Fact: Chile is a long and skinny country in South America that has cultivated wine since the Spanish Conquistadores arrived in the 1500s. Fact: Chile is one of the only places in the world where the devastating root louse Phylloxera failed to take purchase, so vines there are planted on their own roots. Fact: Carmenere in the vineyards there was long mistaken for Merlot, so it flourished in Chile while nearly becoming extinct elsewhere.
All pretty substantial facts, where the world of wine is concerned, yes?
But also: Chile hasn't really been known for making quality wine until a few decades ago, so with relatively speedy advances in winemaking techniques and passed-along knowledge, there has been a kind of "secret" major growth in the Chilean wine industry. Wineaux, we can keep this secret no longer!
At a recent tasting of Chilean wines led by the always-engaging Fred Dexheimer, MS, and Hector Vergara, MS (South America's only Master Sommelier,) it became evident that the current generation of Chilean winemakers are infusing their industry with a fresh, invigorating breath. Experimentation and rule-breaking are the buzzwords, and the results are delicious. Not to mention, there are diverse styles of grapes—something for everyone—and the general price point is unbelievable for the quality. (Starred entries are particular favorites.)
*2013 Caliterra Tributo:100% Sauvignon Blanc from the coastal Leyda Valley. Pale straw gold color, fresh nose of kiwi and gooseberry, lemon-lime, papaya and lime curd. Well-balanced fruit and acidity, grass and fresh herbs emerge on the long finish, mid-palate minerality, a bit of kelp/seaweed, quaffable but complex. ~$15
2012 Casa Silva Sauvignon Gris: from over 100-year-old vines in Colchagua Valley, was thought to be Sauv. Blanc until 1998 when they discovered it was actually Sauv. Gris. Pale straw color, über-minerally, herbaceous, "hot" lemon, not overly acidic but it clings to the teeth, white pear and peach on the clean finish. ~$18
2011 Tamaya Chardonnay T Line Limited Release: Limari Valley. Pale gold, pineapple and cream, bit merde-y, warm apple pie. In the mouth, white florals, lime zest, chalky minerals, integrated use of oak. ~$15
2012 Clos des Fous Subsollum Pinot Noir: Aconcagua Coast/Pucalan/Traiguen Valley. The winemakers are four "crazy guys" who are seeking out unusual terrors and pushing boundaries. Fred said, "They don't care what anyone thinks about their wines," which I believe is often a good thing! And Hector opined, "It's a beautiful example of what's new in Chile. Wines with minerality—wines breaking barriers." Pale garnet/ruby. Underripe berries, very spicy, rose petal potpourri, stemmy bramble fruit nose. Very spicy in the mouth too! Tart cranberry, pepper/cinnamon, sour cherry, minerality, fairly tannic, decent acidity, very interesting. ~$22
*2009 Oveja Negra Carignan Single Vineyard: Maule Valley. Mostly Carignan though somewhat of a field blend, with Petit Verdot as a backbone. Medium ruby, warm, velvety nose of cherry liqueur. Elegant, fresh cherry/berry notes, warmth and integration on the finish, bit of licorice/bark, good acidity, integrated tannins. Very nice! ~$20
2011 De Martino Vigno Carignan: Maule Valley. In terms of experimentation, this winery is the first Chilean operation to buy large Austrian oak barrels, and they're working with concrete eggs and modern amphorae vessels as well. Medium ruby color. Pizza (!) nose—oregano, tomato, dough—and meaty with a high tone of perfume. Cherry jam, spice, earthy. The acidity lifts it up; I wasn't initially a fan, but this one grew on me and I kept returning to it. ~$35
*2012 MontGras Antu by Ninquén Syrah: Colchagua Valley. Medium ruby. Interesting nose of lilac, violets, pepper, blackberries, clove, licorice, and a bit of oak. Lightly spicy in the mouth, but it lingers. Less-ripe fruit on palate, but rich, long, integrated finish. Herby, juicy, touch of vanilla, touch of chocolate, very nice (I even drew a heart.) ~$12
2013 Viña Ventisquero Grey GCM: Colchagua/Apalta Valley. A bit of a takeoff on the GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends of the Rhône and Australia, this Grenache, Carignan, Mataro (aka Mourvedre) is a medium ruby, with a very clean and laser-like nose of red fruit, whiff of merde, and floral perfume. In the mouth, raspberry prevails, with cherry and savory notes of bay leaf, cinnamon, black pepper, and eucalyptus. Good acidity, soft but grippy tannins, this is really interesting. Fred calls these guys "thrill-seeking winemakers." ~$20
*2011 Odfjell Vineyards Orzada Malbec: Curico/Lontué Valley. Medium-plus ruby. Interesting nose! Liquid herbs, rosemary, sweet basil, with black cherry, violets, and smoke. Surprisingly lighter in mouth after such a powerful nose, with blueberries, spicy cigar leaf, iodine. Elegant with good tannins and lifted by acidity. Yum. ~$18
*2010 Concha y Toro Terrunyo Block 27 Carmenere: Cachaopal Valley. From one of the Chilean names you may recognize, the Carmenere from the "perfect storm" Peumo Vineyard has a medium-plus ruby color, and a nose of burnt cinnamon spices, graphite, coriander, and wood. In the mouth, plums, graphite and ashes, and very integrated tannins and subtle acidity make for a long, smooth finish. ~$38
One of my favorites was the *2011 Montes Purple Angel: Colchagua (Apalta/Marchigue) Valley. 92% Carmenere, 8% Petit Verdot. Opaque ruby color. Nose of mocha powder, lavender, ripe blue and black fruits. Incredibly dense in the mouth; cedar, "sweet" spices, fresh herbs, blackberry liqueur, bit of graphite/iodine. Very complex and lush, big but balanced, some acidity and sweet tannins. ~$75 (I was so hoping it was $12.99, but no dice!)
2010 Santa Rita Triple C: Maipo Valley. If you're looking for something "Evocative of Bordeaux with more fruit and spice," (says Fred,) look no further! 55% Cab Franc, 30% Cab Sauvignon, 15% Carmenere. Medium-plus garnet, nose of cranberry, bright green pepper, rose and violets, graphite, tobacco, cedar, tea leaves. In the mouth, fresh berry salad, very spicy, peppery, eucalyptus, cigar box, with subtle tannins. Certainly age-worthy. ~$43
*2010 Undurragua Altazor: Maipo Valley. From an "old" winery, this is a "new" wine; a Bordeaux-style blend, inspired by Vincente Huidobo, the author of the poem "Altazor." (80% Cab Sauvignon, 8% Carmenere, 8% Syrah, 4% Petit Verdot.) Medium-plus garnet. Harmonious nose of cherry liqueur, lots of lush, ripe red berries, cassis, smoke and spice, lots of cigar box, cedar, violets, cola, dried figs. Really elegantly woven together, dense and lush, very long, nuanced and harmonious (that is definitely the word for this wine,) finish. Velvety tannins. Oak not overly prominent, seamlessly integrated. Just WOW. I have to give it another star: * ~$70
With such diversity, it is really worth giving Chile the due it deserves. These wines were inspiring, and really spoke to the focused attention from their winemakers, especially where microclimates are concerned. And with so many quality wines under $20, you can afford to try a variety of Chilean wines yourselves. It's a no-brainer: when you need some invigoration, simply turn to Chile! Cheers.