Tom's blog

Finding new direction in South American wines

I’ve been a skeptic of South American wines. For decades Chilean wine producers struggled to create well-made and friendly cabernet sauvignon. Their sauvignon blancs have been more appealing to me, their reds high in acidity and low in concentration. One of its primary grapes — carmenere — just can’t seem to get a foothold.

Argentina is known best for its malbecs — a darling of the American consumer — but struggles to produce decent cabernet sauvignons.

Interestingly, Bordeaux abandoned carmenere and malbec years ago.

The best course, it seems to me, is for producers in both countries to focus on blends that have a greater variety of grapes. I was struck by this when I recently tasted a terrific Argentina blend from Fina Decero. Called “The Owl & Dust Devil,” this 2015 blend incorporates cabernet sauvignon (39 percent), malbec (32 percent), petit verdot (19 percent) and the rest tannat. The variety not only masked any defects, but it provide a broader flavor profile. It cost $33 a bottle.

I wonder how syrah and merlot would grow in Argentina and Chile. I suspect the growing conditions aren’t conducive to these varieties, but they would soften the hard edges to their red wines.

This wine has received a lot of good ratings. I’m not surprised. It has a lot of character and depth, which I attribute to the blend.