Handy Andeans

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“Where are the Andes?” goes a lame school-boy joke that has probably been around for generations. The answer, in case you had forgotten (or never knew) is, “At the end of the armies.” Yes, I did warn you it was lame and I have to admit that it took a few moments for the penny to drop. Of course you know where the Andes are. Even the cat next door knows that.

But did you know that the Andes mountain range is over four thousand miles long? It’s the longest in the world. It passes through seven different South American countries too, so if you have the inclination you can while away the time trying to remember what they are.

Oscar Salas: Chief Winemaker at Terra AndinaOscar Salas: Chief Winemaker at Terra Andina

Just to get you started, one of them is Chile. The mountains have a significant effect on the climate and many of Chile’s best vineyards lie fairly close to them, because they help to create a wide temperature variation between day and night. This drop in heat is vital in maintaining the grapes’ acidity levels. And not only that, most of Chile’s top wine regions depend on irrigation, getting the necessary water from guess where? Yes, the melting snow caps of the Andes.

While there are plenty of top-of-the-range Chilean wines to choose from, here are a couple of everyday drinkers that you could keep at the bottom of the fridge for unexpected guests.

Terra Andina Caminos Chardonnay 2011 (white), Chile (3 litre box Bt. 785 @ Villa)

This is an entry-level wine from the well-known Chilean wine company Terra Andina (TEH-rah an-DEE-nah). Terra Andina’s range of bottled wines tends to be fruit-forward and finely balanced.  This pale gold wine has hints of green and an aroma of pineapple, gooseberry and dried herbs. It’s off-dry, with a very soft mouth-feel and rich flavours of tropical fruit. The wine has the tiniest touch of acidity and quite a long honeyed and fruity finish.

I prefer my whites with a bite although I don’t mean those toe-curling things that are so full of startling acidity that they could probably clean the floor of an abattoir. But a little bit of acidity is important, otherwise the wine tastes flabby, dull and lack-lustre. Come to think about it, I know some people like that.

This wine is a fairly basic, straight-forward Chardonnay, so if you prefer light and easy whites, you might like to give it a try. It would make a good party wine, because the three-litre box works out at an amazingly cheap Bt. 196 per bottle. And in case you’re wondering, the exotic sounding name Terra Andina means “The Land of the Andes”. While I’m at it, Caminos is the Spanish word for “roads”. I hope you appreciate this free translation service that I provide. Most places, you’d have to pay.

Casas Patronales Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (white), Chile (3 litre box Bt. Bt. 895 @ Foodland)

I was going to translate “Casas Patronales” for you as well, but I think I’ve done enough free translating for one day. You can probably work it out for yourself anyway. At first glance, this looks like pretty much the same thing as the Caminos with some Sauvignon Blanc chucked in, but for the extra money you actually get a better wine. This doesn’t always follow of course, but in the case of these two wines, it does. Made from grapes grown south of Central Valley, this pale straw-coloured wine has a slightly spicy aroma of tropical fruit. You’ll probably pick up peach, melon, pineapple, grapefruit and the smell of ripe bananas. It’s quite an elegant aroma, with hints of dry herbs in the background.

The texture is very soft and slightly creamy with a dash more acidity than the Caminos so that the soft fruitiness is pleasantly balanced by a refreshing tang. There’s a satisfying dry and fruity finish too, and you might detect oak and honeyed vanilla. It’s a very well-made wine and at 13.5% alcohol content, it’s an attractive easy drinker which would go well with chicken dishes, salads or Swiss cheeses. It works out at the equivalent of Bt. 223 per bottle.

Incidentally, a friend recently told me that some superb boxed wines from South Africa will be soon appearing in Thailand. I heard this from someone who is a Big Name in the Australian wine trade, so I cannot reveal anything else. As they used to say in the Army, “No names, no pack-drill.” Or so my father used to tell me. Let’s just say that I heard it on the grapevine.