium bodied, well-balanced wine, which had a feeling of delicacy to it like a well crafted pinot noir. Definitely a wine to be considered for repurchase.

I was well into my caramelized onion tart with goat cheese, and stealing nibbles of Sweet Peas's smoked mozzarella and marinated roasted peppers, when my second contribution to the evening's festivities made its way around the table. Errazuriz Don Maximiano 2001 "Founder's Reserve" cabernet sauvignon ($34) from the Aconcagua Valley in Chile was a soft, mouth-filling wonderful wine with just the right amount of acidity. Except for a closed nose on initial sniffing, which only improved slightly when revisited half an hour later, this was to be my favorite wine of the tasting.

Reviews around the table were mixed regarding the next wine. Bianchi's "Particular" 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) from the Mendoza, Argentina region had a closed nose and no redeeming features. I poured the remainder of my tasting glassful away. Some others did likewise, but there was the occasional viewpoint that the wine opened up with time and became worthwhile. Maybe, but not for me.

I had ordered a hanger steak with root vegetables and was rather enjoying it with the robust red wines that were circulating. Another of my favored wines arrived next, a Concha y Toro "Terrunyo" 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile ($21). Nice, pleasant, with a great finish. Nothing overwhelming, just an enjoyable wine to have with a good meal.

Another Lapostolle wine, the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($17) from Alexander Valley, Chile, had a decent balance of fruit and tannins but not enough redeeming features to be anything but table wine. Whereas this vineyard's merlot was quite pleasant, I found the cabernet to be unremarkable.

The most expensive wine of the evening was making its way around the table at this point. The Domaines Rothschild and Catena "Caro" 2001 from Mendoza, Argentina ($40) was a blend of cabernet sauvignon and malbec. It was soft with well behaved tannins, a little acidity to balance and full of flavor. Definitely a keeper.

In contrast, the 2004 Malbec from Catena Zapata ($15) of Mendoza, Argentina, was just ok, a bit thin, decent but unremarkable, especially so after having had the "Caro". A person can't like everything, and while it wasn't poor enough to decant like an earlier contestant, it just wasn't worth spending much time on.

Another crowd pleaser was waiting in the wings. The Lurton Piedra Negra 2002 Malbec ($26) from Mendoza, Argentina. It had a mildly pleasing nose with chewy tannins. I think this one held promise, but it wasn't a favorite of mine, contrary to other opinions around the table.

The last wine was a 2004 Navarro Correas from Coleccion Privada ($13), another malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. Despite some evidence of dark fruit and spice, I found it to be thin, mediocre, and unremarkable.

The general consensus of the gathered wine tasters was that Lurton Malbec and Caro Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon blend were the two favorites, with the Errazuriz Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile coming in third place. I agreed with the high overall ranking of the last two wines just named, but instead of the Lurton Malbec, I preferred the Concho y Toro "Terrunyo" Cabernet Sauvignon. The "Luca" Syrah would be my runner-up choice to the medal finishers.

Have you come upon a South American red wine of particular note? Let's hear from you.

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Zapata is my favorite Arg producer. I find their Alamos line ( presumably of the line you consumed as it's priced at $13 ) too simple. Their Alta line is quite nice ( reg line $ 20 & Alta $ 60 ). Their '02 vintage was very nice. The lcbo may have a few bottles still kicking around.

I am just an undiscriminating sucker for South American reds ;-)