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30 Jan 2018 | Andy Acosta

South American Red Wines: Bold Balanced & Exuberant

The South American countries of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay all have well established wine industries, having produced fine wines since the 1800's. Chiefly founded by Italian, and to a lesser degree Spanish, French and Basque immigrants, their wine traditions are firmly European in style, with an emphasis on wine as a partner to the food on the table. And, given their generally warm and sunny excellent grape growing conditions, they make a variety of exceptional wines, reds in particular.

Given those excellent growing conditions and the prevalence of beef production and consumption in South America (Uruguayans proudly lead the way as number one beef-eaters in the world; Argentines follow closely at number two - both consume over one-hundred-twenty pounds per man, woman and child per year! Chile holds down the tenth spot at only one pound per person per week; it should be no surprise that bold and structured red wines that pair well with red meat dominate the local wine styles.

Each country boasts its own special, beef-friendly red wine varietal. In Argentina, it's the now hugely popular Malbec grape, made famous originally as one of the five classic Bordeaux varietals. The Argentines make it in a range of styles, from medium bodied, bright and fruity to heavy, intense, extracted and well-oaked - with everything in between, too. And they all go well with beef, particularly grilled beef, although they also work well with lamb, too.

There are two primary Malbec growing regions in Argentina; Mendoza, which ranges from three-thousand feet to four-thousand feet of altitude in the foothills of the Andes mountains; and Salta, where the vines grow from five-thousand feet of altitude to an astonishing, and highest-vineyards-in-the-world, ten-thousand-plus feet of altitude and where the intense ultraviolet rays and large day-to-night temperature differentials change the grapes in amazing ways that leads to big bold fruit, strong natural acidity and an otherworldly unique intensity.

Chile's signature red meat wine is another French varietal, Carménère. Originally imported into Chile from France in the mid 1800's, it was planted along with the more predominant Merlot in field blends and over the years, no one could remember which vines were Merlot and which were Carménère. They wound up calling these field blends Merlot or "Chilean Merlot", until the 1990s, when a French ampelographer identified the "Chilean Merlot" as Carménère. It, too, is grown in every style imaginable, and, again, they are all good with beef and lamb, particularly grilled.

And, although not as well known in the wine world as their neighbors, those champion beef eating Uruguayans have a fine wine tradition of their own and Tannat is their special beef-friendly red varietal. Known for producing dark, intensely acidic and fiercely tannic wine in its cool-climate south-western French region of origin, Madiran, Tannat takes on a very different and much more friendly character in warm and sunny Uruguay. And it is gaining in international popularity, due to its reputation as being one of the "healthiest" wines around, with up to four times as many antioxidants as other red wines, and growing critical acclaim (the Garzon Tannat we carry has landed at number forty-one on the 2017 Wine Spectator Top 100 wine list). And, of course, it is a wine that goes very well with beef, possessing bold, smooth dark fruit, good acidity and firm tannins.

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