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A malbec grape plantation in Argentina, which ranks as the world’s fourth-largest wine producer. Courtesy photo
A malbec grape plantation in Argentina, which ranks as the world’s fourth-largest wine producer. Courtesy photo
ColumnsFood & WineTaste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Vittorio’s salutes South American wines

The corks were popping several weeks ago at Vittorio’s Italian Trattoria in Carmel Valley, from such South American wine meccas as Mendoza, Argentina, Casablanca, Chile and Canelones, Uruguay.

Owner/Manager Victor Magalhaes has moved his wine selections around and leveled the playing field for this inspiring wine collection brought in by Copa Fina Imports and representative, Lauren Koenig. Koenig’s selections made clear that South American wines are not just about malbec, a well-known “drink-alike” to cabernet sauvignon.

Malbec, mostly from Argentina, gained fame during the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009 when premium Napa cabernet sauvignon prices were then unaffordable for most wine lovers. Instead, a lot of them turned to these, dare I say it taste-a-like malbecs.

Most malbecs are grown in vineyards at an average of 4,200 feet high in the Andes Mountains in stony and alluvial soil, considered a fortunate asset by most growers. Cold nights extend the grape’s ripening while developing varietal character.

Vineyards in the Mendoza province of Argentina. Courtesy photo
Vineyards in the Mendoza province of Argentina. Courtesy photo

Malbec has settled back in sales as consumers went back to their cabernet sauvignon ways as discretionary dollars became easier to come by. Nonetheless, malbec has a place in anyone’s wine appetite. This was evident when Rico and I unveiled our 10 top wine discoveries a few weeks back and a Coen Malbec, fit the Argentine profile.

Surprisingly, Argentina ranks with the U.S. as the world’s fourth-largest wine producer, after Italy, France and Spain. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that malbec was introduced by a French producer who chose Mendoza for the country’s first vineyards.

In addition to malbec, Mendoza’s wine varietals include chardonnay, tempranillo and Torrontes. Chile was represented at Vittorio’s by a yummy Pinot Noir from the Casablanca Valley. This coastal district is just west of the Capital of Chile, Santiago. The valley opens directly onto the Pacific Ocean, which creates fog and mist, ideal for fine Pinot Noir wines.

Vittorio’s third course featured a 2018 Lafken Pinot which paired beautifully with a Fresh Spinach Tagliatelle with Short Rib Ragu and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Uruguay is a tiny wine producer nation with 8 regions. Among the most important are “canelones” at the extreme south end of the country where the lone wine from Uruguay was presented as Vittorio’s selection for the main course. This was an “old vine” 2018 Vina Progresso Tannat that mixed nicely with a grilled flank steak with fingerling potatoes & chimichurri salsa verde.

Tannat (ten-aht) comes from the southwest of France and is robust, tannic and deeply colored. Uruguay is best known for this grape. For more, visit

Wine Bytes

— Thanksgiving comes to the Vineyard Rose restaurant, in the vines at Temecula’s South Coast Winery Resort and Spa. from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 25. Executive Chef Jose Esparza has created an ala carte menu in the open-beamed, Tuscan-inspired dining room. A wide selection of entrees includes Misa salmon, slow-roasted turkey breast and braised short ribs — with all the trimmings. Desserts include traditional pumpkin pie, New York Cheesecake, baked apple crostata, and South Coast bread pudding. Reservations are required at Open Table or by calling 951-719-8356.

— La Fleur’s Winery in San Marcos has live music with Evan Diamond from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 27. Diamond has a powerful, soulful voice and has solidified herself as a top voice in the San Diego music scene. This concert is free, with snacks, wine and sangria available to purchase. RSVP to [email protected].

— Oak Mountain Winery in Temecula has a free concert from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sun. Nov. 28. Enjoy the Latin/Pop/Contemporary Jazz sounds of Abrakadabra. For more information, visit

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Reach him at [email protected]