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Taking a less-familiar wine road in S. America

TODAY wine columnist Edward Deitch highlights some wines from South America that you don't hear about every day: the red bonarda from Argentina, and the white Pedro Ximenez. Now does that refer to a man named Pedro or a grape?
/ Source: TODAY

Some new releases from South America came my way not long ago, and along with the familiar varieties were a couple that you don’t hear about every day. The red bonarda from Argentina certainly isn’t unknown, although it is overshadowed by malbec, which has become the country’s signature red. And then there is the white Pedro Ximenez. You may be wondering, does that refer to a man named Pedro or a grape?

It turns out Pedro Ximenez is both. A little Web research revealed that Pedro Ximenez is the Spanish version of Peter Siemens, a German who in the 1500s, legend has it, introduced the grape to Spain, where it has long been used in the production of sherry and other fortified (sweet) wines in the southern part of the country. It’s also the most widely planted white variety in Argentina, where it is used to make similar wines. In Chile, small amounts of dry white table wine are made from it.

And that brings us to the 2008 Pedro Ximenez from Vina Falernia in Chile’s Elqui Valley, which at about 300 miles north of Santiago, is the country’s northernmost wine estate. The wine was, I have to say, one of the more interesting whites I’ve tasted recently, and it did, in fact, remind me just a bit of sherry, especially with its subtle almond note. Crisp and dry, it also showed green apple, touches of sage and flowers and lots of minerals. It had considerable “mouthfeel,” meaning that it filled the mouth with flavor and texture that lasts long after you swallow a sip.

Food pairings? Figs or melon with prosciutto come to mind, along with pates and other full-flavored appetizers. Grilled chicken or pork with herbs would also work well. The suggested price of $9 surprised me and makes this unusual wine a great value. Imported by Meadowbrook Estates, a division of Empson USA, Alexandria, Va.

If bonarda doesn’t get the same respect as malbec, it had been the most planted grape in Argentina until malbec surpassed it. While its origins are in France or Italy (depending on the research source), it thrives in Argentina, producing dark, fruity wines that have good tannic structure and ample acidity.

An excellent example is the 2006 Broquel Bonarda from Argentina’s Mendoza province. Broquel is a label of Trapiche, one of Argentina’s best-known wineries. This $17 wine has a lot going on, with dominant fruit notes of blackberry and plum and touches of mint and other herbs, cinnamon and milk chocolate. With its bright acidity, we enjoyed it with my wife’s latest rendition of an old favorite, Brunswick stew, in which she combined boneless chicken, orange heirloom tomatoes, corn, onions, okra and lots of black pepper. It will also match well with meats, including beef and lamb. Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.

While Pedro Ximenez and bonarda don’t have the comfortable ring of, say, chardonnay and merlot, they represent a refreshing departure from the familiar. And that’s the point. In wine, there is always something new, something different, to discover. That, for me, is what makes it so interesting.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at