A New Era for Chilean Wine
Over the years, I’ve been pretty hard on the Chilean wine industry. There were (and are) just too many poorly made, mass produced wines that don’t take the country’s various microclimates and terroir into consideration.
When Chilean wines first entered the market 15 to 20 years ago, they sold well because they were cheap. Over time, the inferior quality of the wines resulted in a decline in sales. But things in Chile have changed dramatically and we are seeing a tremendous increase in quality.
One of the characters that historically made Chilean wines unpleasant was a vegetal, green pepper quality that was generally a sign of planting grapes in areas that were not well suited to specific varietals. But as vineyard managers and winemakers improved techniques and gained a better understanding of what grapes grow best in what areas, the quality of the resulting wines improved dramatically. This learned knowledge derived both from the maturation of the industry as well as from an influx of experience and technology from international enologists and agronomists.
Evidence of this improvement is an increase in exports. There was a period about six to seven years ago where Chilean wines were on the decline. But with the improved quality, Chile exported 26% more wine in 2007 than it did in 2006. The emergence of regions such as Casablanca and Leyda along with leading producers including Caliboro, Cono Sur, Casa Lapostolle, Emiliana, and Geo have lead these wines into a new era.
Chile can and should be producing world-class wines. The selections that follow are indicative of a bright, savoury future.
Isla Negra Chardonnay Reserva 2007, Valle Central ($14.99)
Medium-bodied, pineapple and citrus flavours with just a touch of toastiness highlight this well-balanced example of a great value Chilean Chardonnay. Try with grilled halibut or other whitefish.
Quintay Sauvignon Blanc ‘Clava’ 2007, Casablanca Valley ($17.99)
Like drinking fresh asparagus juice. Very fresh, with bracing lemon peel, grapefruit, asparagus, and fresh herb notes backed by a clean, minerally finish. Delicious, and what a deal.
Casa Marin Sauvignon Blanc ‘Laurel’ 2008, San Antonio Valley ($21)
San Antonio is in the cool part of Casablanca, just 20 kilometres from the coast. Rich and stylish, with tropical fruit, citrus, and mineral flavours that really integrate beautifully to create a wine of freshness, purity, and length. Great with shellfish, sushi, and slightly spicy dishes.
Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc ‘20 Barrels’ 2007, Casablanca Valley ($28.99)
The Casablanca Valley is not that unlike California’s Carneros region with its maritime influence, morning fog, hot days, and cool nights. It, along with Leyda and the San Antonio valleys, have become ideal regions for growing vibrant and fresh Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. The 20 Barrels Sauvignon Blanc shows fresh melon and citrus notes, with a hint of mineral on the clean, round finish. A meaty fish like rare tuna would work well.
Chono Syrah Reserva 2005, Maipo ($17)
Lovely purity, with expressive violet, cassis, ripe blackberry, liquorice and mineral notes, and a rich, racy texture. Firm, lush tannins, but this is ripe, balanced, and lengthy. A really good bargain.
Emiliana Coyam 2006, Colchagua Valley ($27)
Elegant and refined with layers of black cherry, mocha, coffee, mineral, and currant with firm but soft tannins. A touch of herbaceousness with a hint of fresh acidity on the finish. A good match with chicken and pork.
Vina la Reserva de Caliboro Erasmo 2005, Maule Valley ($29.99)
From the owner of Col d’Orcia, one of Italy’s top Brunello houses, comes this fresh and focussed wine with rich, ripe black cherry, and red currant fruit with a beautiful silky texture, sleek, firm tannins, and a refreshingly clean and long finish. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Could be Chile’s next icon wine.
Garces Silva Amayna Pinot Noir 2006, Leyda Valley ($36)
A few years ago it might be surprising to get a Pinot Noir of this character from Chile, but no longer. The Leyda Valley’s first plantings weren’t much more than a decade ago and it possesses even more of a maritime climate than the Casablanca Valley, as it is only a few kilometres from the Pacific coast. Wonderful spice, earth, and cherry and plum flavours. A firm silky texture with a lingering, complex finish with notes of vanilla, spice and earth. Very food friendly; rich dishes like cassoulet come to mind.
Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta 2006, Colchagua ($100)
Dense, ripe and complex with loads of black berry and blueberry flavours complimented with currant, mocha, espresso, and fig. Multi-layered with impressive structure and huge, round tannins and a long, lingering finish that is surprisingly refreshing. Great balance between the tannins, fruit, acidity, and oak. Very age worthy. Consistently one of Chile’s best wines.