Reviews You Can Use

Want to put your newfound wine smarts to the test? City Pages' guest taster issues his recommendatinos for bottles sure to please.


South American wines are mostly known for being cheap and passable, if not surprisingly good. Chile and Argentina are steadily refining their wines, though, and now they both make some extraordinarily good mid-priced and high-end wines. If there's one particular overachieving grape variety from Argentina, it's Malbec.

Malbec vines were carried to Argentina from France over a century ago, and since then Malbec has become Argentina's signature red wine. Malbec always had a tough time ripening in France, and Cahors is pretty much the only French region that still grows a lot of it. Wines from Cahors can be tannic, rustic, and pretty rough around the edges; they aren't for everybody. Argentine Malbec from the arid, inland Mendoza region is remarkably different, and more simpatico with thick steaks and American sensibilities in general. They're hearty, fruit-driven reds with blackberry and cherry flavors and less tannin than Cabernets. Four times out of five, Malbec is the best red an Argentine winery makes.

  • Alamos Malbec 2005, Mendoza, Argentina [$11]
    Catena's second label, Alamos, is a great brand for value Malbec, and this edition is more than just a good value-it's a great wine. Deep and hearty with loamy earth, red fruit, vanilla, and toast aromas and concentrated cherry and raspberry fruit flavors.

  • Alamos Malbec Seleccion 2005, Mendoza, Argentina [$15]
    A slight step up from the previous entry, $4 more gets you a slightly more concentrated blood-red wine with slightly oakier aromas, and dense black cherry and plum flavors that should blossom with a little more time in the bottle.

  • Andeluna, Winemaker's Selection Malbec 2004, Mendoza, Argentina [$18]
    Andeluna is a newer, well-funded, and ambitious winery owned by potato chip heir H. Ward Lay. So far its wines are impressive, particularly the Malbec, Merlot, and Cabernet. This one is fruit-driven, with blackberry, cherry, cola, and tar aromas and slightly brambly green notes that complement the rich fruit the way fresh mint does a scoop of sorbet.

  • Catena Malbec 2004, Mendoza, Argentina [$24]
    Nicolas Catena is the Robert Mondavi of Argentina, only he never sold out and his wines are still top-notch. Here's a classic Argentine Malbec with deep, juicy raspberry and black cherry flavor and nuances of sage and black pepper. Sturdy and well balanced.

  • Conquista Malbec 2004, Argentina [$9]
    This one doesn't run terribly deep, but it does have a pretty nose of cherries, blackberries, violets, coffee, and spices. It's a medium-weight, enjoyable red that will go with pretty much whatever you're serving up.

  • Finca el Portillo Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Alto Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina [$9]
    This second label from Bodegas Salentein makes some dependable reds and whites for under $10. The Cabernet has surprisingly rich black currant and black cherry flavors with chalk dust, black olive, mint, and toast notes and moderate tannins.

  • Pascual Toso, Reserve Malbec 2004, Mendoza, Argentina [$15]
    Toso is probably best known (in Argentina, at least) for its sparkling wines, but its Malbec is very good, too: a hearty, full-bodied red with concentrated blackberry, black cherry, and toast flavors. There's a little stiff tannin on the finish, but nothing too serious.

  • Salentein Malbec 2003, Alto Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina [$18]
    Another well-funded and ambitious Argentine winery with first-class facilities, substantial vineyard holdings, and a good winemaker, Salentein's wines are steadily improving. This may be their best Malbec to date, with dense boysenberry, blackberry, bittersweet chocolate, dust, and dried flowers that twist toward olive on the finish. A very classy wine indeed.
By Tim Teichgraeber


The prime vineyards of Chile and Argentina are scarcely 100 miles apart, but they're entirely different. Chile has a dry but coastal climate moderated by the Pacific, while Argentina's wine country, just on the other side of the towering Andes Mountains, is more like a desert. Malbec grapes shine in Argentina, but Chile's strong suit is Cabernet Sauvignon, barely ripe and often more like a good Bordeaux than a Napa Cabernet. Chile is also making world-class Sauvignon Blanc in its cooler valleys. In fact, Chileans are more and more growing the right grapes in the right places, so you may well happen across a stellar Chardonnay, Merlot, Carmenere, or Syrah.

  • Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay 2005, Casablanca Valley, Chile [$9]
    This is one of those surprisingly good Chilean Chardonnays that pop up from time to time. It's harmonious and full-bodied with a nice range of toast, cantaloupe, pineapple, and lemon aromas and flavors. A great buy.

  • Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Merlot 2004, Puemo Valley, Chile [$19]
    This Chilean Merlot consistently blows away just about any American Merlot under $40 a bottle. It's compulsively drinkable, boldly flavored, and precisely balanced with compact cherry, blackberry, boysenberry, mint, tarragon, toasty oak, and mineral flavors. This wine is well worth tracking down.

  • Cousiño-Macul Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Maipo Valley, Chile [$9]
    The Cousiño family is one of Chile's most influential, and rich, families. Their winery was one of the earliest players in Chile's wine industry and continues to produce particularly good Cabernets at a range of price points. This entry-level wine is a nice, easy-drinking, value-priced Cabernet with black cherry, black currant, and barely-ripe dill notes. Definitely one of the better 10-buck Cabernets around, and one that's soft enough to serve with all sorts of food.
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