Wine Reviews: Argentina & Chile

Chile and Argentina are, of course, different countries with varied winegrowing regions and winemaking histories. But we received just a handful of South American wines this season — hence this catch-all review.

Most of these wines fall into that South American sweet spot: those $10-$20 bottles that deliver reliably tasty (if rather predictable) wines. The Alamos brand of wines from Mendoza’s Catena have long served this purpose for American consumers by offering straightforward, well-made, varietal wines with accessible price points and wide availability. My first Torrontés, Bonarda and my first Argentine Chardonnay were all Alamos wines, so I’m proof that these wines provide a great introduction to the wines of Mendoza.

The major outlier in this report is the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon from Concha y Toro. The 2011 represents the 25th vintage of this iconic Chilean Cabernet, which has been receiving praise and high scores for more than a decade. Another killer wine in this reportis Trivento’s Eolo Malbec. This top of the line for Trivento (also owned by Concha y Toro), the Eolo is an old-vine, high-elevation (3,000+ feet), single-vineyard Malbec of stunning precision — and it ages beautifully as well.

The following wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Alamos Chardonnay - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $13
Light gold color. Aromas of yellow apples, sliced pears, nougat and honeycomb. Creamy on the palate, bright acid, light in intensity and quite clean, but plenty of yellow apples, apricot, honey, some nougat. A bit simple, but done well, and quite good for the price. Aged in French and American oak for six months. (85 points IJB)

2014 Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $13
Light purple color. Smoky aromas, like charcoal and scorched earth on top of red currants and black cherries, hints of loam and coffee as well. Medium-bodied, softly dusty tannins, medium acid, the fruit is juicy and smooth but not too deep (black cherries, juicy plums) Hints of coffee, vanilla, smoky earth, mint and cola. Fun, simple, a drink-me-now style, but well-made and a good introduction to Mendoza Cabernet. (85 points IJB)

2013 Familia Zuccardi Cabernet Sauvignon Serie A - Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco
SRP: $15
Deep ruby color. Aromas of Tart red currants, raspberries, plums, loam, some cedar and eucalyptus notes. Full-bodied, really velvety tannins, moderate fresh acid. Red plums, currants and some black cherries thrown in. The fruit is smooth, rich but shows some tangy edges. Rounded out by coffee, cedar, loam and a hint of bell pepper. Smooth, tasty, approachable, solid value for sure. (87 points IJB)

2013 Bodega Santa Julia Reserva Mountain Blend – Malbec/Cabernet Franc - Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco
SRP: $13
Vibrant purple color. Smells of jammy blackberries and raspberries along with cola, cherry wood, and some earth and violet petal notes. Medium-to-full-bodied with a moderate tannic structure and some tang from the acid. Tart blackberries, plum skins and raspberry jam, the fruit is forward and juicy but tangy too. Notes of cola, violets, pepper, sweet herbs, coffee, even some elements of graphite and pepper. Juicy fruit and plenty ripe, but the non-fruit complexity is solid and there’s enough freshness to make this food-friendly. Impressive structure at this price point. The value of this wine is exceptional. 70% Malbec and 30% Cabernet Franc aged 10 months in French oak. (88 points IJB)

2012 Trivento Malbec Eolo - Argentina, Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo
SRP: $79
Deep purple color. So rich and deep on the nose, I get saucy plums, currant jam, blackberry, and lots of non-fruit elements: a blend of sweet (vanilla, violets, fig cookie) with the earthy (granite, loam, charcoal). Needs time to open, but lots to unpack aromatically. Rich and concentrated on the palate, the tannins show serious grip and structure, medium acid helps a bit but this is a bold wine with a chewy, slightly gritty texture. The black cherry, dark plum and blackberry fruit is rich, chewy but shows signs of freshness as well. Complex cedar, vanilla, black tea and anise cookie mix with deep notes of graphite, pencil shavings and rocky minerals. Serious structure here, a bit intense to fully appreciate at this young age (I’d love to taste it in five to eight years) but this is a beautiful Malbec for sure. (91 points IJB)

