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Randall Murray: Sip on some wines from south of the equator
1005MURRAY-AMALAYA-Blanco
Amalaya Blanco 2015 comes from Argentina’s Calchaqui Valley, which sits more than a mile above sea level. Its distinctive flavors — some traditional Torrontes, some not — make this a good sipping wine. It costs about $14.

Ask someone about wines from the Southern Hemisphere and I’ll bet the topic will be juice from Australia, New Zealand or even South Africa.

But wines from another continent show quite well, are extremely popular and represent good value. I’m talking about wines from South America.

The wine business there has its roots largely in France. The story is vines were exported from France to Chile before the plague of phylloxera, that wicked little root louse that nearly destroyed Europe’s vineyards in the late 19th century. Therefore, say South American boosters, their vines are pure. Not so much anymore.

Still, think of the good merlots and carmeneres from Chile, and the sterling malbecs and torrontes from Argentina’s Mendoza region. These are world-class wines, named for the grapes from which they are made. And you can find them easily and reasonably priced, too.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed some genuinely good wines from Paraguay and Peru. I even wrote about a lovely sparkling wine from Brazil a few years back. But Chile and Argentina are the major producers, separated by the spine of the Andes and some deeply rooted and occasionally hostile competitiveness.

Here are some notes I’ve taken during the past couple of months of sampling some wines from these two nations. All are in general distribution in Georgia, and many can be found in supermarkets and local wine stores.

AMALAYA BLANCO 2015

Here’s a different spin on an Argentine Torrontes. The winemaker blended 15 percent riesling with the torrontes. The riesling softens the wine, although it does carry a soft bite of acidity to it. There also is a glint of gold in the color.

This one comes from Argentina’s Calchaqui Valley, which sits more than a mile above sea level.

Distinctive flavors — some traditional Torrontes, some not — make this a good sipping wine.

It costs about $14.

KAIKEN TERROIR SERIES TORRONTES 2015

Torrontes is to white wine in Argentina what malbec is to red wine. It’s the best.

I was not familiar with this brand until a public relations rep pushed them — politely, of course — under my nose.

Nearly all Argentina’s wineries are at high altitudes in the Andean foothills. Many, including Kaiken’s, are above 4,500 feet. This gives grapes time to mature in cooler climates. Also, many of the vines are at least 80 years old, producing intense fruit.

This Torrontes is elegant. It’s crisp and clean with a distinctive flavor. That’s why I like it.

It is about $20.

KAIKEN ULTRA MALBEC 2014

Want to get to know why Argentina’s malbec is so well respected? Just open up a bottle of Kaiken Ultra. It’s rich and ripe, but not overwhelmingly so.

I suggest using an aerator when you pour this one, or pour the wines and let the glasses sit for 15-20 minutes before you begin to slurp.

This wine gets tender loving care. Grapes are handpicked and hand-sorted. The wine was fermented in small tanks and aged in a mix of new and used French oak barrels.

It is a purebred with 100 percent Malbec, and a perfect wine for red meat, which Argentines consume by the truckload.

Chill it lightly. It costs about $28.

TRIVENTO GOLDEN RESERVE MALBEC 2012/13

Trivento gets its name from the three winds that filter through the Mendoza vineyards. This is one to compare and contrast with the Kaiken. They are similar in style and overall quality, but the Trivento offers just a tad more structure, probably because it is older.

This wine comes from vineyards in Lujan de Cuyo, perfect for growing malbec. I’ve liked Trivento wines for years, because they offer consistently good quality and are sensibly priced.

This, too, is perfect with hearty meat dishes. It’s priced about $25.

CONCHA Y TORO GRAN RESERVA SERIE RIBERAS SAUVIGNON BLANC 2015

 “Serie Riberas” is this producer’s Riverbank Series, since each variety of grapes is grown along one of Chile’s major rivers. I have come to appreciate the unique structure of Chilean sauvignon blancs. Not as dynamically crisp and grapefruity as the New Zealand wines (see Wine of the Month), but still blessedly without the distractions of overoaking and fruit salad too many California SBs offer.

It’s dry, but with a bright fruit flavor in the background and a great acid backbone.

What to eat with it? Seafood and light meat or poultry and veggie dishes. It is about $18.

DOMAINE BOUSQUET MALBEC 2015

This is a lighter version of malbec, both in color and in structure. But the fruit flavors that come from these organically grown grapes are distinctive and quite food-friendly.

The label cites “silky tannins,” and that’s just the way I would describe that texture impression. You don’t taste tannins, you feel them in the mouth. And the Domaine Bousquet Malbec has a lovely mouth feel.

It also has a lovely price tag of about $12.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.

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