World-class wines from the shadows of the Andes

South America, and in particular Chile and Argentina, are producing world-class wines from more than 20 kinds of grapes. To get a feel for the breadth of quality and variety of these wines made along the spine of the Andes mountain range, a lunch and tasting was held recently at the Westin Resort’s Beach House Restaurant.   


The secret has been out for a long time. Over the past 25 years, the rest of the world has learned that South America produces some very good and even great wines. 

It was probably good-value-for-money Malbec from Argentina that first put the notion into the minds of many wine drinkers that South America was a wine-producing continent to be reckoned with. Now days, however, people are realizing there is much more than just Malbec coming from the continent and the quality is beyond just good. 

Over a lunch at the Westin Resort’s Beach House restaurant, Chef Michael Farrell prepared a selection of items from the menu to go with three Argentine and three Chilean wines. In the renovated space where the restaurant Casa Havana used to be, the Beach House now boasts a bright, contemporary décor, giving it a much more inviting ambience that its predecessor. 

Taking part in the tasting were Jacques Scott wine professionals Lee Royle and Sergio Serrano, as well as the Beach House’s Norbert Szalay. 


Zesty whites  

South America is known more for the red wines it produces, but it does produce many different varieties of white wine, including two of the more popular ones, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. 

Chile’s 2013 Outer Limits Zapallar Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc [Retail: $20.99] is a flavorful wine with good acidity. It has the typical Sauvignon Blanc flavors of freshly cut grass and citrus, with notable minerality.  

“The citrus flavor is like an Ecuadorian lime,” Serrano said. “And it has an asparagus finish.” 

This wine would pair nicely with salads, especially those topped with a white-fleshed fish or goat cheese. It would also pair well with creamy or cheese pasta dishes. 

The other white wine was 2010 Salentein Reserve Chardonnay [Retail: $17.99], which was the value-for-money wine of the afternoon. The wine was oaked, but not heavily, allowing citrusy fruit flavors to shine in this well-balanced wine. 

Royle said he loved the wine. 

“I think you could put this up against some good California Chardonnays or Burgundies and it would surprise people,” he said. “It might not win, but when people saw the price, they’d be pleasantly surprised.” 

The Salentein Reserve Chardonnay was excellent pairing with all of the Beach House’s seafood dishes, which are really the restaurant’s specialty. Appetizers such as shrimp and grits, seared scallop and the jumbo crab cake all were great with the Chardonnay, as were the crab-stuffed jumbo prawn – wrapped in bacon – later on. 

Argentine reds  

South American wines might have remained relatively unknown in other parts of the world had it not been for the Malbec grape, which Argentina rescued from obscurity with the help of U.S. winemaker Paul Hobbs. 

Malbec fell out of favor as a single varietal in its native France, even though it was one of the five allowed grapes in Bordeaux blends. In Argentina, it was used as a grape for inexpensive blended jug wines. But Hobbs saw potential in Malbec grapes grown in Argentina, and after partnering with local grower Nicolas Catena, started creating single varietal Malbec wines. Thirty years later, the whole world not only knows that great Malbec wines come from Argentina, but also that many kinds of good wines come from South America in general. 

Two fine Malbecs were sampled over lunch: 2008 Kaiken Mai [Retail: $40.99] and 2009 Yacochuya Michel Rolland [Retail: $79.99] from the winery San Pedro de Yacochuya. 

The Kaiken Mai is 100 percent Malbec and has the deep purple color that is typical of Argentine Malbecs. The wine is big and bold with lots of black fruit flavors. It is aged for 18 months in new French oak barrels, giving it some hints of cocoa. 

“If you like the New World Style of opulent, fruit forward wines, then I think the Kaiken works well,” said Royle. 

The Yacochuya is a very unique and complex wine, unlike most of the lush, fruity Malbecs from Argentina. It has a sharp minerality to it that’s unusual in a red wine, giving it a slight charcoal-like aroma and flavor. In the mouth, the wine was velvety, rich and balanced, with the same distinctive minerality to go with a peppery finish. This is definitely a wine for hearty meats like the Beach House’s ultra-tender Sous Vide beef tenderloin served with sage gnocchi.  

“For the New World, this is very powerful,” Royle said of the 16.1 alcohol-by-volume wine.  

Chilean reds  

Wine has been produced in Chile since the 16th century, but it wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that they became good enough to export. Like Argentina, Chile’s wine industry benefited from foreign investment and the expertise of talented winemaking consultants from Europe and the United States starting in the 1980s. 

Whereas Argentina found its niche in Malbec, Chile found its sweet spot in a more traditional varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon. Part of Chile’s success with the grape is in making wines that have softer tannins that are pleasurable even when quite young, a style that has since been mimicked even in the U.S. 

Two different Cabernet-driven Chilean wines were sampled over lunch, including 2006 Canepa Magnificum [Retail: $40.99] and 2006 Erasmo [Retail: $33.99]. The Magnificum is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon – with 3 percent Cabernet Franc – while the Erasmo is a blend of Bordeaux varietals, with 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cabernet Franc. 

With flavors of bright fruits and berries, the medium-bodied Erasmo doesn’t feel like a Cab-driven blend of Bordeaux grapes, but that’s what makes it uniquely Chilean. 

“I think this is a good food wine; it’s nicely balanced,” Royle noted. 

Although it would be better suited for meats and hearty pasta dishes, it had enough light fruit flavors to pair nicely with some of the seafood, particularly the bacon-wrapped prawn with brown butter sauce.  

The Magnificum was more of a classic-style, opulent Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon that displayed velvety tannings, flavors of cherries and blackberries, and notes of chocolate and spice. This wine comes from the historic Maipo Valley, the region where Chile’s most acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines come from. Magnificum is produced from grapes that are grown in the “Alto Maipo,” which means in the higher altitudes of the Andes. Grapes from these altitudes produce wines with good acidity and minerality.  

“It’s a New World wine made in an Old World style,” Royle said of the Magnificum.  

“It’s a bit more subtle and more elegant than many other New World Cabs.”

Although Argentina and Chile produce many good inexpensive wines, they also produce a number of high‑quality wines like these.