2013 Criterion Collection Carménère Reserva - Chile, Rapel Valley, Colchagua Valley
SRP: $16
Rich purple color. Smells of juicy black cherries and currant jam along with a hefty dose of tobacco, bell pepper, spiced coffee and fallen leaves. Juicy and fleshy on the palate with some light to moderate tannic grip, medium acid keeps it moving forward. Juicy black cherries and tart currants, the fruit is velvety and smooth but matched by a web of black pepper, green coffee, wet moss and earth. Approachable, fruity but loving the mix of non-fruit elements. Drink in the next few years. (87 points IJB)

2011 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Don Melchor - Chile, Maipo Valley, Puente Alto
SRP: $125
Vibrant purple color. Rich but compact aromatics, it takes time to coax out the nuances. But still tons to contemplate: chewy black cherries, red and black currants, blackberries. Lots of non-fruit complexity: woodsy, earthy, loamy aspects, creamy oak, rich coffee, graphite and iron. Full-bodied with a ton of grip to the tannins but some moderate acid underneath seals the deal and makes this a wonderfully balanced and stunningly ageworthy wine. Compact blackberry, black currants, black cherries – rich fruit but tight and needs time. Tons of other savory, earthy and sweet aspects: loam, chewing tobacco, espresso, mint, vanilla, cedar, graphite, dark chocolate. Complex but wound up, the structure will allow 10-15 years of complex aging, at least. Alcohol (14.5%) is integrated well and, despite its brawniness, I feel confident using the word balance. Aged 15 months in 70% new French oak. (94 points IJB)

<85 points
2013 Criterion Collection Malbec Reserva - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $14
Deep purple color. Aromas of tart red and black currants, some tart plums, cola and mocha. On the palate, this shows a tart approach, with bright acid, light tannins and crunchy red and black fruit (currants, blackberries). Notes of roasted coffee, toasted oak (a bit too much perhaps), and vanilla, hint of peppery spice on the finish. Simple, pleasant.

2014 Alamos Red Blend - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $13
Vibrant purple color. Smells of juicy plums mixed with smoky blackberries, some tobacco, charred herbs and sweet cola. Medium bodied, slight acid, soft tannins. Chewy blackberries and plums mix with notes of cola, vanilla and tobacco. Fun stuff to drink now, it does well for the price. 65% Malbec, 16% Bonarda, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Syrah.

Wine Reviews: Values from Chile & Argentina

Chile and Argentina have been producing slick, tasty, inexpensive wines for a long time. When I first started (legally) tasting and exploring wines after college, I bought up lots of bottles from producers like Catena, Trivento and Concha y Toro. They were attractive for their inexpensive prices and easily identifiable labels, the grape variety stuck on there front and center.

Fast forward a decade, and these producers are still standard bearers for South American accessibility. With large production levels and wide availability in many markets, these bottles comprise a cheap crash course in South American vino.

I found nothing novel or exciting in this bunch. These wines won’t leave you contemplating your existence. But for $12-$25, Chile and Argentina still deliver.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: 2014 Concha y Toro Chardonnay Casillero del Diablo Reserva - Chile, Casablanca Valley
SRP: $12
Light gold color. Green and yellow apples and pears, some honey and toasted almond notes, hints of white flowers. Medium-bodied, moderately-clean acid, simple yellow apples and pear fruit, kiwi. Moderate levels of toasted nut and honey butter, but still clean. Not too clunky or tropical, but not too complex either.

Review: 2013 Concha y Toro Malbec Casillero del Diablo Reserva - Chile
SRP: $12
Bright purple colored. Deep and plummy, smells of spiced blackberry jam, notes of coffee and loamy soil, sweet vanilla and milk chocolate. Juicy and ripe but tart, with chewy tannins, medium-low acid. Black cherries, dark plums, cola, toasted oak and coffee mix with dark chocolate shavings and a loamy, charcoal element. Darker flavors but a bright and drink-me-now personality.

Review: 2013 Anderra Cabernet Sauvignon - Chile, Central Valley
SRP: $11
Light purple color. Aromas of juicy black cherries, raspberries, cola, sweet vanilla and hints of earth. Soft tannins on the palate, medium acid, tart but chewy red berry fruit mixed in with elements of cedar, toast, coffee and hints of that Chilean loamy soil and roasted coffee. Fun, a good introduction to Chilean Cabs, but not too deep or complicated. Good for the price.

