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Winter Fun: Find Great Wines That Cost Almost Nothing

Recommendations for delicious wines for about $10.

A lot of people make New Year’s Resolutions they can’t possibly keep, like “I’m going to stop drinking good wine, and save my money for a 96 inch LCD, LED, HD, 3D TV.” Well, to mix metaphors, now you can have your cake and drink it, too, while watching that new TV. All you have to do is find good quality wine that costs almost nothing.

From our travels and writing this past year, we came across many producers who offer delicious wines at terrific prices. Two which we especially like and are happy to share with readers are located in neighboring countries in South America.

One is Concha y Toro Chile’s single largest winery, the other is Doña Paula, a large commercial winery in Argentina. Concha y Toro produces a series called Xplorador; Doña Paula’s series is called Los Cardos.

<b>Concha y Toro Xplorador</b>

Last year in Santiago we sat down with Concha y Toro’s chief winemaker, Marcelo Papa, to taste through almost the full range of wines. We reported the results of that tasting in The Wines of Chile on www.i-winereview.com. However, we never reported on Concha y Toro’s line of entry level wines, Xplorador. Xplorador wines have suggested retail prices under $10 a bottle, which usually translates into something less at your local neighborhood store.

How, you ask, can a respectable winery like Concha y Toro make such inexpensive wines? There are lot of reasons, of course, but the main one is that the fruit for these wines is sourced mainly from Chile’s Central Valley where the yields are high. Then, under the direction of winemaker Tito Urzia, that fruit is fermented and aged in large stainless steel tanks, not expensive, small French oak barriques. Don’t kid yourself. This process isn’t going to produce Chateau Margaux. But you can get perfectly good, drinkable wines.

Nothing complicated, not particularly nuanced, just pure, plain good fruit. This makes them easy drinking, either as an aperitif or with a meal. The Xplorador 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is a fruit forward Cabernet Sauvignon showing mostly red plum and berry fruit on the nose with just a hint of brambles and earth. It’s a straight- forward, uncomplicated wine, but it’s also surprisingly tasty, balanced and easy to drink. The Xplorador 2009 Merlot is a wine that definitely needs to be drunk with food. It has nice red plum fruit on the nose and palate, but it also has a green herbal note that can nicely complement the right kind of food (think brussel sprouts, asparagus, and other vegetarian fare). The Xplorador 2010 Malbec shows cherry and raspberry aromas and vibrant fruit on the palate. It’s quite delicious, albeit lighter than the typical Malbec coming out of Argentina.

<b>Dõna Paula Los Cardos</b>

Doña Paula was established in 1997 by Chilean entrepreneur Ricardo Claro of the Claro Group with the purchase of 40+ year old Malbec and Chardonnay vineyards in Luján de Cuyo. The estate now consists of 1,878 acres of vineyards in the Tupungato and Luján de Cuyo regions. David Bonomi is chief winemaker, and Edgardo Del Popolo is viticulturalist.

Los Cardos is Doña Paula’s entry level wines which sell for $10-12. The fruit for most of the wines comes from the Finca El Alto in Ugarteche (Luján de Cuyo) and the high altitude (1100 m) Finca Los Cerezos in Valle de Uco, the zone closest to the Andes and therefore the coldest and best suited for early-ripening varietals, especially Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Doña Paula 2010 Los Cardos Sauvignon Blanc shows good varietal character with an opulent style. It has an effusively fragrant nose of grapefruit and nettles and a citrus, pear and herbal palate of very good intensity. This is a very good wine and an excellent value!

Doña Paula 2009 Los Cardos Chardonnay is in the ripe, New World style with a nose of smoke, ripe citrus, and honeydew. It’s ripe on the attack with good integration of fruit and oak and shows good acidity on the finish

Fresh plum and blackberry waft from the glass of the dark ruby purple Doña Paula 2009 Los Cardos Malbec. There’s a sweet, tangy attack of blackberry fruit with notes of underbrush, tar and earth and good purity of fruit on the finish with firm, ripe tannins. This wine offers everything, and at a very reasonable price.