Chile long has had a reputation as a reliable producer of tasty, affordable cabernet sauvignons and sauvignon blancs, and more recently also for carménère, chardonnay, Bordeaux-style blends and pinot noir. While this remains as true as ever, Chile is making a concerted effort to reposition itself as a premium wine-producing country. With diverse geography and climate conditions, there is ample opportunity to achieve both goals.
Consider cabernet sauvignon, Chile’s most widely planted grape and Concha y Toro, Chile’s largest wine company. Its largest production and best-known wine, Casillero del Diablo (2016, $11), is a perennial good value.
At the other end of the spectrum, Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor Puente Alto Vineyard (2015, $125) has reached iconic status as one of Chile’s greatest red wines, and one of the best cabernets anywhere. (I reviewed this wine last January.)
Concha y Toro also excels at midpriced wines. Their 2016 Marques de Casa Concha ($25) is sourced from two historic vineyards, Puente Alto and Pirque, both in the Maipo region. It is nicely structured with rich fruit.
Another one of Chile’s largest wine companies, Viña San Pedro, founded in 1865, was a pioneer of Chilean wine. Today, it is also a leader in sustainable wine-growing and social responsibility. It even recently introduced a biogas plant that turns viticultural waste into energy. Its nicely structured 2014 1865 Single Vineyard ($17) provides bright red fruits with subtle mocha and smooth tannins.
I also enjoyed the 2016 Odfjell Armador ($15). Over 25 years ago, Dan Odfjell, a Norwegian shipping owner, established vineyards in Chile’s Maipo Valley. Today, all Odfjell vineyards throughout Chile are certified organic and biodynamic. This wine is lively, yet soft and round.
As good as Chilean cabernet sauvignon can be, there are a lot of cabs in this world. What Chile most distinctively excels at is carménère. Similar to malbec in Argentina, carménère came to Chile from France in the latter 1800s. An offspring of cabernet franc, it now is almost exclusively grown in Chile and has become the nation’s niche grape.
With its distinctive flavor profile, food friendliness and generally reasonable prices, carménère wines from Chile deserve more consumer attention. It certainly has mine. At its best, carménère supplies intense, juicy fruit, some spice (coffee, cocoa), smooth texture, and solid but silky tannins.
I wasn’t surprised to find several from Concha y Toro (all 2016 vintage). The Casillero del Diablo ($11) is a good everyday red. The Serie Riberas Gran Reserva ($17) was excellent, full-flavored and refined.
The Marques de Casa Concha ($25) was fresh, spicy, toasty and sleek. The Terrunyo Entre Cordilleras Peumo Vineyard Block 27 ($40) offered lively, bright fruit with herbal and chocolate notes.
And Viña San Pedro’s 2015 1865 Single Vineyard ($17) showed dense fruit, a solid structure, yet a refined palate.
Finally, Viña Ventisquero, a 20-year-old winery focused on sustainable production, now produces a variety of wines from Ventisquero’s Grey series of wines, presenting an expression of a single block of vines. The 2014 Glacier Trinidad Vineyard single block ($20) shows intense fruit, some tobacco and fresh tannins.
As I mention at the top, Chilean wine is more than cabernet sauvignon and carménère. Look for more recommendations here in the coming months.