Two grapes come to mind when South American wine is a topic of discussion: malbec and sauvignon Blanc. These grapes dominate Mendoza and Casablanca Valley plantings and hold firm stakes in export markets. There’s certainly no question of their popularity and no foreseeable end to this king and queen’s reign. However, there are two homegrown grapes of the South American continent that exude the tenacious history of its people from grape to glass.
The South American darlings of carménère or torrontés have overcome tumultuous history and have enjoyed some successes, but still struggle to find their place at the dinner table. Wine underdogs, in general, are wines that are overlooked by the average fermented grape juice lover. The common thought: “Why spend $20 on Chilean carménère, when I can get a Bordeaux table wine for the same price?” Though for the adventure seeker these wines overdeliver. If you are a novice of these two, now is the time to send your senses leaping for joy. Plunge into the plush, bell-peppery notes of carménère and bathe in the distinct floral notes of torrontés that jump out of the glass with an enthusiastic salutation.
Let me lay out of the case for carménère. The grape itself is a cross between gros Cabernet and cabernet franc. The carménère vine (or so they thought) made its way to Chile from the Bordeaux region in the 1800s. Across the Andes, Torrontés was carving out a place in Argentinian history with the Spanish missionaries (more on that later). Chilean winemakers of the time hoped to mirror the success of famous Bordeaux chateaux especially after the famous 1855 Classification. The grape never achieved much success in Bordeaux’s cold, rainy climate. The grape was late-ripening, last to be harvested and did not add much finesse to blends.