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.