Most of the wine that comes from South America tends to be made in the California style: big flavor, big alcohol, big oak, and little acidity. Although wine has been made in countries like Chile and Argentina since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, it wasn't until the 1990s that a refashioned South American wine industry began to set its sights on the big enchilada -- the North American consumer. So it made perfect sense that the winemakers would deliver products created according to a model already familiar in their antipodal market.
Of all the wines I've tasted from Argentina, the ones that have impressed me the most were grown in Patagonia. The climate there is cooler than in the north of the country, where higher temperatures make for big yields of ripe fruit brimming with sugar but lacking the acidity that I'm looking for at the dinner table. (Cool temperatures and especially cool evenings during warm summer months are the key to growing fine wine grapes with high levels of acidity.)
I have to admit that I rarely reach for Argentina when I go wine shopping, but when my sales person suggested I try the Bodegas Fin del Mundo reserve Chardonnay, I was roped in by his "man, you gotta try this wine, I know you're gonna love it" pitch and the fact that it weighed in under $25.
"Acidity!" is what I wrote -- to my surprise -- in my tasting notes. Although the alcohol was a bit higher than what I generally look for, it was kept in check by the wine's nervy acid, and its ripe and dried stone fruit flavors were balanced by gentle minerality. And though there was an oaky note, it was subtle, in tune with the wine without eclipsing its freshness. It paired wonderfully with breaded and fried chicken fingers and potato purée and even had enough acidity to stand up to some beets that I had steamed and then marinated in red wine vinegar.
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The moral of the story?
Get to know your wine store's sales person; share your palate with them; take their recommendations; and they just might surprise you.