Looking for the Best Wines in the World? Venture South of the Equator

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  • By Andy Acosta
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Looking for the Best Wines in the World?  Venture South of the Equator

Andy Acosta makes his case for including top wines from the Southern Hemisphere among the world's finest.

I am the person in charge of The Wine Country’s southern hemisphere purchasing, meaning I buy the wines from Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa – and occasionally Uruguay – that end up on our shelves.  And the title of this article seems to indicate that I’m claiming they are the best in the world.


Have I lost my mind?


What of the great wines of France, Italy and our very own country? Well, hear me out as I explain what I mean by “best”. (…and the question of my sanity is always debatable.)  And as is true of any absolute statement, subject to scrutiny as to its veracity. As the author of this statement, I will readily admit that I am perhaps biased, for obvious reasons. And, of course, the term “best”, when it is applied to a complex thing such as wine, the experiencing of which relies on the one or more of our human senses, is by the very nature of personal sensory perception totally subjective.


So, at an intrinsic level, declaring a “best” wine is both logically and scientifically problematic, as well as being fraught with issues of snobbery and know-it-all-ism, things which lord knows abound in the wine world. I certainly don’t know-it-all about wine by any measure (ask any of my co-workers) and snobbery deeply offends my deeply held egalitarian sensibilities. Don’t tell me what I like or what is best.


So why I am I throwing around the term “best” when it comes to wine? Well, to get your attention, for one thing. One of my struggles as the southern hemisphere guy is to get people to take the wines from these relatively lesser known-in-the-wine-world countries seriously.


Throughout my writing, interactions with customers and pontificating at wine tastings, I have made a big point of stressing the incredible quality to value ratio of the wines from Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa – at any price point under $25, red or white, I claim to be able to get you an incredibly delicious and well-made wine that seems as if it would cost more if it were from one of the more famous wine regions; under $15 – I’m convinced can blow you away with texture, purity and exotic varietals; and under $10? – I’m pretty damn sure southern hemisphere wines just might be the best in the store at their price points. In my subjective opinion, of course. Although, based on their unsolicited positive comments, the folks who come to our Thursday and Saturday southern hemisphere wine tastings here in the store seem to agree with the extreme quality/value proposition I’m positing.


But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m not talking about best value wines; I’m talking about the best high-end wines from Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa – those incredibly special, limited production, hand-made jewels that I believe are as good as any wines on the planet.


And I aim to prove it to you and am confident that I can.


The Proof is In the Glass

How? Well, the proof, as always in the wine world, is in the glass. I’ll be pouring at least ten (probably twelve) of these amazing “best” wines from Australia and New Zealand on Friday September 8th at 7:30. I’ll be pouring reds, whites, and probably a sparkling wine and a dessert wine for good measure, all for $45 per person, reservations required (call 562 597-8303).


Considering we had a sold-out full house for our last southern hemisphere Friday night wine tasting, which featured the wines from  Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa I’m about to talk about, you might consider signing up post-haste. As in, now.


Confidence in my belief that these rare and special high-end wines from Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa are truly of world-class quality was strongly reinforced at that recent sold out southern hemisphere Friday night sit down tasting I just referenced, where I had the opportunity to pour twelve incredible wines to a large, curious and ultimately gob-smacked crowd.


We started with the 2011 Graham Beck Brut Zero Méthode Champenoise sparkling wine (made in exactly the same meticulous way they make true Champagne) from South Africa – a zero dosage sparkling wine. Zero dosage, where no sugar is added before the secondary fermentation called for in the Méthode Champenoise, is the latest trend in Champagne and sparkling wine and very, very difficult to pull off without ending up with a tooth-enamel stripping, overpoweringly acidic wine. The Graham Beck displayed such brilliantly crystalline vibrant fruit, razor sharp precision and the cleanest of finishes that many attendees had difficulty believing the under $25 price. We sold out that night. But there is more available now.


Next up was the 2014 Tolpuddle Chardonnay from the island of Tasmania, off the southern coast of Australia. Unlike most Australian wine growing regions, Tasmania’s Coal River Valley is a cool climate region, so under the right care, grapes can become fully ripe while still maintaining their full and proper dose of natural acidity. Another precise and focused wine, it bursts with citrus and minerals in a lean and intense package as it is made in a style to accentuate the purity of the fruit, not oak- no creamy butter bomb here. Those in attendance that like this style were yet again shocked at the price, comparing it to much more expensive French Burgundies made in a similar style and at a comparable quality level. As of the writing of this article, we have two bottles left of this limited production wine.


The next wine was one of the revelations of the entire evening and I hesitate to write much about it because that would be cruel – we sold out and there is no more available. It was the 2014 Sadie Family Skerpioen, a $50 white blend from South Africa. Some attendees said it was one of the best white wines they had ever had regardless of price. Suffice it to say that I was personally extremely disappointed that I wasn’t able to buy a bottle of this incredibly rare and astonishingly complex wine.


We followed with one of the finest white wines made in New Zealand, the critically acclaimed 2014 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay. Another unique, intense and powerful wine, it displayed the zest and crispness of the old world with the judicious use of high quality oak and strong and flavorful fruit of the new world, but with a sense of place that is remarkable. Again, those in the crowd that connected with this wine were completely shocked by its quality and price. Fortunately, as of the writing this article we still had six bottles on the shelf.


And then we moved on to the red wines, starting with a wine that shocked many in the crowd with its purity, intensity and structure, the 2010 Matetic Syrah from Chile. Made from meticulously biodynamically grown organic grapes from the cool climate San Antonio Valley, the crisp power, elegant structure and savory bracing intensity of this still young wine shocked those in attendance who were expecting a big, fat-fruited and oaky wine from hot Chile. Those with experience with the wines of the Rhone valley in France, famous for Syrah, thought this wine more than held its own with wines costing up to twice as much. And, as of the writing this article, we have some on the shelf.


