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Cheap wine: South America

South America is not totally unknown territory. Many customers are acquainted with Chilean cabs and chardonnays; a few may have sampled Argentina’s malbecs. But there’s a lot left to explore. Blessed with ideal grape-growing climate and inexpensive land and labor, Chile has attracted foreign interest and homegrown producers have learned their lessons too, improving vineyards and techniques. The country now ranks fifth in worldwide exports. Prices have crept up as quality improved, but you can still find great bargains, especially if you look beyond cabernet and chards.

South America is not totally unknown territory. Many customers are acquainted with Chilean cabs and chardonnays; a few may have sampled Argentina’s malbecs. But there’s a lot left to explore.

Blessed with ideal grape-growing climate and inexpensive land and labor, Chile has attracted foreign interest and homegrown producers have learned their lessons too, improving vineyards and techniques. The country now ranks fifth in worldwide exports. Prices have crept up as quality improved, but you can still find great bargains, especially if you look beyond cabernet and chards.

Poised for discovery by wine geeks is the tiny country of Uruguay. Tucked in between Argentina and Brasil, it’s currently the fourth most important wine producer on the continent. Like Argentina, Uruguay has its own proprietary red grape, tannat, an obscure varietal introduced by French immigrants. Export-oriented producers have been refining this rough red, improving quality and aiming at making tannat the next malbec—or even the next merlot.

3.5 stars
Miguel Torres, Santa Digna, Curico Valley, Sauvignon Blanc, Chile 2005

Five Star Importers (5starimporters.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $8.25
The Spanish family Torres has been making wine since 1870, and brought its expertise to Chile in 1979. Note the bottle’s screwtop closure, which makes it easier for waitstaff. This sauvignon blanc is made in a rich style, but not overly oaked like many Chilean chardonnays. The food-friendly white has a bouquet of tropical fruit with floral and mineral notes, and is a juicy mouthful of pineapple and citrus. Serve it as a refreshing aperitif or match it up with spicy Asian dishes.

3 stars
Domaine Monte de Luz, San

Jose, Tannat, Uruguay 2005
Baron Francois (baronfrancois.com)
Wholesale bottle price: $6.80
Monte de Luz’s wine maker, Patrick Soye, hails from Madrian, France, one of the few other places tannat is made. He makes good use of the San Jose vineyards, just across the Rio de la Plata River from Buenos Aires. Hot days and cool nights give this red a food-friendly acidity. The wine is an intense deep-plum color, with a nose of raspberries. The young red benefits from breathing time to soften the tannins. Then it reveals more berry fruit mixed with plums as well as bittersweet chocolate and coffee. It’s the perfect match for the grilled meats for which Uruguay is known.    

We rate on a five-star scale based on taste and value. Wines also gain standing if they have points of interest—striking packaging, unusual grapes etc.—that help in selling the wine.

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