Wine: For the best reds, head down to South America

Liz Sagues picks out her favourite red wines from Chile and South America.

A bevy of the best winemakers from Chile and Argentina flew into London a few weeks ago, to show off their latest wares to the UK wine trade and consumers of the millions of bottles already sold here.

Commercially admirable, no doubt, but was there a deeper justification for all those air miles?

We all know that Chile and Argentina provide much of the backbone of sound, well-priced, reliable wines sold particularly in supermarkets and multiple merchants. Is there, though, something more exciting happening beyond the familiar flood of sauvignons, chardonnays, merlots and cabernets? Answering that question was part of the exercise.

“We need to work to rescue some of our wine heritage before it disappears,” Brett Jackson, chief winemaker at long-established Chilean producer Valdivieso, told me. He immediately demonstrated why by pouring a dark, characterful wine made from old carignan vines in the Maule Valley.

Those grapes had previously been blended into what he described as “bland, nondescript red wines”. What a waste.

Valdivieso is one of a dozen wineries which have grouped together to bring new recognition to these old vines, under the Vigno label – almost an appellation, with strict rules. Besides carignan, they’re also looking at tiny, ancient bush vines of muscat, again largely used in boring blends. It’s a heritage which deserves recognition and fortunately is now finding it.

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Across the Andes in Argentina, what’s hot – or more literally cool, given its climate – is place rather than plants, the high Uco Valley. There, enterprising growers are identifying a remarkable diversity of soils and maximising how fine wine can be produced from them. Over the ancient alluvial layers lie much stonier deposits, washed down by melting snow and rich in calcium carbonate that gives an almost salty edge to wines originating there.

At Familia Zuccardi’s Uco vineyards, under the direction of Sebastián Zuccardi, son of winery founder José Alberto, grapes from these defined plots are vinified separately, in concrete vats that allow some aeration and gentle development.

That approach is justified – export manager Richard Gordon poured me two 2011 Aluvional wines, identical in all but the soil beneath malbec vines grown merely metres apart. They were fascinatingly different, both delicious.

Not all these initiatives can be easily appreciated here yet – for example, Vigno wines will be enjoyed first by restaurant customers. But you can start to get a taste with other Valdivieso wines – Eclat 2009 (£96 six-bottle case, includes some of those carignan grapes in what is certainly not a bland red blend.

Three more Malbecs

At Waitrose there are four mainstream Valdivieso wines, including the attractively fresh and approachable Winemaker Reserva Malbec 2014 (currently on offer at £6.80). Coming to in the next few days will be my favourite of those very fine Zuccardi Aluvional Uco Valley malbecs – Altamira (£45), complex, elegantly balanced, superbly concentrated yet restrained.

Zuccardi Q Malbec 2013 (£15-£18,,,, or order blends fruit from two locations in the valley for an aromatic, cleanly

fruited and firm-finishing result.

If such wines as those developed by Brett and Sebastián are the future for South America’s two best-known wine countries, there are plenty of treats ahead.