For the World Cup, fill your cup with South American wines

U.S. foodies love wines from South America. We think of them as rich, fruity, friendly to our palates and pocketbooks.

Throw a party with a South American theme, and serve crisp, fruity chardonnays and sauvignon blancs, rich and hearty cabernet sauvignons and merlots. Or serve exotic, lesser-known wines from the same continent.

From Argentina, you can serve malbec: a grape that used to add muscular tannins and acids to France’s famous Bordeaux reds, but in South America turns soft and fruity, tasting like chocolate-cherry candy.

From Chile, you can serve white torrontés: unique to that country, it has exotic flavors of lychees, peaches and citrus.

From Uruguay you can serve tannat: a sturdy red with the tannins to stand up to chewy, grass-fed, gaucho-raised steaks.

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Some think South America is a bit warm for good grapes. But its vines stretch across the continent’s temperate zones.

American wine fans also think of South American wines as something that arrived stateside 20 or 30 years ago, just as we were learning about California wines. But the subcontinent’s wine history is far more complex.

For starters, it’s centuries older than the U.S. grape industry. As early as 1532, Portuguese conquistadors brought their native grapes, and their Spanish counterparts brought the black mission grape to Chile and Argentina by 1560.

Grapes did well in those countries. Too well — and the industries were shut down by Spanish and Portuguese colonial rulers because they was competing too well with their own wines. Restrictions were eased in the late 1800s, as Europe’s grapes were devastated by the root louse phylloxera, which South America avoided because it was so isolated from Europe.

South America today, still phylloxera-free, has some of the world’s oldest vines — often 100 years old — because of this. And vineyard managers there ask foreign visitors to wash their shoes before walking among the grapes.

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South America’s real wine boom began after political and economic tensions eased in the 1980s, and massive investment arrived from Europe and the United States.

With the World Cup upon us, you might expect to find some hearty red Brazilian wines. But they’re hard to come by in South Florida. Most Brazilian restaurants instead carry big reds from Chile and Argentina.

That’s about to change. Brazil is making a major push to export more of its wines. Importer Vinicola Perini has Brazilian wines at Global Liquors in Miami, Bistro Mezzaluna in Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere. Café Boulud in Palm Beach is holding a Brazilian Wine Dinner on June 26, featuring cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot ($75 a person; 561-655-6060).

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