Friday, January 30, 2009

A Sampling of Chilean Wines

Chile has become a very popular wine country. Though it may seem to many to be a relatively new wine country, it actually possesses a fairly long viticultural history. The first grape vines were planted during the 16th century by Spanish conquistadors. But quality wine production is much more of a recent matter. An important factor that has helped Chile is that it was very fortunate to avoid any problems with phylloxera.

One of the most enticing reason to try Chilean wines is that you can find many, inexpensive value wines. But don't be mistaken and think that they only have cheap wines. They do produce some exceptional high-end wines as well, such as 2005 Almaviva or the 2005 Casa Lapostolle Red Blend Clos Apalta (which was recently ranked Wine Spectator's #1 wine of 2008).

I recently had the opportunity to taste six different Chilean wines and wanted to share my thoughts. As I was not about to drink six bottles of wine on my own, I brought them to one of my weekly get-togethers with my wine buddies. We generally meet once a week to drink wine, chat and maybe play some cards or other games. And they were more than willing to help me drink some wine.

We began with a white wine, the 2007 Casa Silva Angostura Gran Reserva Chardonnay ($19). This is a 100% Chardonnay from the Colchagua Valley. This vineyard was founded in 1882 by a Frenchman from Bordeaux and it is currently owned and operated by the Silva family. They produce a full line of wines, of a variety of grapes, including Petite Verdot (which really interests me).

This wine had a light gold color with a nice smell of citrus and melon. I was pleased that it did not have a strong oak smell. The wine initially had a slight fizziness to the taste, but that vanished once the wine sat in the glass for a short time. I really enjoyed the taste of this wine, lush flavors of melon, green apple and pear. It was very crisp with only a hint of oak. This is the type of Chardonnay I prefer, letting the fruit stand out far above any oaky flavors. Though most of my friends are not big white wine drinkers, this wine seemed to please them and we finished the bottle. This is a wine I highly recommend.

Onto the red wines. The first red was the 2006 Viu Manent San Carlos Estate Single Vineyard Malbec ($25), a bit pricier than some Chilean wines but it also is a higher quality than many others. The wine is a blend of 93% Malbec and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Colchagua Valley like the Chardonnay. The wine was aged for about 14 months in new oak barrels (92% French and 8% American).

The wine was a dark purple in color with an enticing nose of bluberry and plum. Those fruit flavors come through on the taste as well, accompanied by a bit of an earthy touch. It is a tannic wine so you should drink it with food, maybe some wild game or even steak. It also has a long, satisfying finish and enough complexity to intrigue a wine lover. My friends did not care as much for this wine as I did. Though they generally liked it, it did not impress them. I though do recommend this wine.

The next wine was almost the opposite situation. It was the favorite of my friends, though it was not my style. This wine was the 2006 Viña Morande Edicion Limitada Carmenere ($22), a blend of 85% Carmenere and 15% Merlot from the Maipo Valley. Viña Morandé was founded in 1996 with the aim of producing high quality, innovative wines. Carmenere is the signature grape of Chile and is very popular But I am not a fan of Carmenere, often finding it akin to Cabernet Franc and usually having a green, vegetal taste which turns me off. I continue to try Carmenere wines, seeking one that I might like.

This wine was dark purple in color and did have a bit of a green smell to me. When I tasted it, I did detect a green, vegetal flavor accompanying some dark berry, ripe plum flavors. So I did not care for it. But my friends very much enjoyed this wine and felt it was the best of the group. So, though it is not my style, I would recommend this wine based on the opinions of the rest of my wine buddies. If you like Carmenere, this will definitely be a wine that will please you.

The 2006 Maquis Calcu ($12) was a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Carmenere, and 15% Cabernet Franc from the Colchagua Valley. In the local Mapuche language, Calcu means “magician.” Though there is Carmenere in this blend, I did not detect any of the green taste or smell which turns me off. This wine was lightly oaked and had a very dark red color. On the nose, there were aromas of black cherry and plum. It had a delicious fruity taste with blueberry and plum, some minerality and plenty of acidity. The tannins were mild, making this a very easy-drinking wine. This was an every day wine, at a very reasonable price, and I would also recommend this wine. This was probably the best value wine of the group.

The 2006 De Martino Organic Cabernet/Merlot ($19.99) was a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Malbec from the Maipo Valley. This wine also had a dark red color (which appears to be a common trait of all these reds) with a bit of a closed nose. This felt more New World, fruit-forward with good flavors of blackberry, black cherry and ripe plum. It was a bit tannic and had a moderate finish. This was a good wine but it did not stand out for me. Everyone else kind of felt the same way, that it was nice to drink but a bit forgettable.

The only wine that really did not show well for my group was the 2007 Concha y Toro Cassillero del Diablo Carmenere ($10) from the Rapel Valley. For me, this wine had too much of the green, vegetal flavor I dislike. For the others, the taste did not appeal to them either, though not because of any green taste. Maybe though it showed poorly as it was the final wine, and just did not compete with the other wines we enjoyed. We have had wines from this winery before and liked them so this wine was more an exception.

Overall, we found some very good wines from Chile and I recommend you check them out. With the number of successes, we will continue seeking out Chilean wines to find more treasures.

For more information on Chilean wines, I also suggest you check out the Wines of Chile website.

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