Wines from the southern hemisphere are no strangers to wine lists today. Guests frequently opt for tried-and-true malbec from Mendoza, sauvignon blanc from Marlborough and shiraz from McLaren Vale. But venues looking to pump up their wine programs with new offerings might consider venturing off the beaten path. Here are some details on four southern hemisphere wine regions to watch, including producer recommendations and food pairing suggestions, and how to turn wine lovers on to these often less-familiar choices.
Casablanca Valley, Chile
One of Chile’s coolest wine-growing regions, the Casablanca Valley is situated in the Aconcagua region in the northern part of the country. The frigid Humboldt Current that flows north along the western coast of South America brings in cool morning fogs, resulting in elegant white wines with vibrant acidity.
“I’ve found the region of Casablanca, Chile, most exciting for sauvignon blanc, showing very distinct influence of proximity to the Pacific Ocean,” says Kevin Bratt, concept wine director for Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, which operates two locations in Chicago and another in Las Vegas. His wine lists have 250 options by the bottle, and 24 by the glass, including the 2011 Vina Casablanca Nimbus Sauvignon Blanc for $28 a bottle. “Its perfect balance of maracuya [passion fruit] and hints of melon mixed with fresh acidity is an amazing pairing with shrimp and scallop ceviche,” Bratt says.
Master sommelier George Miliotes agrees on the appeal of Casablanca’s whites, including the value of both its sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. “We certainly look to market Casablanca whites for their crisp and palate-cleansing mouth feel, and excellent price-to-quality ratio,” says Miliotes, director of beverage and hospitality for Capital Grille, an Orlando, Fla.-based fine-dining steakhouse chain.
Capital Grille, which owns and operates 46 locations nationwide, includes more than 350 wines on its lists. The chain offers the 2010 and 2011 Natura and Veramonte sauvignon blanc during the annual Generous Pour Event, at which guests can sample up to nine wines with dinner for a $25 surcharge.
Michael Scaffidi compares sauvignon blanc from this region to that from Santa Barbara: fruit forward and richer than Old World styles like Sancerre, but without the jalapeño bite on the palate that can come from California bottles. It also tends to be more restrained than New Zealand sauvignon blanc in its passion fruit and other tropical fruit, he says.
“Chilean wines in general sell themselves,” explains Scaffidi, wine director for the 42-seat, fine-dining American restaurant Plume at the 99-room Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C. “They are great for guests looking for bottles of wine priced $50 or under.” Scaffidi’s ambitious wine program includes 1,600 wines by the bottle, and 65 by the glass.
And you can’t forget about the region’s reds. Bratt has seen strong future potential for pinot noir in the Casablanca Valley. “For the same reason sauvignon blanc is so clean and refreshing, the cool maritime influence on pinot noir creates an ideal growing area for this varietal,” he notes.
A white aromatic varietal—torrontés—is the hottest thing coming out of this cool, northern Argentina region. “What makes torrontés so special and interesting is that it has such distinct aromatics,” explains Miliotes. These include aromas of rose petals, citrus fruits, especially tangerines, “and a potent dose of baking spices,” he says.
But Miliotes points out that with those descriptors, guests often wrongly assume the wine will be sweet: It’s actually refreshingly bone dry. Staff at The Capital Grille market torrontés from Salta as one of the up-and-coming white varietals of the world—and a signature varietal of this Argentinean region. Miliotes finds it to be a winning pairing with the restaurant’s pan-fried calamari with hot cherry peppers appetizer.
Since torrontés has a nose and a palate not unlike other aromatic white varietals, Scaffidi finds it helpful to describe it for guests in terms of other more familiar varietals. Namely, torrontés possesses body like sauvignon blanc, with a nose like similar to viognier.
Scaffidi notes that torrontés’ attractive aromatics are matched by a wallet-friendly price tag. This makes it an appealing choice for those who are looking for an eclectic bargain on the wine list. He partners torrontés with dishes with lobster, ginger, carrots, as well as shrimp curry and salads without tomatoes. Plume offers the 2009 Crios de Susana Torrontés for $45 a bottle.
