Time and again, I was struck by the quality and elegance of Chilean wines, especially considering their relatively low prices.
Just two or three decades ago, the idea of Chile producing wines worthy of the connoisseur’s attention seemed outlandish at best. That is no longer the case. To be sure, it’s easy to find inexpensive, simple and fruity Chilean bottlings on many store shelves in the United States. But it’s also not difficult to find elegant, exciting wines that are full of character and expressive of the region from which they come.
Chile has huge climatic variation, and not just because of the country’s length. Many wine labels now also indicate the location of vineyards with the terms “Costa” (near the sea), “Entre Cordilleras” (in the center) and “Andes” (closer to the mountains). The Andes and the ocean have at least as much impact on the terroir of a vineyard site as its latitude does.
Regions near Chile’s coast are now some of the most fashionable, and several vintners there produce top-quality sparkling wines made in the Champenoise method. I tried two from Chile’s cool Casablanca Valley west of Santiago near the ocean. The forceful Morandé Brut Nature, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, had notes of toast and berries, with delicately foamy bubbles. And Santiago restaurant BORAGó served flutes of Bodegas RE “ReNoir” Brut Nature Virgen, a cloudy sparkler made from unfiltered Pinot Noir and redolent of nuts, strawberry and lemon.
The Casablanca Valley makes fine still wines, as well. I couldn’t resist trying the lush, floral and spicy 2013 Viña Casablanca “Nimbus” Gewürztraminer offered by the glass at the Santiago wine bar Bocanáriz. But even better was the 2012 Cono Sur “Ocio” Pinot Noir, which had an aroma of rich red fruit undergirded by mocha, and big flavors of cherry, peppery spice and earth.
The San Antonio Valley immediately south of Casablanca only received official recognition as a wine region in 2002, but it already produces attention-grabbing bottlings. I was particularly taken with the complex 2013 Casa Marín Cipreses Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, a house white at Viña Vik. It had a wonderfully fresh aroma and round flavors of tropical fruit, grapefruit and grass, overlaid by a floral note. At Casa Lastarria, I had the fortune to try a more unusual 2012 Leyda Kadún Vineyard Sauvignon Gris, a classy wine that developed slowly from rich fruit flavors to a long, spicy finish.
But the most unforgettable wine I tried came from one of Chile’s oldest and largest wineries, Concha y Toro. Bocanáriz serves two-ounce glasses of its 2008 “Carmín de Peumo” Carmenère-based blend for $13, an unusually affordable opportunity to try a wine that retails for upward of $110. I loved its dark, raisiny aroma and its opulent fruit. The wine shifted gears from rich fruit to spice to velvety tannins with true finesse.
Time and again, I was struck by the quality and elegance of Chilean wines, especially considering their relatively low prices. Most of the wines I mention above retail for between $15 and $50, offering remarkable flavor and depth for the money. Chile is blessed with extraordinarily beautiful wine country, and there can be no doubt that its vintners craft wines equal to the scenic splendor.