As was predicted — or perhaps threatened — the south is rising again. In the case of wine, it’s both again and for the first time. And the south in question is the entire Southern Hemisphere. Though wines have been made in places such as Chile and South Africa for hundreds of years, many of them have only recently come to our attention in a look-down-our-noses north kind of way. Here are a couple of producers worth seeking out.
Secateurs is made by Badenhorst Family Wines in South Africa, and its 2010 Chenin Blanc is a stunner at around $16 a bottle. Starting out flowery on the nose, the wine races through wet wool aromas (not as bad as it sounds) to end up hinting of spice and cinnamon. It’s honeyed and voluptuous without being overblown, a product of indigenous yeast and maturation in old barrels. The Secateurs 2009 Red Blend (58 percent shiraz plus cabernet and three other mostly Rhône grapes) has more gravitas — plus cedar, pepper, blackberry and cassis on both the nose and the palate. Yet it’s far from heavy — really rather racy, in fact — despite becoming appealingly plummy and licorice-like with time. Both are available at Saglimbeni’s and the Gabriel’s superstore, the red alone at SeaZars on N. New Braunfels.
At around $10, the wines of Chile’s Oveja Negra (Black Sheep) are a total steal. I tasted through several of these (mostly 2008s though 2009s are now coming onto the market) recently, along with some from sister winery Chilensis that retail for maybe a buck or two more, and have rarely been so impressed with a total line. Among the ONs there’s a sauvignon blanc with a touch of free-run carmenere for ballast that is very clean with hints of mineral and citrus, and a chardonnay/viognier blend that’s soft, silky, tropical and doubtless a real crowd-pleaser. But the ON cabernet franc/carmenere blend beat out the whites by a whisker in my estimation. (There’s also a cab/syrah.) Cedary, spicy, minty and complex, it way overdelivered for its price point. The handsome package — yes, there’s a black sheep on the label — also belies the wine’s cost.
The Chilensis chardonnay and sauvignon blanc weren’t tasted, but the reds, all reservas, spoke eloquently for the label. A sharp, bright merlot easily countered the claim that Chile can’t produce this grape; it had focused cedar, leather, and eucalyptus qualities. The pinot noir, neither French nor California in style, offered black cherry pinned to beautiful bones and great acid. The 100-percent cabernet sauvignon was spicy, eucalyptus-scented and shouted structured cabernet in every sip. And then there was the carmenere, often said to be Chile’s signature grape. Sadly, the signature’s often smudged with green, weedy qualities — but not in this case. There’s great vanilla and caramel and an almost sweet — though not excessively so — core of dark fruit.
These wines aren’t yet in wide distribution, though you might find some of them at the Gabriel’s superstore in The Vineyard. Wine lists are another possibility. But the best way to make sure you can get them is to ask for them at your favorite outlet. It’s what I’ll have to do, y’all.