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Kevin Lynch
Kevin Lynch
Kevin Lynch is a certified sommelier through the Court of the Master Sommelier. His many articles on wine, food and spirits have appeared in national and international luxury lifestyle magazines. He is also the International Wine Examiner for

It Takes Two to Tango

23 - mar - 11

South American wines are on a roll and it’s Malbec and Cabernet are the two grapes that have own international accolades for the out of the world wine they produce.

South American wines are a big deal these days. The Malbecs from Argentina and Cabernet Sauvignons from Chile seem to be winning more medals in worldwide competitions than all of Napoleon’s marshals. Perhaps due to all this prize winning and high points in the trade magazines, South American wines are increasingly in demand. Or it may have to do with the truth that no matter where the wines come from in South America they’re a great bargain. Whichever is the case it’s safe to say the South Americans are on a roll and it is with accolades and sales in mind that the Argentine and Chilean wine industries have set their sights of winning over the Indian wine drinking audience.

Location is everything: Carlos Figueroa, Chilean Wine Expert

As wine consumption increases in India, some calculate that the domestic market sales will increase at a rate of 25% annually, the demand for more diverse wines will undoubtedly rise with it. Responding to this several producers in Argentina and Chile have redirected their efforts toward providing the Indian wine market with more middle tier and top tier wines than they have previously and among the wines coming to India are the famous Malbecs from Mendoza, Argentina and the prized Cabernets from the Maipo, Cachapoal, Colchaqua Valleys in Chile.

hat’s the big deal about Malbec?

Mendoza Malbec on the whole, because of its desert climate, rocky soil, and pure Andes mountain irrigation water has become an international sensation. This grape, a native of France where it is sometimes called Cot, is now as Argentine as the tango. Argentina’s Mendoza region is the ideal home for the Malbec grape because Malbec is a grape that thrives in higher altitude. (Highest vineyard is at 1440m.) Wines produced in the higher climes ripen more slowly than their lower-on-the-hill counterparts and the diurnal swings can be quite dramatic.

Jon Staenberg: Founder, Hand of God Winery, Mendoza

Jon Staenberg, founder of Hand of God Winery in Mendoza says, “People have discovered Argentina and it has captured their imagination. The Malbecs are having their coming out party and people realize that it is not only one of the best values in the world but truly a varietal that stands on its own. People understand that Mendoza uniquely produces the world’s best Malbec.”

The aromas of Argentine Malbec are those of purple flowers, namely violets, a scent provided by a molecule named beta-ionnona. The color often has a fuchsia tint or can deepen to a very dark purple. The flavors generally tend to be rich and plumy with softer tannins than are found in Cabernet.   

What’s the big deal about Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon?

Chilean Cabernet is yet another incarnation of this versatile variety. In the valleys south of Santiago this grape has found a home that is both warm enough to achieve proper ripeness not just of the sugars but the tannins too. According to Chilean wine expert Carlos Figueroa of JC Imports, location is everything. “In Chile,” says Figueroa, who imports the Las Perdices, In Situ and Puerto Infinito brands, “the vineyards are close to the ocean and the mountains. This means you get the refreshing winds from high and low without great variation in temperature though the seasons and through the years. When it comes time to harvest the fruit sugars and the tannins are both ready at more or less the same time.” This is appealing to wine drinkers because, as Figueroa explains, “Eve
rything happens on the vine. You can taste more the identity of the fruit.”

Another Chilean export is Carmenere. Thought to be nearly extinct after the phylloxera plague that wiped out much of Europe’s vines, this grape was found to be alive and thriving in Chile. (It had been mistaken for Merlot since the earliest days of the Chilean wine industry.) Like Cabernet, Carmenere does well in the Chilean climate. Unlike Cabernet it has lower acidity and is more savory/sweet. When harvested at optimal ripeness the resulting wines are round, full-bodied and richly fruited like blackberry preserves without the gripping tannins that mark younger Cabernets.

The global success of Argentine Malbec and Chilean Cabernet, and we may as well add Carmenere to the mix, have come about, in part, through the aggressive marketing of the two country’s respective wine industries, but this is only part of the story. What makes South American wines attractive is their value. Sure, there are high-end wines being made on the continent but the brunt of what is coming out is reasonably priced, enjoyable wine that appeals to the international audience. In the coming months it will be interesting to see how the Indian wine drinking audience will respond to the arrival of more South American wines.


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