Around the time of the first Thanksgiving celebration at the Plymouth Colony in 1621, workers were already harvesting grapes in the vineyards of Chile and Argentina—and in fact had been doing so for almost 75 years. In both countries, Spanish missionaries had brought vines over from Europe in the 1500s; the first professionally farmed vineyard in Chile was established in 1554.
Nevertheless, South American wines didn't have a major presence in wine shops in the United States until the early 1990s. Chile started the movement and quickly became known for delicious wines at very affordable prices. Lately, it has been Argentina's turn: Measured in dollars, Argentinean wine imports to the U.S. rose 31 percent from the first six months of 2006 to the first six months of 2007. Both countries have their specialties. From Chile, look for crisp, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca and San Antonio valleys, both located close to the Pacific Ocean, and reds made from Carmenère, a distinctively spicy French grape abundant in Chilean vineyards. In Argentina, the Salta province is known for Torrontés, a native grape variety with a distinctive, floral aroma that makes some of the country's most interesting whites. But Malbec from Mendoza is unquestionably the country's marquee variety—its rich blueberry and blackberry flavors, light smokiness and soft tannins lead to immensely appealing red wines.
Both Chile and Argentina produce an enormous amount of wine. Not all of it is remarkable, or even good, but the best bottlings—such as the 17 here—still represent extraordinary value at $20 or less a bottle. Beyond that, any one of them would make an ideal partner for roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and the 10 or 12 other side dishes of a traditional Thanksgiving.
2005 Gimenez Riili Torrontés ($11) Fragrant floral notes rise from this aromatic, citrusy Torrontés from a family-owned winery founded in 1945 in Mendoza's Maipú department. The Riili family, once mostly known for producing Bonarda, has been making a wide range of quality wines since the early '00s.
2005 Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon ($12) Cabernet this good—loaded with blackberry fruit and with enough tannin to give the wine structure—is hard to find, especially at such a low price. The winery, where well-known California winemaker Paul Hobbs serves as consultant, was founded in 1890 by its namesake, an Italian immigrant from Piedmont.
2006 Finca El Portillo Malbec ($13) Bright berry flavors and a soft, lush texture define this medium-bodied Malbec made from vines grown more than 3,000 feet above sea level. The El Portillo wines are the most affordable ones from Argentina's well-known Bodegas Salentein, which farms nearly 5,000 acres of vineyards at the foot of the Andes in Mendoza.
2005 Trapiche Broquel Bonarda ($15) Ebulliently fruity, with an unabashedly grapey aroma and flavor, this red made from Bonarda, a grape indigenous to northern Italy, tastes like Argentina's answer to American Zinfandel, without Zinfandel's often-elevated alcohol levels.
2006 Bodegas Caro Amancaya ($18)This black-purple wine, full of ripe blueberry fruit and named for a mountain flower that grows in the Andes, blends Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon in roughly equal proportion. The company, founded in 1998, is a joint venture between two famous wine families, the Lafite-Rothschilds of Bordeaux and the Catenas of Argentina.
2004 Luigi Bosca Reserva Malbec ($18) Dry, cold winters in the Luján de Cuyo subregion of Mendoza give this berry-rich Malbec a tense, racy structure that keeps it from becoming too rich and dense, while a year in French oak adds savory spice notes. The winery, which was founded in 1901, is still entirely family-owned.
2005 BenMarco Malbec ($20) A small percentage of Bonarda gives this juicy, luscious Malbec a perfumey, floral note. It's made by Pedro Marchevsky, who may be the most respected viticulturist in Argentina. Marchevsky named his winery for his father, Marcos, who first taught him how to plant grapevines.
2006 Casa Julia Sauvignon Blanc ($9) Winemaker Pablo Morande spent two decades as technical director for Chilean giant Concha y Toro before leaving to help found Casa Julia, a reliable source for high-quality, affordable wines. This lively white has bright lemon-lime notes and a tangy finish.
2006 Oops Carmenère Rosé ($12) Despite its silly name, this lightly fruity rosé—with a hint of Carmenère's characteristic spiciness—is very appealing. It's made from grapes grown on the banks of the Lontué River.
2006 Cono Sur Visión Gewürztraminer ($14) Gewürztraminer is a relatively unknown grape in Chile, but that may well change if wines like this dry, fresh, lychee-scented white from Cono Sur are indicative of what this Alsace variety can be when planted in the right place.
2005 Apaltagua Envero ($15) The Tutunjian family specializes in Carmenère, employing one of Chile's best winemakers, Alvaro Espinoza, to create expressive, potent bottlings like this one. Produced from 50-year-old vines, it provides exotic herbal aromas and spicy, dark-berry fruit.
2006 Kingston Family Vineyards Tobiano Pinot Noir ($20) American vintner Courtney Kingston's great-grandfather headed to Chile to find gold. He never did, but five generations later, Kingston—along with her brother Tim and father, Michael—decided to plant vineyards on the family ranch there. Now, with American winemaker Byron Kosuge, she's producing some of Chile's best Pinots, like this one, which has ripe black raspberry notes and a satiny texture.
2004 Viña Santa Ema Amplus One ($20) This polished, black-fruit-rich red, an unusual but delicious blend of Carmenère, Syrah and Carignane, comes from a Maipo Valley winery established in 1956 by the son of an Italian immigrant. Its invitingly plush texture makes it hard to resist.
2006 Cocodrilo Cabernet Sauvignon ($17) California winemaker Paul Hobbs founded his Argentine winery in 1991, and makes impressive wines in both the United States and Argentina, among them this black tea–scented Cabernet.
2004 Nómade Malbec ($20) Tomás Achával, the former president of Argentina's Chandon Winery, sources grapes from top vineyards for his Nómade wines. This peppery Malbec comes from a 75-year-old Mendoza vineyard.
2004 Carmen Carmenère Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($14) Carmen was the first Chilean winery to identify the obscure French variety Carmenère in its vineyards, a discovery leading to wines like this elegant, tobacco-scented red.
2006 EQ Sauvignon Blanc ($17) Founded in 1999, the Matetic family's winery soon attracted critical praise for its organically grown wines made under the EQ label—like the melony EQ Sauvignon Blanc, one of the best in Chile.