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To France via Argentina

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The French probably don't begrudge Argentina its emblematic grapes; malbec (usually Cahors) is a somewhat esoteric choice for them, and torrontes doesn't even exist in Europe. But what happens when New World wine regions start messing with the crown jewels of Burgundy and Bordeaux?

More often than not, good things happen. For pinot noir, most of the good stuff comes from the northern reaches of Patagonia, in the provinces of Neuquen and Rio Negro.  There's a huge difference between the wine traditions of the two provinces, however.

Neuquen's government started promoting the wine industry in the area of San Patricio del Chanar just over a decade ago, though wine had been made informally there for much longer.  Wineries including NQN and Familia Schroeder opened up with ultra-modern facilities along the same rural road.  Rio Negro, by contrast, has some of the oldest wineries in the country, with Humberto Canale clocking in at 104 years.  Canale's pinot vines are 35 years old, and its Marcus Gran Reserva is usually outstanding.

And then there are old-new hybrids like Bodega Chacra, which is less than a decade old but uses pinot vines that date from 1932.  Its Barda Pinot Noir 2011 is excellent, rated 89 points by Argovino.  There are old vines all over Argentina waiting to be revived, and Bodega Chacra has snapped up quite a few in its region.  Look out for more glimpses of pinot's past and future from Argentina.

Patagonia isn't the only destination for pinot, though. We've recently added reviews of a few from Mendoza, as well as some merlots (just to irk the folks from Bordeaux). Trapiche's 2012 Pinot Noir is an excellent value for a lighter style reminiscent of wines from the Sonoma County coast. And for something special, check out the 2006 Particular Merlot from Casa Bianchi - its deep, rich flavors just go on and on.