Review of South American wines, Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc, Reserva Pinot Noir, Cruz Andina Malbec

South America continues to deliver stunning values

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Veramonte 2010 Sauvignon BlancFor years now, South America has been a great source of value in the wine world. Chile and Argentina are the chief contributors to that. The first wines to reach our shores were well-priced wines that often had a hit and miss reputation when it came to quality, but things have shifted dramatically over the last decade. For one thing, the wines from Chile and Argentina that reach our shelves range from entry level bargains that sell for well under $10, to small production wines that sell for more than 10 times that; and just about everything in between. The common denominator is that more often than not, regardless of price-point, they represent values in their category. In addition to being from South America, the three wines below have vintner Agustin Huneeus in common. He has projects in both South America and California, but what I think of most when I hear his name is quality.

The Veramonte 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was produced using fruit sourced at estate vineyards in the Casablanca Valley section of Chile. Veramonte has 47 distinct blocks within their vineyards dedicated to this varietal. This offering is 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99.

Gooseberry and citrus aromas are joined by vanilla bean notes on the fresh, vibrant nose of this 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. Throughout the palate, citrus characteristics carry the day with lemon ice, grapefruit and bits of tangerine leading things. A couple of wisps of grass and an undercurrent of spices add some additional complexity. White pepper and continued citrus flavors are part of the finish, which is clean, crisp and remarkably refreshing. This wine will work well as both an aperitif or paired with lighter foods.

Veramonte 2009 Reserva Pinot NoirThe Veramonte 2009 Reserva Pinot Noir was produced using fruit sourced in Casablanca Valley. This wine is 100 percent Pinot Noir. The fruit for this wine was hand sorted and destemmed prior to crushing. After fermentation in stainless steel, barrel aging occurred over 10 months in a combination of French and American oak, of which 15 percent were new. About 15,000 cases of this wine were imported to the U.S., and it has a suggested retail price of $13.99.

Candied cherry, leather, rose petals and clove spice fill the nose of this 2009 Pinot Noir. Mushroom, wild strawberry and cherry (both red and black) dominate the full-flavored palate of this wine. Allspice, earth, rhubarb and white pepper are all prominent on the finish of this wine, which has good length. The spice elements are of particular note for their persistence throughout. This Pinot has solid acidity and fairly soft tannins. It is particularly elegant for a Pinot Noir in the under-$15 category.

Finally we have the Cruz Andina 2008 Malbec. The Cruz Andina label is the newest partnership for Agustin Huneeus. This 2008 Malbec was produced using fruit sourced in the Mendoza region of Argentina. In addition to Malbec (85 percent) this wine also contains small amounts of Syrah (8 percent), and Cabernet Sauvignon (7 percent). After temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks, this wine was barrel-aged in French oak for 14 months. About 1,600 cases of this Malbec were imported to the U.S., and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Cruz Andina 2008 MalbecAromas of plum, lavender, violets and blueberry all emerge with conviction from the nose of this 2008 Malbec. This wine has a rich, full palate that shows off both ripe and dried fruit flavors; cherry and blackberry are of particular note. Most impressive is this wine's ability to simultaneously show off big flavors and terrific balance. Cloves, nutmeg and black pepper provide an impressive trio of spices that form a solid core. Dusty, dark cocoa notes are present as well. The Cruz Andina Malbec has firm structure and solid acidity. This wine has a depth, length and layers of flavor that truly impress. If you're going to drink it over the next year or so, I'd recommend decanting it for about an hour to get maximum pleasure from this wine. Otherwise drink it over the next five years for best results.

This trio, all under $20, provides a nice snapshot of the sorts of values that are available from South America. The Sauvignon Blanc is a wine I've been drinking for most of the last decade. It has been a consistent winner for price and quality, often outperforming wines twice its price. The Pinot Noir is a selection hard to beat in its price-point.  It's often hard to find good Pinot Noir under $15, and here's one for less than $15 that's likely to impress the average Pinot Noir fan. The Malbec is an exciting wine that also easily beats its price-point. There are a lot of Malbecs on our shelves these days, at almost any conceivable price. They offer varying degrees of value and satisfaction. The Cruz Andina is several steps above the average. Well worth the money, particularly if Malbec is in your wheelhouse.

This selection of wines can help get you started drinking wines from South America. However, the real moral here is that South America often over-delivers, and so the wines from both Chile and Argentina are good choices to commit your heard earned dollars to.

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