BUZZ: WHEN did they start making wine with chile peppers, Marnie?
Marnie: I think you may have your wires crossed, Buzz. Where did you hear that?
Buzz: I read it right on the label of the wine my buddy brought over last night. It said "Chile." My gut can't handle spicy stuff the way it used to, so I didn't open it.
Marnie: Oh. No need to worry. That's not "chile wine"; it's wine from Chile in South America.
Buzz: Red wine from South America? I thought they all drank tequila.
Marnie: Maybe in Mexico, but the southern reaches of South America have a wine-friendly temperate climate. Both Chile and Argentina are sources of world-class wine at bargain prices. You should check them out.
Buzz: Do they come in all the same flavors?
Marnie: Chile makes lots of wine from familiar grapes like merlot and cabernet, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Argentina is better known for malbec, a grape that we rarely see elsewhere. It comes from France originally but is so much better-suited to the climate of the Mendoza plateau, it has become something of an Argentinian specialty.
Buzz: OK, so the special stuff is in Argentina? Not Chile?
Marnie: Great wines are made in both countries, Buzz. Chile has its own unique variety, too, called carmenère. Like malbec, it comes from the Bordeaux region, and was used as a minor blending grape there. But, while the French stopped growing carmenère more than a century ago, it has survived and thrived in Chile's sunny central valley. It tastes like merlot on steroids — broadly similar, but deeper in color and stronger in flavor. Ironically enough, it also smells a little bit like peppers — not chile peppers, but roasted bell peppers — and pairs well with spicy food.
Buzz: I love peppers and onions with Italian sausage. Next time I'll add some Chile.
Marnie Old is Philadelphia's highest-profile sommelier. She has designed wine lists for restaurants like Parc and Bar Ferdinand. Her latest book, "Wine Secrets," is a collection of wine advice shared by top wine professionals. Marnie consults for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and is an adviser to the beverage trade. Check out her blog at sauceblog.marnieold.com. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Daily News City Editor Gar Joseph.