Great Grapes of South America

Torrontes
Argentina’s flagship white variety is almost never seen outside of South America. The grape is distantly related to Muscat, which accounts for the aromatic, floral qualities on the nose and the plush, orchard and stone fruit flavors. These wines can range in sweetness but are most often found in a dry to off-dry style. Crisp and clean, the acidity is not super bracing, but just present enough to give a refreshing mouthfeel. Think: gardenia, orange blossom, peach, apricot, pear and honey.
Try:
2011 Sensual ($7.99)

Carmenre
Carmenere is technically one of the permitted grapes in Bordeaux (along with Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot), but you so very rarely see it used. In Chile, though, there has been a huge resurgence in the past few decades of Carmenere as a single variety wine, ever since genetic testing in the 90s showed that much of the Chilean grapes labeled as Merlot were actually Carmenere! This grape is famed for its earthy/herbal character, pronounced spice and bright red fruit.
Try:
2011 Echeverria ($10.99)

Bonarda
Bonarda has origins in Italy, and it’s still grown there, but the grape didn’t really become well-known until Argentina started to release these wines in greater numbers. Currently, Bonarda is the second most planted red in Argentina, after Malbec. The grape ripens very late, so it requires a pretty hot, dry climate to ripen fully, but the wait is well worth it! These wines are vibrant and intense, with juicy red fruit flavors and secondary notes of fennel, fig or sometimes leather. You can occasionally find bigger, oak-aged Bonardas, but it’s much more common to find the light- to medium-bodied, fruit-forward versions in stores.
Try:
2014 La Posta ($14.99)

Carignan
Carignan is one of the newest trends in Chilean red. Traditionally, this grape is usually blended (often with Syrah, Grenache and/or Mourvdre) and is one of the permitted grapes in the Cotes du Rhone. The grape adds tannin, structure and especially color to blends that might be pretty light without its addition. On its own, Carignan is pretty robust, tannic and very spicy, showcasing red and black currant notes, lots of anise and pepper, smoke and savory bacon flavors.
Try:
2011 Meli ($16.99)

Malbec
Malbec is another “lost” French variety (you occasionally see it in Bordeaux, but more commonly in Cahors) that has found new life in Argentina. Currently, about 75% of the world’s Malbec production comes out of Argentina! This grape loves the higher altitude vineyards that are very prevalent in South America, because this terroir allows the grape to ripen fully (later than Cab or Merlot) without damaging the thin-skin. Malbecs are often powerful and smoky, but plush, with softer tannins, making the wines very easy-to-drink.
Try:
2013 Montes ($11.99)

Cabernet Sauvignon
Okay, sure, Cab is grown in most major wine-growing regions around the world, so there’s nothing super distinctly Chilean about it, but Chile does grow an awful lot of Cab and the Felino is a particularly delicious example. Due to the cooling influences of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Andes mountains on the other, Chilean Cabs will tend not to be overly soft or jammy, like some California examples can be, but instead will be well-structured, tannic and feature a lot of secondary characteristics, particularly herbal influences.
Try:
2014 Cobos Felino ($19.99)
PS– the Cobos winery is owned by Paul Hobbs, a famed California winemaker who actually grew up right down the road in Lockport New York!!