Despite a long, rich history of viticulture, Argentina has only in recent decades entered the arena of fine winemaking, having previously focused largely on bargain-oriented wines. The Mendoza region produces three-quarters of the nation’s wines and all of its very best reds, predominantly Malbec and Tempranillo.
Established in 1998, this partnership between a group of Argentinean businessmen, led by Santiago Achával Becu, and Italian winemaker Roberto Cipresso, who makes the La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino, has become something of an overnight legend among wine aficionados. Though a young producer, Achával-Ferrer’s Finca Altamira vineyard contains Malbec vines up to 80 years old; the sandy soil and high altitude (3,600 feet above sea level) result in dense, darkly concentrated wines with sweet, smoky, herbal notes. Recommended Finca Altamira La Consulta 2005 ($100)
Italian immigrant Nicola Catena established his first vineyard in the higher altitudes of Mendoza in 1902. Now his grandson Nicolás Catena Zapata oversees the estates of Bodega Catena, which boasts a state-of-the-art winery that resembles a Mayan pyramid—homage to South America’s ancient past. In addition to Catena and Catena-Alta wines, Nicolás produces his own label, Nicolás Catena Zapata, a meticulously sourced and selected blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon that is rich and deep with a peppery piquancy. Recommended Nicolás Catena Zapata Mendoza 2003 ($100)
In 1998, celebrated Sonoma vintner Paul Hobbs of Paul Hobbs winery partnered with Andrea Marchiori and her husband, Luis Barraud, to establish this Mendoza-area producer. Their luxury-level Malbecs are remarkable for their full-bodied, velvety richness and savory smoked-bacon flavors.
Recommended Viña Cobos Mendoza Marchiori Vineyard Malbec 2004 ($150)
The high ridges of the Andes essentially isolate Chile from the rest of South America—a blessing in many respects, since they protect the nation’s agriculture from the spread of disease. Chile’s winemaking activity is concentrated in its Central Valley region, which surrounds Santiago. Like their Argentinean neighbors, Chilean winemakers have, in recent decades, pushed for quality over quantity.
The Marnier-Lapostolle family, though perhaps best known as the founders of Grand Marnier, exported their winemaking heritage from France’s Loire Valley, where they own Château Sancerre, to the New World when they established Casa Lapostolle in 1994. While their holdings include the Atalayas vineyard in Casablanca and the Las Kuras vineyard in Requinoa, the Apalta vineyard remains the jewel in their crown, producing the gorgeous Clos Apalta blend of Carmenere, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Recommended Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta Colchagua Valley 2004 ($70)
Located in Chile’s Casablanca region, Matetic Vineyards emphasizes organic vineyard practices. The state-of-the-art winery utilizes natural gravity-flow processes to maintain the purity of character in its wines, which range from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to Pinot Noir and Syrah.
Recommended Matetic Vineyards Syrah San Antonio EQ 2005 ($30)
Founded in 1987 in the Maule Valley, Montes led the way in establishing that Chile could produce luxury Bordeaux-style wines to compete on the world stage. The Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon, with its balanced structure, dark fruit, and concentration, remains a standard-bearer.
Recommended Montes Alpha M Santa Cruz 2004 ($90)