Review: 2013 Anderra Carménère - Chile, Central Valley
SRP: $11
Light purple color. Tart berries on the nose (black and red cherries and berries), some black pepper, tobacco, soy and toasted oak. Juicy on the palate with light-to-medium tannins, medium acid. The black cherry and plum fruit is topped with spicy pepper, roasted coffee, chicory and chestnut, notes of smoke and toasted oak mixed in. A yummy wine but showing a lot for this price point.

Review: 2013 Trivento Torrontés Reserve - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $11
Pale straw color. Bursting aromatic display: white grape jelly, canned peach juice, kiwi and honey. Crisp acid, medium-body, a tangy white but juicy tropical fruit (white peach, apricot, guava, mango) notes of white flowers and grapefruit pith, a slight green herb (oregano? celery seed?). Richly tropical, very floral.

Review: 2013 Trivento Chardonnay Amado Sur - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $15
Medium straw color. Nose of green pears and lemon, some honeysuckle and nettle notes, hints of spice (maybe white pepper?). Crisp and clean palate, medium-bodied, the fruit is green and crunchy, backed up by notes of honeysuckle, lemon verbena and white pepper. Interesting stuff, I could see mistaking this for a Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s a bit more tropical and not as green. Still, fun, refreshing stuff. 70% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Grigio and 10% Viognier.

Review: 2014 Alamos Torrontés - Argentina, Salta
SRP: $13
Light yellow-straw color. So floral (honeysuckle, orange blossom, magnolias), some pineapple, mango and lychee. Moderate acid, a juicy feel to the palate, the wine is laced with flowers and baby’s breath. The lychee, mango and guava fruit is rich but not too bold, as the wine maintains a bright appeal. Not too complex, but a great mix of freshness and tropical lushness. If you’re looking to discover Torrontés, this is a great place to start.

Review: 2013 Trivento Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $11
Deep purple color. Nose of blackberry and blueberry jam, rich but also floral, some loam and vanilla coffee notes. On the palate, silky tannins, medium acid, medium+ body, a smooth yet rich wine. Black currant, blueberry and blackberry jams all mixed together, add in some coffee, vanilla and dark chocolate shavings. Fun stuff, drink now, a solid value.

Review: 2013 Alamos Malbec - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $13
Light purple color. Jammy black cherries, dark plums and rich, juicy blackberries on the nose, notes of earth, vanilla and sweet violets. Medium-bodied, silky tannins, moderate acid. The fruit is juicy and ripe (blueberry, black cherry, dark plums), but it shows some tartness as well. Earthy, woodsy, pine sap, vanilla cola and coffee. Sweet coffee and dark chocolate on the finish. Impressive structure and quite balanced. Alamos reliability right here. Includes 6% Syrah and 4% Bonarda.

Review: 2013 Alamos Malbec Selección - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $20
Light purple color. Deeper aromatics than the regular Alamos bottling, more blackberry, some blueberry, noticeably smoky and earthy with a solid dose of pepper black pepper and soy sauce. Medium+ bodied with velvety tannins and slightly less than medium acid. The blueberry, blackberry and cassis fruit is juicy but tamed. Quite complex in terms of the smoke, charcoal, vanilla, black tea and black pepper notes. Impressive finish, very good for the price. Aged in French and American oak for 9-12 months.

Review: 2014 Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón Malbec Don Miguel Gascón - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $15
Deep ruby color. Aromas of juicy black and red berry fruit, a nice smoky, campfire and earthy aspect to this wine as well, some sweeter vanilla and toast elements. Medium-full-bodied, some moderate acid for freshness, the tannins are fine but offer light structure to the wine. The blackberry and blueberry fruit is juicy and plush, laced with notes of loamy soil, campfire and roasted nuts, some sweeter toast and floral notes. Quite good for the price.

Review: 2012 Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón Malbec Don Miguel Gascón Reserva - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Smooth and rich on the nose, with saucy black cherries, blueberries and blackberries, a deep sense of rich soil, violets and mocha. Full-bodied, solid tannic structure, medium-low acid, the fruit is rich and chewy but the wine maintains a smooth presence on the palate. Flavors of violets, dark roast coffee, baker’s chocolate, vanilla and cedar last long onto the finish. A bit heavy with the toast, but backed up with some gutsy fruit and interesting earth elements. Includes 6% Petite Verdot.