Here are seven wines from Chile that are going to blow your mind.
For the longest time Chile has pumped out volumes of cheap, gluggable booze juice. It’s the stuff that flows freely at those Burning Man-inspired art parties.
You know the ones…
To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with cheap wine. It’s just not that exciting.
Fortunately for us geeks, Chile is starting to produce first class wines with a real sense of terroir. So, if you’re someone who’s a bit more discerning with your wine choices, you should probably keep reading.
Plus, they’re affordable.
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Even though much of Chile has a dry, Mediterranean climate, the coastal influence and soils produce wines with more elegance (i.e. a lighter body) and savory flavors. No fruit-bombs here.
The Humboldt current makes Chile’s beaches the coldest in South America. This might suck for beach bums, but it acts like a gigantic swamp cooler for growing grapes. Vineyards receive a protective blanket of fog almost every single day. For cool-climate grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc, this is ideal!
Start your hunt in Casablanca Valley for Chardonnay. This area is marked by 110 million year-old, sandy, granite-clay soils. It makes for Chardonnay wines with serious mineral tension and ample acidity.
Flavors: starfruit, lemon peel and pith, green apple, pine nut (from oak), and chalk
What we loved the crap out of –
- Viña Morande “Gran Reserva” Chardonnay Casablanca Valley ~$20
- Ritual “Supertuga Block” Chardonnay (by Viñedos Veramonte) Casablanca Valley ~$45
Chalky Sauvignon Blanc
It’s difficult to sum up Chilean wine with a single terroir because the country is so large and climatically diverse. Still, many Chilean wines share a unique chalky texture on the palate.
It makes for great Sauvignon Blanc.
The regions of Casablanca and Leyda Valleys deliver Sauvignon Blanc wines with notable salinity and herbal flavors. They’re much closer (in style) to Loire Valley than New Zealand, with less sweet fruit and a leaner, more crystalline structure.
Flavors: lime, honeydew, chalk, smoke, and salinity
What we tasted (and then proceeded to chug) –
- EQ “Coastal” Sauvignon Blanc (by Matetic Vineyards) Casablanca Valley ~$20
- Viña Leyda “Single Vineyard Garuma” Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley ~$20
In many ways, Carménère was the folly that made Chilean wine great. The rediscovery of the variety forced viticulturists to learn how to farm without a template from France. (After all, Carménère was thought to be extinct!)
Of course, growing great Carménère took a while to figure out. There used to be two predominant styles: an oaky-chocolaty style and a green, peppery style. Today, you’ll find high end Carménère to deliver more pure black cherry and herbal tones supported by subtle use of cedar-spiced oak.
Flavors: black cherry, green peppercorn, nutmeg, wet gravel, cedar, and wintergreen
What impressed upon us –
- TerraNoble “CA2” Carménère Colchagua Valley (Costa) 2016 ~$28
- Viña Siegel “Single Vineyard Los Lingues” Carménère Colchagua Valley 2016 ~$25
- Viña Casa Silva “Microterroir de Los Lingues” Carménère Colchagua Valley 2011 ~$55
- Viña Montes “Purple Angel” Carménère Colchagua Valley (Apalta) 2016 ~$90
The biggest issue Chilean wines have in the marketplace is that most aren’t aged long enough before we drink them. They often taste too tart or too tannic. However for those with a cellar, this is good news! High-quality Chilean reds have the potential lay down for 15–25 years. Hopefully more!
For cellar-worthy selections, look for Cabernet and Cabernet blends from the best spots in Colchagua and Maipo Valley. There are two Chile-original blends you will not want to miss:
- The C-C-C: A classic Chilean blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, and Cabernet Franc.
- The C-C-S: This blend features Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère with a splash of Syrah.
Flavors: black cherry, green peppercorn, mint, milk chocolate, and smoke
What we wish was in our cellar –
- Viña San Pedro “Cabo de Hornos” Cachapoal Valley (Andes) 2016 ~$45
- Viña Santa Rita “Casa Real” Alto Maipo Valley 2015 ~$90
- Neyen “Espiritu de Apalta” (by Viñedos Veramonte) Apalta, Colchagua Valley 2014 ~$55
- Viña Vik “La Piu Belle” Millahue, Colchagua Valley, 2012 ~$75
Unconventional Old Vines
While neighboring Argentina grubs up its weird historic vineyards, Chile is attempting to embrace them. The Maule Valley (pronounced “mahl-aye”) is home to some of the oldest vineyards in the world because Chile is phylloxera-free (at least for now).
Cariñena (aka Carignan)
Flavors: black raspberry, roasted plum, scorched earth, thyme flower, and smoke
For those on the hunt for the richest, boldest, savory-but-fruity reds, go for a bottle of old vine Carignan. The VIGNO project offers the richest styles, but there are several producers outside of VIGNO that offer great prices.
Flavors: raspberry, hibiscus, wet latex paint, and peony flowers
This is not your parents’ “try to be classy” red. It’s fragrant, punchy, and somewhat stemmy all at the same time. It’s one of those wines that you wish you had chilled while lying in a cabana by a pool.
Flavors: spiced cranberry, stewed strawberry, mint, dried rose, and hibiscus
Cinsault barely produces enough color to make a red wine. It looks more like rosé and tastes great chilled. This is one of the few reds out there that defies food pairing boundaries and does wonders with ceviche.
Unique and out-there wines worth drinking –
- Viña Las Veletas País Maule Valley 2017 ~$13
- Viña Morande “Adventure Aterciopelado” País-Malbec Maule Valley 2018 ~$25
- Viña Sutil “Limited Release” Cinsault Itata Valley 2018 ~$19
- Ovega Negra “Single Vineyard” Carignan 2015 ~$17
- Luis Felipe Edwards “Cien” Carignan 2013 ~$30
- P.S. Garcia VIGNO Carignan 2014 ~$50
Experiment and Be Picky
Vintage Matters: Just like France, Chile has much more variability from vintage-to-vintage. 2014 was outstanding, 2016 was wet (and most reds suffered), and 2018 is making out to be one fantastic vintage! Go forth and be merry!
Throw Price Influence Away: Unlike other regions, the price is not an indication of quality in Chilean wine. Pricing is all over the board. You can find fantastic wines still under $20, so don’t let the price steer you away from taking a risk and trying something new.