Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Appeal of Chilean Red Wine

If you're a serious red wine drinker (and who isn't?), and you've been ignoring Chilean red wine, it's time to rethink your wine-buying strategy.

Some of Chile's most exciting red wine comes from a central band of prime vineyard land, between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean.  The most important grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

Long & slender Chile on the left

Chile, a long slender country along South America's west coast, is a mere 217 miles at its widest point.  The wine magic takes place in a broad central plain,  from a few miles north of Santiago to just south of Talca.  Within this area are seven major wine regions: Aconcagua, Casablanca, San Antonio, Maipo, Rapel, Curico and Maule.

Maipo, the northern most major red wine region, stands out for its top reds.   Unlike Argentina's inland Mendoza Valley, where cool growing conditions are achieved by planting at higher elevations, Maipo, which is just across the Andes from Mendoza, benefits from cool breezes off the Pacific Ocean. 

Chile exports a lot of wine to the United States, so a trip to the local wine shop can be bewildering at best.  Here's a brief region-by-region guide of what to look for when you're looking for Chilean red wines.  

These appellations, from north to south, appear on the front labels, with Casablanca, Maipo, Rapel and Curico being the most common. 

Aconcagua: The interior of Aconcagua is hot and dry, but there are places where red wine grapes grow nicely. Errazuriz, one of Chile's major wineries, farms grapes for its iconic Maximiano Cabernet Sauvignon in Aconcagua. At $20, the 2019 "Max" is possibly one of the best Cabernet values from Chile. 

Maximiano vineyard

Casablanca: First planted in the 1980s, Casablanca and San Antonio, are cool temperate coastal regions, known for Pinot Noir, but more so for Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

San Antonio: Moderating ocean breezes and morning fog are ideal conditions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, used for Chile's burgeoning sparkling wine business, especially from such producers as Valdivieso and Tabali.

Maipo: Not far from Santiago, this small inland region is famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Some of Chile's best Chardonnay comes from Maipo.  Of note is the region's Carmenere

Rapel: Cachapoal and Colchagua are Rapel's two major sub regions that run east to west, meaning that growing conditions vary from cool coastal areas to warmer inland ones closer to the mountains.  Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in the inland vineyards, as do Merlot and Syrah.  Interest has been building in recent years for Pinot Noir from coastal vineyards.  Promising conditions in Rapel has attracted investment by the French, including Casa Lapostolle and Los Vascos.

Curico: Smaller than Rapel, but no less important, Curico attracted the Spanish vintner Torres to establish vineyards and a winery there in 1979.  Curico is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Maule: Although there are other vineyard regions further south, Maule, for now, is the southern limit for quality grapes, although there is considerable  experimentation in Maule and even further south in Bio Bio.  Carignan is more widely planted in Maule than Cabernet Sauvignon.  

The price range for Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon varies, but the following dozen wines are $12 to $50, most in the low $20's: San Pedas Cachapoal, Toro de Piedra Colchagua, Perez Crus Maipo, Miguel Torres Curico, Undurraga Maipo, Tabal Taluid Maipo, Tarrapaca Maipo, Vina Aquitania Maipo, Arbuleda Aconcagua, Concha y Toro Maipo, Valdiviso Central Valley.

Chilean red wines are solid values in a market that seems to be getting richer by the month.  Cabernet Sauvignon was featured here, but Chile is a good source  for reliable Merlot and Syrah. 

Next blog: This and that...

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