It was back to New Zealand for the 2014 Te Mata Bullnose Syrah from the Hawke’s Bay region on the north island of the pristine two-island chain. This wine backed up its near cult status in New Zealand by having a mouth-filling dollop of elegant and smooth Syrah fruit with an underpinning of minerality that the region is famous for. For less than $35. Luckily, even after brisk sales that evening, as of the writing this article, we still have some on the shelf.


This was followed by one of the proudest moments of my wine career as a buyer at The Wine Country, when the next wine sent a perceptible charge through the crowd, a moment of disbelief and unexpected pleasure – the proverbial Ah-Ha! moment. And, of course, much to my chagrin, it is a wine that is absolutely not available anymore. It was the 2001 Morgenster Estate, which proved to be a perfectly aged, preternaturally balanced, elegant, complex and delicious Bordeaux-style blend from South Africa. To say people were blown away would be an understatement. For many, it was THE wine of the night. Some said it was as good as any Bordeaux they had ever had. If you see it on a wine list – order it! We do still have a few bottles of the 2008 available, however.


Following this wine was difficult to say the least, and luckily, the next wine had its own set of beguiling attributes that stood it in good stead. Direct and true, the 2006 Carmelo Patti Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza, Argentina had such a smooth and elegant palate coupled with a wonderful combination of strong fruit, fine tannins and still lively acidity that it charmed many in the crowd. And at $35, it sold out, but luckily, I was able to get more and, as of the writing this article, we still have some on the shelf.


Not to be outdone in the Cabernet Sauvignon department, the 2012 Howard Park Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon from pristine Western Australia delighted the folks in the crowd who like bigger, riper and more intensely flavored and oaked red wines. In Australia, this is considered one of the very best Cabernet Sauvignons made and its graceful, elegant yet balanced, powerful and satisfying fruit demonstrated why. As of the writing this article there are still a few bottles available.


The next wine answered the question of what happens when you take one of the very best French producers of Bordeaux wines and apply their knowledge and experience to old vine fruit in the new world. The 2012 Domaine Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Le Dix de Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile, which is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon with a bit of Carménère and Syrah thrown in, displayed such impeccable balance and texture, and the finest grained tannins some had ever tasted, that folks were again just blown away. And, yes, it is that Lafite Rothschild, which those impeccable tannins prove, because they use the very same oak barrels to age this wine that they use on their best Bordeaux that costs literally around ten times as much as this under $65 wine. As of the writing this article there are still a few bottles available.


And then we cranked it up to eleven with the 2011 Zuccardi Aluvional Paraje Altamira Malbec. A perfect example of a full-throated, powerful, intensely flavorful yet still somehow balanced beast of a wine, people in the crowd who like that type of wine could barely contain themselves. I heard comment like “blows big Napa Cabs away at half the price” and “Oh My God”. And also no longer available, I’m afraid.


And since some of the absolute best dessert wines come from south of the equator, we ended with a real beauty, the non-vintage All Saints Grand Rutherglen Muscat, a “stickie” from Australia. Blended from wines of different ages going back 25 years, this rare and beautifully complex, hedonistically sweet wine had the requisite acidity to go along with its pure, intense, mouth-coating flavors. Although we sold out that evening, I’m endeavoring to get some more of this incredible wine.


After this massively successful tasting, which was a watershed event for the southern hemisphere wine department - the first sold out tasting ever -  I have renewed confidence that my little corner of the store does indeed have some of the very best wines in the world to offer. I only hope you give me the chance to prove it to you at the upcoming September 8th Friday night tasting. See you there!


Best of Australia & New Zealand

Sample Wines Made from Some of the Oldest Vines on Earth  120+ & 160+ Years Old!

Friday September 8th  7:30 p.m. 

Only $45 per person

Reservations Required  (562) 597-8303

Join Andy Acosta, our Southern Hemisphere wine buyer, for a tour of the unique, world-class wines specialties of Australia and New Zealand, featuring at least twelve wines - mostly reds, a few whites, a sparkling and a dessert wine - including two very special limited production truly ancient vine red wine wonders.


Almost all of the wines to be poured are incredibly hard-to-get and have cult status in their home countries - after tasting them, you'll see why. Two of the rare Australian wines are made from vines that are over 120 and 160 years old, among the oldest producing grapevines on earth.


There is also a New Zealand Syrah produced from cuttings personally supplied by the late legendary Gerard Jaboulet from his famous Hermitage La Chapelle vineyard in France's Rhone valley, considered the best Syrah in the world. Andy stakes his reputation on the fact that these wines are good as any in the world of their type and price.


This will likely sell out like Andy's last event, so get your reservation in now 562 597-8303!


The following wines are scheduled to be poured (subject to availability):

New Zealand:

2016 Jules Taylor OTQ Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $20.99

NV Quartz Reef Methode Traditionelle Sparkling Wine, Central Otago $29.99

2014 Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir, Martinborough $69.99

2015 Te Mata Coleraine Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Blend, Hawke's Bay $79.99

2013 Trinity Hill Homage Syrah, Hawke's Bay $89.99



2013 Handpicked Selection Pinot Noir, Tasmania $45.99

2011 Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon, Hunter Valley  $57.99

2012 Elderton Ashmead Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley  $79.99

2010 Cirillo 1850 Ancestor Vines Grenache, Barossa Valley $79.99

2013 Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz, McLaren Vale $99.99

 and more...


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