Chile is a strange country. End to end it is 2700 miles long, much of it mountainous. Pretty much from top to bottom wine is made in this country… and yet when we think of “Chilean wine,” a certain character comes to mind — namely cheap Cabernet.
Of course, this is folly. The wine made in California is far different from that made in New York or Virginia. You’d never lump those regions together, would you?
The Wines of Chile consortium recently set out to correct this misconception of Chile as a monotonous wine region, sending a set of 12 wines — 3 each of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Carmenere, and Cabernet — from different wineries in Chile. In some cases (as with Sauvignon Blanc), they were from three different regions, letting you explore the terroir of the country without leaving your desk. What I found was a real surprise — Chile is making some impressive (yet very inexpensive) Sauvignon Blanc, and its Pinot Noir has come a long way. And yet stylistically it is all over the map. A wine from one Valley may be completely unrecognizable vs. another of the same varietal from down the road. The bottom line: Don’t dismiss Chile as simple “value” wine — while not everything is a standout, some amazingly good wines can be found from this country’s vineyards.
All of the wines sampled in this tasting were from the more central valleys of Chile — which is fine, because that’s where the bulk of the wine production is, too. Thoughts on everything tasted follow.
2012 Vina Casablanca Nimbus Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley – Crisp, lots of tropical character. Easy-drinking and very fresh. Mango and pineapple a-plenty. Lots of acid. A- / $13
2011 San Pedro 1865 Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley – Spicier, with racy honey flavors. Sweeter finish. Some herbal character — like from a clover honey. B+ / $19
2011 Casa Silva Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc Colchagua Valley – Even bigger body, brings on that tropical character again, but with a chewiness to it to counterbalance the acidity. B+ / $25
2010 Emiliana Novas Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley – Traditional Pinot notes, jammy but refined with some earthy terroir notes. Develops tobacco notes in glass. Great value; I’m surprised that Chile is producing Pinot at this level. B+ / $19
2009 Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley – Racy, a much different style than the Novas, with a bold raspberry and black fruit, and leather touches. Really rich — and equally surprised that this is from Chile. A- / $32
2009 Morande Gran Reserva Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley – Incredibly different, not clearly Pinot like the two prior wines. Cinnamon on the nose, slightly maderized finish. Weird combo of black pepper and Jolly Ranchers. B- / $18
2010 Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere Cachapoal Valley – Chocolate, tobacco, cedar, dry finish. Slightly smoky, echoing its Bordeaux roots. Reminiscent of Zinfandel at first, but a bit tight on the finish. B / $22
2010 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere Apalta Vineyard Colchagua Valley – 5% Carignan. Has a simpler focus on fruit. Very straightforward with a lightly dusty but chewy finish. Lovable, especially at $15 a bottle. B+ / $15
2009 Koyle Royale Carmenere Colchagua Valley – 8% Petit Verdot and 7% Malbec, an interesting blend. Very different, with coal dust on the nose (I actually sneezed when I took my first sniff). Surprising amount of jam on the finish, lots of menthol and eucalyptus here. Hard to wrap my head around this one — too much going on. B- / $26
2009 Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley - 6% Petit Verdot. Classic cab on the nose. Lots and lots of fruit on the body, with a mouth-coating finish of sugar that recalls Zinfandel. Very young, but quite drinkable now. I wouldn’t give this more than another couple of years in bottle before knocking down. B / $29
2010 Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Valley – Chalky and dusty,with flavors that veer toward prune and raisin. A somewhat simplistic style of Cabernet, with a dull finish. B- / $19
2009 Los Vascos Le Dix Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Valley – Classic structure. Plenty of fruit, lots of tannin here, too. Initially full of fruit, it fades surprisingly quickly as the dry tannin shows its face. Of all the wines in this tasting, this is one for cellaring — and priced accordingly. A- / $65