Three from South America

Hello friends. South America is annoying me lately. In a good way. They’re annoying me because they’re messing up my plans.

The plan when expanding into imports was: keep the focus mostly on old-world wines. The thinking behind that was that we have the new-world style pretty well covered in the Pacific Northwest. And focusing on Europe for imports added a limiting factor to a category that otherwise covered, well, all of planet Earth.

But that hasn’t stopped us from tasting bottles from every corner of the world making wine. Recently, several South American bottles have bubbled up to the surface, and despite the fact that they’re messing with my stated plans, I can’t help loving them. So today let’s take the full tour of our southern neighbors, with three wines from three different countries:

2011 Los Vascos (Lafite) Cabernet Sauvignon Grande Reserve

This is Chateau Lafite’s Chile project. They own a 580-hectare vineyard (located here) planted mostly (85%) to Cabernet Sauvignon, and split between 50 year old blocks and blocks that they replanted after purchasing the site in 1988.

As you’d expect from Lafite (they of the $200+ bottle), this punches well above its price class. It’s three-quarters Cabernet Sauvignon, which brings its classic notes of pencil lead/graphitic minerality, blackcurrant fruit, and savory notes of sweet pepper and bay leaf. A 10% dollop of Carmenere adds nuances of dried herb and tomato leaf. The palate impresses foremost texturally. This is a far cry from the bottom-shelf supermarket Cabs that dominate Chilean exports. It’s silky on the attack, but the tannic structure takes over on the finish, which is all lovely Cabernet chew. I love all the concentration here without excess weight or ripeness. The balance is impeccable, and the entire bottle reeks of class; no surprise given the parties involved.

2012 Bodega Noemia de Patagonia Malbec “A Lisa”

Let’s move away from the norm for Argentina (Mendoza Malbec) and head someplace wilder. Patagonia. The name evokes jagged rocks amidst swirls of changeable clouds down at the bottom of the world. It doesn’t evoke vineyards, but they’re down there nevertheless, in this case a biodynamic site in the Alto Valle del Rio Negro (see Rio Negro location here).

There is an undeniable “sauvage” character to this wine, a wildness to the zesty, brambly, mountain-berry fruit that is deeply attractive. The palate combines red raspberry fruit, terrific cut-rock minerality, and an savory/umami quality, something like a teaspoon of tomato paste in a stew. My biggest complaint with Malbec (90% of the blend here, rounded out with Merlot and Petit Verdot) is that it can often be a little one-note, so the complexity here is what really got my juices flowing.

Delicious wine from a fascinating part of the world, and it has a string of strong reviews in previous vintages: 92pts Wine & Spirits for the 2010, and 91pts Wine Spectator (Nathan Wesley) / 90pts IWC (Stephen Tanzer) for the 2011.

2010 Artesana Tannat-Merlot

And now let’s ratchet up the geek factor further and venture into Uruguay. Artesana is located on Uruguay’s south coast (location here), the South American vanguard.

Uruguay is one of the twin hearts of the varietal Tannat (Madiran in SW France is the other). As you have likely deduced from the name, this is a grape with no shortage of tannic heft. Here Tannat is blended with Merlot for softening purposes, which is great, because Tannat’s main difficulty has always been texture. Its flavor is consistently compelling, with a real smokiness to its meaty-cherry aromas, evoking brisket slow-cooking over smoldering charcoal. A strong streak of meatiness runs throughout the palate, complementing the black cherry and star anise notes. The rustic Tannat structure takes over on the finish. This has chewiness for days. Pass the steak!

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