by Dwight The Wine Doctor, Dwight Casimere
With the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl on back-to-back weekends, it’s a good time to think about some fantastic wines at unbelievable prices that come from countries that cheer for a very different kind of football.
Chile and Argentina are two South American countries where the predominant sport is soccer, only there, its known simply as football. Unlike American football where the ball is passed and caught more than it is actually kicked, the ball in soccer is primarily kicked and occasionally, deflected off a player’s head.
But, I digress. Chile and Argentina have been exporting wines to the U.S. for several years now and, thanks to some competitive pricing, they’re starting to make their way into the common vernacular of wine lovers. In countries where outdoor grilling is a part of everyday lifestyle and not just the tailgating associated with game day, their wines make a perfect accompaniment to the beer brats, char-burgers, briskets, po-boys, pizzas, fajitas and guacamole dips that make up popular American football fare.
Ever since the missionaries traveling with the conquistadores brought vine cuttings from the native Spain to the area around one of their first settlements, Santiago, in the mid-sixteenth century, Chile has been producing some spectacular, affordable wines. With a climate very close to the Mediterranean homeland, a fertile, dark volcanic soil, the first wines exported to the homeland began to quickly outclass the local stash. Spain began imposing heavy restrictions and high taxes on their colonial cousins, eventually leading to a revolt against the Spanish monarchy.
Again, I digress. Here are my picks from the best of Chile’s vast array of wines for your Pro Bowl or Super Bowl buffet. Maybe Brett Favre will show up. He has nothing else to do!
Concha y Toro is the leading exporter of wines from Chile. Their wines can be found in most stores and wine shops. The wines are excellent and the prices, across all their varietals, are reasonable. The winery has also invested heavily in expansion and created new wineries in both Chile and Argentina. Their expansion and diversification has resulted in the creation of such labels as Cono Sur, now a familiar staple at a number of bars and restaurants that feature South American food. I was in New York recently and saw Cono Sur on wine lists and at stores everywhere.
Cono Sur Riesling (Stelvin) Bicycle Series 2008 ($7.32) is the latest release from the protean producer. Its in bargain stores everywhere. This is a varietal normally associated with Germany or South Africa, but Chile and Cono Sur in particular, does a spectacular job with the Riesling grape. Its got nice fruit and is a little on the dry side so it will go well with any kind of pork dish. Its great to drink while passing the guacamole dip or diving into the Nachos.
Cono Sur Vision Pinot Noir 2008 ($11.99) moves you right into the serious stuff coming off the grill. Ribs, spicy rubbed chicken, Buffalo Wings and my personal version of Mike Ditka’s Pork Chop (I rub mine in a blend of Hot Paprika, Powdered Garlic and Cajun spices that I bought at the French Market in New Orleans, but you can experiment with your own blend. I also do a mean smoked duck that goes perfectly with this one).
Concha y Toro Xplorador Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.99) moves us right into the end zone with its flavors of rich berries and toasty oak. Bring out the chili, the smoked brisket and the blackened steak. The rub I brought back from The Gumbo Shop in the French Quarter is just the thing for marinating and cooking steaks. Tony Cachares and Zatarain’s are two authentic New Orleans spice blends are available in most stores as are Paul Proudhomme’s Spice Magic or Emeril’s blends. You can add your own ‘magic’ touches to give it your personal stamp. Trust me, this wine is a big one and can stand up to even a healthy dousing of Crystal hot sauce!
Odyssea Pinot Grigio 2009 Mendoza , Argentina $10 French winemaker Olivier Ruhard came to Mendoza, originally to work for Jaques Lourton, making great wine for Escorihuela. His touch is apparent in this delicate wine from Odyssea. Great with spicy foods like Gumbo or Buffalo wings or right at home with shrimp or crab, it has bright tropical fruit, hints of citrus and subtle back notes of cinnamon and green apple. Have it while you’re passing around the appetizers and listen to the rave reviews from your guests. You won’t find a more nuanced wine at this price!
Cucao PX 2008 Pedro Ximenez Elqui Valley Chile $11.99 I’m drinking this beauty even as I write this review. It comes with a screw cap, but don’t let that be a turnoff. There’s gold inside to go with its beautiful gold color! The Pedro Ximenex grape is a wild grape grown in the deserts of Chile in a region known as the Elqui Valley. It’s a hearty grape with big, juicy flavors. From the moment you open the bottle, you’re hit with the smell and the taste of fresh pineapple. Lemon-lime, almonds and honey dance on the tongue as you cram down oysters, crab and shrimp po’ boys. I’ve got a great recipe for shrimp and tilapia ceviche with diced mango, pineapple and jalapenos that would go perfectly with this one. There’s a touch of pear and fresh herbs on the back of the throat that makes it go down easy.
Pascual Brut NV ($11.84) from the Mendoza growing region of Argentina is an absolute last-second winning field goal. The wine has a bright Champagne-like appearance with green and yellow undertones. The blend of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc gives it a soft, gentle taste that makes it easy to drink. The ladies will love this one and if someone forgets the Coronas, it’ll make a nice substitute beverage for beer lovers that will carry them from kickoff to the final play.