Though torrontés may be getting all the buzz in Salta, Adam Schroeder also sees some interesting reds coming out of the region. As opening manager for Fogo de Chão, an 18-unit Brazilian steakhouse chain headquartered in Dallas, he is always searching for great red wine to pair with the variety of table-skewered meat offered on the menu.
“Salta is unique because of its sandy, dry climate and plentiful water supply from surrounding rivers,” Schroeder explains. Fogo de Chão carries the 2009 Bodega Colome Malbec for $68 a bottle. “It is popular in our restaurants—the heavy body and velvety smooth finish pairs well with our steaks and lamb chops.” Fogo de Chão locations have a wine list with more than 250 labels, as well as 15 wines by the glass.
As one of the coolest wine-growing regions in the world, this island off the southeastern coast of Australia is best known for grapes and wines that traditionally thrive in this climate. Tasmania produces clean wines “with little extraction or manipulation of the fruit,” says Schroeder, including sparkling wines and pinot noir.
Miliotes concurs. While consumers don’t often see many of them on store shelves and wine lists, he believes that Tasmanian wines are worth seeking out—especially the region’s elegant, restrained pinot noir. “The climate allows for pinot noir to ripen slowly, without too much heat, which gives complexity and balance to most of their pinots, without being overly fruity and rich.”
Capital Grille has included the 2003 Tower Pinot Noir from Tamar Valley, a wine perfect alongside a hand-cut filet mignon, on its Generous Pour menu. Miliotes describes Tasmanian wines as complex and fun, without the sticker shock of a Burgundy price tag.
But Tasmania currently suffers from underexposure and unfamiliarity. Neither Bratt, nor Scaffidi, nor Schroeder has any Tasmanian wines on the list—though they admit this could change as guests become more acquainted with the region and start to request wines from it.
Some of the French Champagne houses including Moet & Chandon have started using Tasmanian grapes for sparkling wine. And rieslings produced in the region have evoked comparisons to mineral-driven ones from Germany’s classic Mosel region. Global warming has also allowed grapes in the area to more fully ripen, lending complexity and vibrancy to Tasmanian wines.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
“The wine-growing regions of South Africa are very exciting, with amazing quality and value coming from several very different varietals across the Cape Winelands in the Western Cape,” says Bratt. He finds that winemakers are exploring varietals beyond pinotage—South Africa’s native red grape that still has devoted fans craving its funky, savage aromas and flavors.
What’s more, Bratt notes, Stellenbosch’s maritime climate and ancient alluvial soils create the perfect atmosphere for growing cabernet sauvignon. He carries the 2008 De Toren “Z” for $85 a bottle, a blend of five red Bordeaux varietals, and a wine that’s indicative of the exciting experimentation occurring in the region right now. “Rich and full on the palate, with ripe plum, fresh berries and a hint of black licorice, I generally match it with a prime cut,” Bratt says.
According to Miliotes, Stellenbosch takes the best of Napa and Sonoma and blends them together—with Sonoma’s cooling ocean influence, and Napa’s variety of sub-regions that allow for many varietals to be cultivated. The Capital Grille locations carries about 25 different Stellenbosch wines across its locations, including Bordeaux blend 2007 Engelbrecht Els, Proprietary Blend ($90/bottle). The chain has served the region’s Mulderbosch Faithful Hound at its Generous Pour event.
The great structure and body of these wines, coupled with aromas of blackberries and dark chocolate and some smokiness from the oak, make them a nice match with bone-in, Kona-crusted sirloin with caramelized shallot butter. Stellenbosch wines can appeal to wine lovers who typically order red Bordeaux or a California cabernet sauvignon.
Beyond its reds, Stellenbosch is also producing some exciting white wines. Scaffidi points to the region’s sauvignon blancs, which have a similar price tag to those from New Zealand, but more subtlety, including attractive notes of white flowers and passion fruit. He likes to pair them with monkfish wrapped in bacon.