South American Reds — QPR You Can Trust

Too often I’m reminded of just how circumscribed my wine drinking habits can become at times. Circumscribed? Maybe narrow is a better word. When I find myself enjoying a bargain Bordeaux or something interesting from South Africa, I ask myself, “why am I not drinking more wines like these?”

Well, it happened again recently when I dug into a trio of sample bottles from two wineries in Argentina and Chile. I wasn’t all that eager to taste these affordable reds as I figured, a bit cynically perhaps, that they were going to be more dull than delicious. I mean, are there any smartly priced wines coming out of those countries that aren’t monochromatic and mediocre? The answer, actually, is yes. Yes, there are. Clearly I’m not spending enough time with the wines of South America.

While too much middlin’ malbec and merlot has been manufactured  in these countries in recent years, there are plenty of labels that are making versatile and accessible wines that are geared not to break the bank. After tasting the three wines below I told myself that I need to get out of the California-Spain-France rut that I too often find myself in. When friends ask for wine suggestions I point them to producers from all over the planet. I should get back to following my own advice.


2013 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon
Colchagua Valley, Chile

If your familiarity with cabernet comes largely from California producers, then you’re in for a surprise. This is a refreshingly different animal. On the nose there are aromas of black cherry and damp earth, bits of vanilla and oak, but also interesting notes of roasted meats and spice.

On the palate, the wine offers just enough heft and texture, along with some pleasant complexity. The 14.5% abv does come through a bit just before the short finish, but not enough to distract or annoy. This wine is good for short-term aging and has an attractive quality-price ratio (QPR). Its medium body makes it versatile for a variety of savory cuisines.

You will do yourself a favor if you decant it for a bit before pouring.

90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot; 14.5% abv
N/A cases produced
$18.99 SRP
**Sample from winery


2013 Montes Alpha Carmenere
Colchagua Valley, Chile

This producer dry farms as much as possible, but this wine comes from grapes grown on the Colchagua Valley floor, where the largely clay soil holds plenty of nurturing moisture. In this precipitation-marked vintage, which closed with the high temps needed for ripening, that led to fruit that was big and bright and nearly bursting.

This wine’s aromas spring from the glass, fruity and fresh. Cherry notes along with hints of vanilla, oak, and spice dominate. On the palate things get even more interesting. This carmenere is a rich, concentrated wine. It’s sleek in the mouth but the thing you notice is its fruitiness, which carries through to the finish with intense acidity and plenty of mouth-coating tannins. A bit clumsy, perhaps too exuberant, this wine is an agile playing partner and will pair favorably with an array of roasted and grilled meats, as well as pastas with red sauce. 14.5% abv.

90% Carmenere, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% abv
N/A cases produced
$18.99 SRP
**Sample from winery


2013 Kaiken Ultra Malbec
Mendoza, Argentina

This malbec is sourced from three vineyards at varying altitudes in the Uco Valley, near the southern end of Argentina’s Mendoza appellation, which lends the wine an appealing complexity. Deep, dark, and unapologetically purple in the glass, this is a big wine, and I don’t say that just because the bottle weighs about five pounds.

It’s big in the glass and out. Aromas are intense, filled with all sorts of black fruit — black cherry, raspberry, and some blueberry. Floral as well with notes of red roses. There is only a whisper of vanilla and oak, which was no surprise given the barrel regimen of 1/3 old barrels and 2/3 second- and third-use barrels.

In the mouth the first thing you notice are flavors of spice and black fruit, a silky texture and plenty of mouth-coating tannins. The wine glides through the mid-palate, complex and savory, before disappearing in a light but lingering finish.

This malbec can age for up to five years but I might not push much past that point. While the 14.5% abv does poke its head around the corner from time to time, the wine is well integrated. Concentrated, balanced, and showing good structure. Another excellent QPR. Decanting suggested.

100% Malbec; 14.5% abv
N/A cases produced
$20 SRP
**Sample from winery

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