THE WINE GUY: Colorado cranks up quality and quantity

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Chilean wines have been considered good values as long as I can remember. What is different now is that quality has improved in recent years. As I wrote in my column on Argentina a few weeks ago, there are good wines under $10 and, in some ways, even better values in the $10 to $20 range.

Another similarity with Argentina is the fairly recent emergence of an otherwise lesser-known variety — in this case Carménère — as the country’s signature wine. This red grape was widely planted in Bordeaux in the early 1700s but virtually disappeared in the late 1800s.

As immigrants and others brought European varieties to Chile in the mid-1800s, it showed up there, seemingly disappeared again, then was identified in the 1990s and recognized for its potential.

Typically, Carménère displays appealing berry, coffee, chocolate and spice notes. The Colchagua Valley is the primary source, as it is for these wines recommended from my tastings: 2009 Cono Sur “Bicycle” ($11), 2009 MontGras Reserva ($15), 2008 Arboleda ($19). But Carménère is not just a “value” wine in Chile. Numerous wineries are producing complex, refined wines like the 2007 “El Incidente” ($50) from Viu Manent. It’s worth noting that the wine clearly benefits from the addition of Petit Verdot and Malbec.

Despite the excitement for and promise of Carménère, cabernet sauvignon still dominates the reds. It tends to show more ripe fruit than, say, Bordeaux, but more structure and herbal notes than California. Look for wines especially from the Colchagua and Maipo valleys. My favorites from the tastings: 2008 Los Vascos Reserve ($20), 2007 Santa Rita Medalla Real Single Estate ($20), 2009 Cono Sur Organic Cabernet Sauvignon/Carménère ($14).

As for the whites, chardonnay still rules by volume but sauvignon blanc, especially from the Casablanca Valley, may turn to be the best white overall. The best are fresh and crisp and quite aromatic, displaying lively fruit. These showed well in my tastings: 2009 Los Vascos ($11), 2010 Santa Rita Reserva ($12), 2008 Aboleda ($18).

Actually, like California, Chile has quite a diverse landscape and climate — in this case the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Andes Mountains to the east and the Atacama Desert to the north. This allows many grape varieties grow successfully.

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Beyond the varieties mentioned, there is a lot of merlot and I’ve been reading about the improving syrah.

Chile also is turning into a good source of pinot noir. One of my favorite sources is Cono Sur, the pioneer of Chilean pinot noir. They seek a Burgundian-style wine with a Chilean accent. The 2009 “Vision” is a fine expression of the Block 68 Old Vine vineyard ($15). The 2008 20 Barrels is a limited-edition special selection that rewards the effort ($28). Another good one is Bodegas Corpora 2008 “Llai Llai” ($13) from Bio Bio Valley, whose cool climate and coastal influences offer excellent conditions for the variety.

Interestingly, Chile is emerging as an innovator in sustainable agriculture. Several of the wineries mentioned in this column — Arboleda, Cono Sur, Santa Rita, Viu Manent — employ sustainable practices.

One of Chile’s most socially and environmentally responsible businesses is Emiliana Organic Vineyards. Dedicated to producing wines made from organic and biodynamic grapes, they’ve introduced a new line called Eco Balance (from sustainably farmed vineyards in transition to organic status).

Priced at an inviting $9 and delivering equally inviting quality, the whites include 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and 2009 Chardonnay. The reds include 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 Merlot, and 2008 Carménère.

All in all, a diverse and impressive showing. For the most part, Chilean wine delivers high quality at reasonable prices, a good combination in any economy.—Rich Mauro has been writing about wine since 1995. He is a policy analyst for the Denver Regional Council of Governments. Reach him at or 30 S. Prospect St., Colorado Springs 80903.


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