Some Top Wines from South America

My recent immersion in the wines of Chile and Argentina (see WineLine #52 and #53)
has given me a greater appreciation for and understanding of the wines
of South America, so I was eager to join in a tasting of top wines from
both countries held recently at Café Atlanticó, Washington D.C.€™s
premier Latin American restaurant. The tasting was organized by the
restaurant€™s sommelier, Francisco Astudillo, who chose 14 of his
favorites from both countries.
Fran kept trying to draw me out during the evening as to which country I
preferred, but that is such a difficult question to answer. Argentina
offers Malbec of medium body, bright fruit, soft tannins and impressive
complexity, perfect for medium-weight foods up to grilled steak, plus
Cabernet Sauvignon of deeper character for richer meats and more robust
flavors. They tend to be in a New World style, though *usually* without
the high alcohol that defines today€™s dull palates.
Chile€™s wines are perhaps a little more Old World in style, though the
difference between the two countries is not dramatic. While Argentine
wines emphasize fruit, Chile offers mineral and earth, including leafy,
tobacco notes in Carmenère.
Here are brief tasting notes of the 14 wines offered at €œFran€™s
Concha y Toro Don Melchor 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile: Deep, blackberry, leather on the nose, meaty flavors with tar/flint mineral character and a soft, velvety, medium-long finish.
Seña 2000, Cabernet Sauvignon, Aconcagua Valley, Chile: This wine is nearly dead, marred by horsy aromas and brett.
Montes Alpha 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon: Textbook
blackcurrant nose, cocoa, mint, very clean winemaking. Not so much
tar/flint as Chile often gets. Bright fruit, good acidity. I liked it
more than some of my tablemates did.
Almaviva 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo, Chile: Tight
and closed, not yet showing its potential. Tannic, one-dimensional and
short. (See below for a much different and more favorable impression of
other vintages.)
Luca Malbec 2001, Mendoza, Argentina: Closed, not wanting to reveal itself. Light-bodied.
Catena Alta 2001 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina: Blueberry pie in a glass, elegant, rich bright fruit with medium body and a medium-long finish.
Yacochuya 2000 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina: Premier
vintage from Michel Rolland, this clocked in at a whopping 16 percent
alcohol (GREAT GOOGILY MOOGILY!) It was undrinkable. My tasting note:
Achaval Ferrer Finca Altamira 2001 Malbec, Argentina: First bottle was off; second taste showed bright delicious fruit with medium body and finish. Quite nice.
Tikal 2002 Malbec, Argentina: Animal, wool, leather, beefy flavors. Sharp attack, wood treatment is too harsh for my taste.
Morandé Golden Reserve 2001, Chile: A blend of
Carignena, Cabernet Franc and Merlot from an area in southern Chile off
the beaten track and near the Pacific Ocean, with an intriguing nose,
lavender, thyme, and sea air. Flavors are rich and bright, with dried
orange peel, cherry, plum. Gorgeous!
Casa Lapostolle, Clos Apalta 2002, Chile: Graphite,
flint, wet stone, rainwater, flavors of toffee, blackberry. A bit sharp
on the tannin but the finish is long and soft. A beautiful effort in a
vintage that was not the greatest.
Caro 2001, Mendoza, Argentina: Two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon, the rest Malbec, with beef, blueberry, stone and orange peel. Rich, long and delicious.
Montes Folly Syrah 2002, Chile: Rich, a bit hot, spicy oaky/tannic. Somewhat harsh on the attack, it mellows nicely on the finish.
Nicolas Catena Zapata 2001, Mendoza, Argentina: Animal, leather, wool, meat and berry notes, elegant texture and long, complex finish.
A week later I was back at Café Atlanticó for a wine dinner featuring Almaviva,
the joint venture between Concha y Toro and Mouton-Rothschild.
Winemaker Tod Victor Mostero presented three vintages, 1997, 1999 and
2001. While I was not enamored of the 2002 in the earlier tasting,
sampling these three vintages together gave an opportunity to gauge how
the wine develops over time to reveal its inner character.
We went from oldest to youngest, which made sense given the 2001 was
pretty massive and its tannins could have clouded our palates for the
more developed 1997. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (about
70%), Carmenère and Cabernet Franc, with the exact proportions of each
changing with the vintage.
The 1997 had expressive aromas of green olive, tea,
blackberry and flint. At first, I thought the fruit had faded too much
in favor of wood spice, clove, cardamom, etc. However, as the evening
wore on, this wine developed further in the glass, displaying pomander
qualities (dried orange, clove), with more texture and elegance.
The 1999 had similar character but was less expressive,
more fruit, and a bit harsh on the attack. I was a minority opinion on
this at my table, however.
The 2001 nudged out the 1997 for my favorite of the
evening, with its beefy nose, cola, vanilla syrup and strawberry notes
and palate of blackcurrant, toffee and soft tannins on its long, complex
finish. I€™ll be honest though €“ I may have preferred this over the
€™97 simply because I€™m used to drinking young wines.

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