It's no secret that the Southern Hemisphere has become one of the world's go-to sources for delicious yet affordable wines. But the story of how it achieved its success in the global marketplace is not as widely known. One of the ways in which the countries of Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and South Africa have grown into the players they are today is by closely identifying themselves with specific varieties and then working tirelessly to refine their expressions of those grapes. Once each of these nations aligned itself with its signature wine, vintners spent years honing their production process through a persistent focus on grape sources and winemaking techniques.
The results are in the bottle: Australian Shiraz, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Argentine Malbec, Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, South African Chenin Blanc. These are wines enjoyed around the world even by those unfamiliar with other offerings from these countries. Not only are they known as reliable options for value, but they offer distinctive flavors unique to their regions—there is no mistaking them for versions of the same grapes found elsewhere. This is one of the keys to their popularity: They deliver excellent quality for the price while still offering expressive character and a style all their own.
By building their wine industries around grapes so well-suited to their regions' climates, these countries have been able to increase production capacity to impressive levels without sacrificing quality. For each of the five categories covered in this roundup, we offer a selection of 10 bottlings rated 88 points or higher and priced at $25 or less, all of them made in large-enough quantities to be widely available. Whether you know these wines already or are just trying them for the first time, this selection offers the perfect jumping-off point to explore the wine world's vast southern frontier.
Shiraz is Australia's signature wine—and for good reason. The Syrah grape flourishes in many parts of the continent, often showcasing bold, full-bodied flavors of dark berries and cherries, with spice, black tea, pepper and sarsaparilla details offering complexity. Even the wines built to age drink well on release.—MaryAnn Worobiec
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Crisp, aromatic and refreshing, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are among the most distinctive wines in the world, transmitting terroir in a bright and effusive way. Fresh lime, lemon and grapefruit flavors tend to be at the core of these light-bodied wines, which sometimes veer into tropical fruit and melon flavors. Other versions show mineral and herb details, including lemongrass and lemon verbena.—M.W.
Malbec is the red grape that put Argentina on the map, with intense dark fruit flavors that are powerful and spicy. Malbec can be crafted in a variety of styles, from rich and ripe to elegant and creamy, as winemakers explore a variety of high-altitude terroirs at the base of the Andes.—Kim Marcus
Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon
Chile's Cabernet Sauvignons are well-structured and full of flavors, and can give versions from France and California a run for their money. Ranging from medium- to full-bodied in style, Chilean Cabernets offer pure-tasting red fruit and spice components that are finely balanced.—K.M.
Wines to try:
Viña Haras de Pirque Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley Hussonet Gran Reserva 2013 (90 points, $15)
Viña San Pedro Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley 1865 Selected Vineyards 2016 (90 points, $16)
South African Chenin Blanc
With more Chenin Blanc acreage than even France's Loire Valley, South Africa is a major player with this distinctive varietal. South African Chenin Blancs ripple with a range of peach, yellow apple, green almond, honeysuckle and verbena flavors, ranging from a steely, unoaked style to fuller-bodied, lush and tropical versions. For a change of pace, this category is hard to beat.—James Molesworth
Wines to try:
Tania & Vincent Carême Terre Brûlée Le Blanc Swartland 2017 (91 points, $16)
Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc Western Cape 2017 (89 points, $14)